“I began a career break so my new job is stay at home mammy and my hours are now 24/7!”
This week, I meet Lucy O’Connor, a mother of three who last June went from working full-time to taking a career break. Lucy has swapped HR management for school-runs, and fits in some writing too, on her blog Learner Mama and recently in the Independent where she wrote a very informative and well-received article about c-sections. She has also just set up a Facebook group for C-section mothers in Ireland.
When I asked Lucy whether it’s easier to be at work or at home, she said:
“I have days of over tired meltdowns and chasing my tail and feeling like ground-hog day but isn’t that part of any job.”
A very good point! For the full interview, read on …
Thank you Lucy for taking part if this interview – could you start by telling me how many children you have, and their ages?
Of course, I have three children – my oldest, a girl was seven in December, my middle little man is 4 (and a half!) and my baby girl is two.
And now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I work in HR. I began my career in the hotel industry where I worked in HR for a number of years but moved to the third level education sector, where I have worked for nearly 10 years.
What kind of hours do you work?
I was working full-time until I had kids. I took my standard maternity leave on my first two and after about a year back at work started a four-day week. I was on a four-day week when I fell pregnant on number three and continued that until my maternity leave. On my return from maternity leave the four days was not an option anymore so I went back full-time. I found that difficult due to a long commute and tough job so after about five months back to work, I requested a career break for an initial period of a year – months later (28th June last year) I began a career break so my new job is stay at home mammy and my hours are now 24/7!
How are you finding being a temporary SAHM – is it something you could see yourself doing permanently if the opportunity arose?
I love being a stay at home mammy! I am probably lucky. I started this new chapter the week the heat wave began in Ireland in July and living beside the sea meant my first month off was like a holiday! My second month off included two weeks in Tenerife and last month involved settling my middle child into junior infants so it has been all go with lots of fun!! Maybe ask me again in about six months after a winter of school runs, homework and cabin fever! That will be the test for me if I continue on this path. I can request an extension for up to five years (though it is up to my boss to decide) but hopefully if I want another year off I will get it. For the moment I am not going to hold my breath but let’s just say I’m loving it so far!
Is it harder or easier than being at work, or does it swing from one to the other depending on the day?
It’s different! I am as busy now (if not busier!) but as I say to everyone who asks, it is a nice busy! With working and commuting I found it a stressful busy but being at home is a nice busy – always going but not stressed. That said I have days of over-tired meltdowns and chasing my tail and feeling like ground-hog day but isn’t that part of any job.
Do think it’s easier to be a SAHM when you know it’s temporary and that you have a job to return to?
It was certainly an easier decision to make knowing I have a job to go back to. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to resign my full-time permanent job. Knowing if it all goes horribly wrong and I hate being at home I can go back is very reassuring.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
As a full-time working mum I found the fact that I was away from my kids so long the hardest – up to eleven hours a day, five days a week. Of course then trying to catch up on everything when I was home was so hard – washing, cleaning, cooking, food shopping – it was hard to fit in any quality family time.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I think mother guilt was a big part of my taking a career break – that and my kids making me think about my career and what I wanted my life to be about. I didn’t want to look back in five years and regret not spending more time with them just because I was running the rat race and after nearly ten years in my job the challenge or motivation was waning.
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
I had asked for a three-day week before I went back after my third but it wasn’t possible with my job. I am hoping that in the future I can either job share when I go back or that my career will take a turn and I can work from home – in my own business for example, to work my family life around it. Eventually all my kids will be gone most of the day at school so there would be plenty of time to do a relatively full day’s work.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
Every time I go on holidays I always dream of being a dolphin trainer – it is one of those things if I could go back in time and train all over again. Don’t ask me how I would manage three kids with that type of job!! Probably throw them in the water with me!! Being more realistic I would love a job that I could drop the kids to school, do my work and then be there for them after school – so I guess a 9.30am – 1.30pm job about 10 minutes from my kids’ school! I don’t wonder why I’m on a career break when that is what I want!
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours which in turn limits their opportunities?
I think having children does change you as a working woman but I think it is as much you changing your own priorities and career desires as it is others changing their views of you.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
1. While you will want to find reliable, trustworthy and caring childcare I would encourage mothers returning to work to put back up plans in place if their chosen childcare falls through – be it because the minder is sick or the child is sick and can’t go to crèche etc. My mother was always my backup childcare (instead of full-time crèche) so any time my kids couldn’t go in I didn’t worry – it eased a lot of stress.
2. Prepare as much as possible the night before – clothes, bags, lunches etc. It makes mornings much calmer and easier.
3. Give yourself a break! Don’t be too harsh on yourself. It will be tough returning to work but give it time and don’t sweat the small stuff. There will be things that will slide – so what if the windows aren’t shining, so what if the sheets haven’t been changed in two weeks just be good to yourself and enjoy family time when you are at home.
Any other comments?
Never be afraid to ask for help – support is essential – not just for working mums but stay at home mums too. I remember feeling like I had to do everything myself on my first – like asking for help was a sign of failure – it’s not – it’s a sign of confidence and I’m never afraid to ask if I need to….although thankfully I don’t need to too much (except for the odd night out with hubby – which is important too!).
Lucy thank you for taking part in the interview – it was really interesting to see the comparison between working full-time and being at home as you are now during your career break. For me there were two comments that particularly jumped out:
Your tip to mothers to ask for help; the point you made about it being a sign of confidence rather than a sign of failure is very, very valid and not something I had thought about before.
Your dream job … a dolphin trainer – I love it! This is the fourteenth interview in the series, and nobody else wanted to be a dolphin trainer 🙂