Maria Rushe is a Donegal Mammy of two little girls. She is married to Emmet, teaches English in Letterkenny and is also a Fitness Instructor in their family business. She blogs as The award-winning ‘The S-Mum Blog’ where she writes honest and funny memoir of her life as she tries to keep everyone between the ditches. Maria loves theatre, fitness, laughing and wine… and her kids of course.
Thank you, Maria, for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
I have two little girls, aged 7 and 3.
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’ve been an English Teacher for 18 years. I’m also a fitness instructor and teach in our family business, Rushe Fitness.
What kind of hours do you work?
School is 9 -4, but as with every teacher, “work” is a lot more outside of that! I teach my fitness classes 2 nights a week and work a few random hours in our gym throughout the week too.
What kind of childcare do you use?
My youngest is in a private Childcare facility five days a week, and the oldest goes to the same place for “after-school” care each day.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
I do. I try to train a few times a week and use my own classes as my head space. I do the class along with the clients so it’s work, but it’s my own time too. I’m the Director of the Letterkenny Musical Society too, so am usually out rehearsing two evenings a week (after they’ve gone to bed) and on a Sunday afternoon for the last few weeks before the show in February. I really appreciate the need to get time to myself, even if it’s just a walk or a cuppa when the girls go to bed.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
The housework and cleaning is challenging. And the washing! I honestly believe that there are 37 other people living in my house. Evenings are spent doing housework while trying to give the girls my attention at the same time. I find the evenings that we have Croke Park Hours hard as I have to be in work until 6.15pm. This is great fun when your childcare closes at 6pm and your other half doesn’t finish until 9pm. My husband is self-employed and works crazy hours most days so the running of our lives generally falls to me. Sometimes, that is hard.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Of course I do. I think that all mums do. I would love to be able to give up my day-job and be there all the time for my girls. However, the other side of this is that there are so many advantages to me working. The girls thrive and learn so much in childcare and school. And I’m lucky that I’m off when they are. I was at home for quite a bit of their early years between maternity leave, unpaid leave and jobsharing, but our life is much more productive and balanced since I came back to work full time.
While jobsharing, I was trying to be a full-time EVERYTHING to EVERYONE. I nearly ran myself into the ground trying to be everywhere at once. Coming back to work was the best decision for me. I have more time; more time to do the job I was cramming into half hours, more time to spend with the girls in the evening as I have most of my work done in school, more time to be myself with my colleagues rather than running past them in the hallway. It’s better all around. I’m happier and so my girls are happier. And I’m still there when they need me. If they’re sick, I’m there. Also, girls see that Mammy works to achieve things. I want to instil that in them.
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 can’t say there’s an optimal solution. I thought part-time would be great. It wasn’t. Fulltime work is easier for me. The fact that my girls love the childcare and that my mum is nearby helps too. When I look at the cost of childcare and afterschool, I cringe. It’s more than our mortgage each month and I sometimes wonder why I bother, but the reality is that this is the balance that works for us and it’s worth it. I often dream of giving up my “jobjob”, but in reality, I’d just end up doing something else. That’s just me. Everyone is different and different set ups work for each family. You just need to figure out what works for you.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
In a dream world, I’d be a full-time writer, working when the girls are in school and being fulltime Mammy Bear when they’re not. It’ll happen yet! But if I’m honest, I already have the job that suits me best. I’m a busy, sociable person. I like being challenged. I enjoy a staffroom. (hot coffee!) I do love teaching. The hours are ideal for raising a family and of course, the holidays are wonderful. I get lots of time with my two minions and I’m lucky in that.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
I would until my kids started school. Then I would find myself back working at something. I was blessed to have my mum at home my whole childhood so of course I’d love to give my two the same, but I do believe they get so much from childcare too; socially and educationally.
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 do think it tends to be the Mammy who changes and forgoes professionally in many cases. In saying that, for a time, my husband was a SAHD while I worked full-time. That was where we were at that time and he doesn’t regret a day of it. Our situation isn’t one of gender expectation. It’s about adapting to what’s happening right now. He is growing his business for us. I teach and keep everything between the ditches. If I wanted to focus more on work or my fitness classes or writing or whatever, we’d make that work too. Having kids only limits your opportunities if you let it. I think my girls have inspired me to do more since they were born.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
- Thursday night Blitz: SO this is my #1 Life hack. When I get the girls to bed on Thursdays, I go at the housework like a gremlin on RedBull. I clean bathrooms, mop floors and get through as much washing as possible. Then I reward myself with a big glass of wine. It means that when I get home on Friday evening, the house is clean and I don’t feel that I need to start into the drudgery of it. The weeks where I can’t do this, the weekend is chaos.
- A Sunday well spent: Shopping, organised clothes, plan meals and get my head around the week ahead. Again, if I don’t get these things done on a Sunday, I tend to spin through the first three days of the week and the girls eat waffles until Thursday.
- Take the time to yourself: If you have a class that you can get to, or a chance to have a coffee alone, or a lunch break where you can just breathe, take it and stop feeling guilty. I used to leave school and rush straight away to collect them. I soon learned that they were perfectly happy until whatever time I came and started to take my time. Even if to tidy my classroom, or go to the shop. What is it they say? When Mammy is happy, everyone is happy.
Any other comments?
It drives me mad when I hear other mums commenting on other people’s set-up. Whether you stay at home, work part-time or work fulltime, whatever your reasons, your decision is yours. And no one else’s opinion on it matters.
Thanks Maria! I think it’s so interesting to hear your experience of job-sharing – I know lots of women who sought out part-time or job-share and eventually found it was more difficult than working full-time, for exactly the reasons you mention. I always thought working five mornings and being off five afternoons would be ideal, until I discovered it meant no rest, no breaks, no lunchtime, not a second to myself. (Having said that, I wouldn’t change it for the world – I just needed to tweak it so it was less full-on and more manageable.)
On the other hand, I know women who are very happily job-sharing or working five mornings or three full days and it has turned out to be perfect. Which backs up your other point very nicely – that everyone is different, and different set ups work for different families. With so many variables at play – role, hours, out-of-hours obligations, partner’s hours, number of children, cost of childcare, length of commute, age of children, school hours – it’s impossible to imagine one single optimal solution. In a more general way, I’d say the best solution is choice – in an ideal world, families would have the choice to have both parents work or one stay home, or both work part-time. The worst stories I hear are the two extremes – women who are miserable at work because they wish they could be at home but can’t afford to quit, and likewise, women who are at home wishing they could work, but can’t afford the childcare (there’s an irony there).
Maria, thanks again for taking part and wishing you continued success with everything (and it’s a lot) you do!