Office Mum stories – Martina Perry

“I remember the first day Caitlin put her arms out to go to one of her crèche minders while still in my arms and I swear my heart broke a little.”

This week I meet Martina Perry. She’s married to rugby obsessed New Zealander Grant, and mother to two small girls, Caitlin and Elise, as well as baby Ryan, who is just four weeks old. She recently quit her 14 year career with a major international publishing group to pursue her dreams of starting her own business and creating a support network for all working mothers. When she’s not writing from her kitchen table for theworkingmother.ie she can be found with her head in the books studying for her CIMA exams or with kindle and coffee (or wine) in hand.

Thank you Martina for taking part in the series for Office Mum – Can you tell me a little about your family?

Martina Perry - Office MumI have two little girls – Caitlin aged 4 and Elise aged 2, and a baby boy Ryan, who is just a month old!

And now could you tell me a little about your career – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?

My background is business management and finance. I worked for an international publishing company for 14 years. Early 2014 I decided it was time make a change. Life had become chaotic. Between my three-day a week job (which was really five days crammed into three), the kids and study I was running on fumes.

Deciding to quit my job was a very emotional decision. I was afraid I’d create a void in my life and put my career, which I’d worked so hard to build, on a downward trajectory. But truth be told my career had pretty much been paused since I requested a three-day week after returning to work post maternity leave.

In the end the decision wasn’t so difficult. I phased myself out of the working world by June 2014 and since then life has been full of wonderful surprises.

My friend, Elaine Lawless, and I set about creating a community for hard-working, weary, talented mothers. Theworkingmother.ie was born out of the realisation that there is very little available in terms of support and advice for working mothers. We want to help stressed out mothers take control of their working lives by offering options and ideas for how to make their working live more harmonious with their family life.  

What kind of hours do you work now?

It depends on any given week. The Working Mother is a lifestyle business and allows me to choose my own working hours to suit my family. Elaine and I decided when we started out that we didn’t want to this venture to add stress to our already busy lives. Having said that, I spend two days a week working on The Working Mother. This is generally spread over the course of the week and slotted in around my other commitments.

And is this something you can do from home – or perhaps is almost always from home?

Yes I work from home. Sometimes I work from a local coffee shop if I need a change of scenery.

Do you have to travel as part of your current work?

No, thankfully, there is no travel involved, apart from the occasional trip to Dublin for a conference. Prior to having my children I travelled internationally once a month so I know the added pressure this can bring. I’m happy to just travel for fun at this stage of my life. 

What kind of childcare do you use?

We use an excellent crèche called Little Darlings in Waterford. Caitlin attends their Montessori and is doing her ECCE year. Elise does half days at the crèche.

Is your childcare solution working well for you?

Yes this childcare option is working well for us. We’ve always used a crèche as we love the social element of this option. The girls are very happy and have lots of little friends. I also love the structure that crèche gives my children. They’re learning lots (Caitlin informed me this week that Pluto is no longer classified as a planet!) but have lots of time for fun activities.

We haven’t tried out any other options but we might have to down the road as we’re moving to the countryside this year.

On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?

When I was working outside the home, the thing I found most difficult was feeding my family healthy, nutritious and balanced meals. I always felt I was taking the easy option by pulling together a quick pasta dinner or using convenience food such as sausages or chicken goujons…I felt awful and working mother guilt was at its highest on those nights.

It was a vicious circle – I always intended to batch bake at the weekend so I’d be more organised but then I felt guilty I wasn’t doing stuff with the kids.

The other thing I found difficult to balance was when one of the girls was sick. You’d get that awful sinking feeling when you’d see the crèche’s number flash up on the phone…Grant’s parents are in New Zealand and mine were an hour away so we didn’t have any backup. And then the guilt would kick in again – guilt because you have to leave work and guilt for feeling annoyed your child was sick again.

Do you think that working for yourself makes it easier or more difficult to balance work and home? I imagine there’s more flexibility but that it’s also difficult to switch off!

Yes, working for myself has definitely made it easier to balance work, home and the kids. The key is flexibility – being able to determine when I work is liberating. I work to my own schedule. I can fit my work around my children/family life as opposed to an employer getting the best of me, then being exhausted when I start the second shift in the evening.

I find I can be available to my children. I love what I’m doing with TheWorkingMother and I love that my children are getting more of me too.

I work and study while the kids are in crèche and after the kids go to bed. This is working very well for my family – I feel like I can give all elements of my life (kids, work, study, husband, myself) the attention it needs. Life feels nicely in balance at the moment (just waiting for number three’s arrival for the balance to tip again!!!).

And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?

I think all working mothers experience working-mother guilt at some point. I know I did when I was working outside the home.

I wrote an article recently for TheWorkingMother on the topic of working mother-guilt. I think women in general are so hard on themselves and I wanted to give them some practical tools to help eliminate unnecessary guilt.

It’s a very emotional decision to leave your child to someone else’s care. It’s very difficult to accept that your chosen carer is going to experience your little one’s big firsts and milestones. I remember the first day Caitlin put her arms out to go to one of her crèche minders while still in my arms and I swear my heart broke a little.

I find since I made the move to work from home my guilt levels have disappeared. The girls still attend crèche but for shorter periods of time. The time they’re not with me I’m doing what I need to get done in terms of work, study, house etc. And when they return home I’m 100% theirs. We bake, we paint, we dance, we sing, we play doctors, dollies, jigsaw puzzles. By being totally present when they’re with me has eliminated the guilt.

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?

Yes I do think there is an optimal solution out there. But I think it is different for every mother and I think over time the optimal solution can change for a mother.

I did the three-day week job, which was originally my optimal solution – it was great in terms of being there for my children but I wasn’t fulfilled in my work. So I made the change and for right now, this feels like the perfect balance to me. But I’m sure as my kids get older and I have a bit more time on my hands (wishful thinking?) that optimal solution will look different to me again.

If you could do any job, what would it be?

I can honestly say there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing at the moment.

I’ve never been as content as I am right now. The Working Mother and my studies have given me such a sense of purpose. I love hearing from our mammies, telling Elaine and I how they love what we do, the information we provide and how we’ve inspired them to make a changes.

I may not be as cash rich as I used to be but I’ve made other small changes in our household financials that have helped dramatically. A small price to pay for the freedom and contentment I’ve experienced since trading in the day job.

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?

Sadly, yes I think the glass ceiling does exist for women. I think employers still see the value in women and what they bring to the table. But in my experience when women seek to make changes to their work schedules following the arrival of a baby, most employers whether consciously or subconsciously side-line that woman. In a lot of case I don’t think it’s an obviously ousting and probably happens over time – if a woman is not in the office full-time, decisions get made without her, company strategy is formed, new product ideas are generated – the business world doesn’t stop because a woman decides to take a 3 day week.

I think Ireland has a long way to go in terms of facilitating working mothers and families. Sadly, I think an employee’s worth is still strongly linked to time at your desk and your eagerness to stay late, which in my opinion is an antiquated way to assessing an employee’s productivity.

Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?

  1. Organisation is key – set out the clothes the night before, pack the bags and lunch boxes so everything is ready to go in the morning. I often used my lunch break to get organised too, e.g. making a meal plan, ordering the groceries for the week, picking up a present etc…by taking care of these types of tasks during the week they don’t eat into your precious spare time at the weekend.
  2. Focus on the positive side of returning to work as much as you can. It’s a very emotional time returning to work and the emotions can sometimes drag us down. Having hot cups of coffee, uninterrupted conversations, extra money to treat myself to a new pair of shoes and using my brain helped me get through the first few tough weeks.
  3. Plan something fun for the family at the weekend. Use the time you have with your kids wisely and make it count. Every Sunday morning is pancake-day, call Nana Lee in New Zealand day, and swimming-day in our house…the kids love this little tradition and it’s great for the whole family to get involved.

Any other comments?

Whatever you do, try to make time for yourself. It’s not always easy given the juggling act that is a working mother’s life but if you don’t take care of yourself you’ll find your needs are constantly put to the bottom of the pile.

Thanks Martina, and big congratulations on the birth of baby Ryan! I think it was very brave of you to make that jump and quit your job. It’s something many people think about, but of course it’s a huge step – from a financial perspective but also from a self-esteem perspective. So many of us are defined by what we do, and removing that identity is scary. I’m delighted for you that it has worked out so well.

And I think you’re right that unfortunately moving to part-time can make career progression difficult. I think if flexible working was more widespread, for men and for women, regardless of whether they have children or not, there would be less of a stigma attached.

In reality, who actually wants to work sixty hours a week? Some people do, and thrive on it. I know one mum who is a self-confessed workaholic, and she’s one of the few people I know who has zero interest in doing anything less than full-time work. But most people would like time for other things too – kids, parents, hobbies, projects. So I think it’s fantastic that you have succeeded in finding that balance, but sad too that so many people can’t – either because workplaces won’t facilitate flex working, or because their careers would stagnate, or because they can’t afford to reduce their hours. So many barriers to the very normal, sane desire to spend a decent chunk of every day life doing something other than working! 

Thanks again for taking part, and I wish you and Elaine continued success.

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