“Women have been conditioned to feel that it’s up to them to keep all balls in the air which in reality is just not feasible (not to mention unfair)”
This week’s interview is with bestselling author Melissa Hill, who lives in South Dublin with her husband and four-year-old daughter. After an early career in banking, she went on to become a full-time author, and has written thirteen novels. Her latest book, A Gift To Remember, is out now.
In my twenties I worked as a bank teller at both AIB and Bank of Ireland, and later went to work in my husband’s family business before becoming a published writer.
And how did you get into writing?
Working in the family business entailed working from home, so losing the commute meant that I had extra hours in the day. I used this to exercise my love for writing and one day I sat down to write my first novel – and I haven’t stopped since.
And could you tell me about your family?
We have one daughter who is four years old. My husband is also a novelist (we co-write thrillers together) and while he prefers to go elsewhere to write, I prefer working from home. My daughter was at home with us full-time until this year, when she started attending playschool a few mornings a week.
Do you write at home and do you find that this helps in terms of balancing work and family?
It’s a double edged sword as when my daughter was younger she quite literally used to sit beneath my desk or potter around the room while I was working. While it’s always been terrific to have her close by, her presence can also be somewhat of a distraction – especially now that she’s older and is eager to chat/play/get up to divilment.
Do you have to travel much for work and do you find that challenging?
I travel quite a bit to Italy where my books are especially popular and also to the UK/US a couple of times a year. While of course it’s hard being away from family for longer periods, the upside is that I get the opportunity to read uninterrupted on a flight, and have the peace and quiet of a hotel room all to myself, bliss!
Is your daughter in school, and if so, did balancing work and home become easier or more difficult?
She’s not yet in school, but attends playschool three mornings a week. While it’s good to have quieter periods for work, it’s actually become a little more stressful as a whole as we have to deal with the morning rush out the door, whereas before were spoiled and could start/end each day at our leisure. Good practice for the school run.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about juggling work and home?
I don’t find it especially difficult as my husband and I have always shared home/parenting/work tasks, and if one of us is busy the other automatically steps in and picks up any slack.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I’m a pretty pragmatic kind of person though I think that equal division of home/work/parenting in our house means that there’s really nothing to feel guilty about. I also think this stems from not taking any traditional maternity leave when my daughter was born because it meant that there was never a situation where only one of us was solely responsible for her needs, which tends to set the family dynamic in stone. Thankfully everything has always been a shared responsibility.
What are the advantages of being a writer, when it comes to parenting?
It’s fantastic to be able to spend lots of time with my daughter day to day, and for her to know that I’m always easily accessible (within reason!) if she needs me.
And are there any downsides?
I’m not sure there are any, other than her wanting me to come and play when I’m on a tight deadline/on the phone etc.
Do you ever find that people assume you’re free and available, more than those who work in an office? If so, how do you combat that?
Yes, this used to happen a lot in the early days when I started writing fulltime, but friends and family know now that I’m very disciplined, and that my job/work hours are much the same as anyone else’s.
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?
In my experience a great balance has to be both parents equally sharing all responsibilities right from the get-go. My own situation is rare and I know that such a scenario isn’t always possible for everyone but an equal division of responsibility is perhaps the only truly effective way to counter the psychological obligations that make fulfilment in either area so difficult. Women have been conditioned to feel that it’s up to them to keep all balls in the air which in reality is just not feasible (not to mention unfair).
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?
Very much depends on the woman. For the most part, equal opportunities exist for both sexes but it is difficult for women to exploit those same opportunities when children are the in the mix and the family is set-up in such a way that childcare/household is primarily reliant on her.
Do you have any advice for mothers who are torn – who want to maintain careers but want to have time with their children?
It’s always been the ultimate conundrum, but I would imagine that a fulfilled parent makes for a happy child/family, and quality time together is arguably more beneficial than anything else. It’s such a personal choice that it’s impossible for anyone else to determine.
Any other comments?
Great questions, thank you.
And thank you too! It’s very interesting to get a glimpse into how it works balancing writing and family – I’ve always thought it sounds like an ideal situation and you’ve confirmed my suspicions. I also found it really interesting to hear that not having a traditional maternity leave led to a more equal division of work with your husband – it’s something I’ve wondered about too, so again you’ve confirmed my suspicions!
I agree with you that we’re conditioned to keep all balls in the air – I also think it’s too some extent innate. I’m not sure it’s feasible to let go of control, but you seem to have found a really great balance!
If you’d like to win one of two copies of Melissa’s book, A Gift To Remember, just comment below, comment on the Office Mum Facebook page, or Tweet a link to this post. I will draw two winners on Monday August 4th.