“I often feel like I am present physically but trying to work on something myself while doing homework/cooking dinner etc. I feel like I may be around my children a lot of the time but I need to give them more time!”
Continuing the series of interviews about being a mother and balancing work and home, I speak to Dr. Naomi Lavelle, a mother of three who gave up her job in the medical diagnostics industry to stay at home with her children. She has since set up Dr How’s Science Wows, to get children involved in science in a fun, entertaining and hands-on way and also writes and blogs about Science and Nature and has a regular children’s Science page in Science Spin Magazine.
When I asked Naomi about the glass ceiling, she made a very good point about obstacles we sometimes put in place ourselves:
“I think women are very good at multi-tasking and are capable of reaching the top in their chosen career as well as raising their children. However they may have to overcome a number of obstacles to achieve this. Some of these obstacles are in the minds of society and the people they work with; some of these obstacles are of their own creation… guilt being one of them.”
To hear more of Naomi’s thoughts on balancing family and career, read on…
Thank you Naomi for taking part in this series of interviews for Office Mum blog – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
I have three children … my daughter is nine and my two sons are seven and four. The years pass quickly!
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?
In 2011 I set up Science Wows, to bring interactive science to children in a number of different ways. This can be an interactive birthday party, a public event or exhibition, or a school visit. I also have a regular Kids Science page in Science Spin Magazine. In 2013 I started a Science Wows science and nature blog.
I also run a small aikido club with my husband and we run two children’s aikido classes a week during term time.
What kind of hours did you work in the past and what hours do you do now?
In my last job I worked 8.30am to 5pm five days a week.
Now my working hours vary greatly but with all the “behind the scenes” work I need to do I usually try to get in an hour of work on the computer before the children get up in the mornings and work late after they are gone to bed. The rest of the day I dip in and out of work between the usual school runs, homework, dinner and family time. A lot of my “hands on” working time happens at the weekends!
Did you have the flexibility to work from home in your previous job?
Part time working hours were not an option for me in my previous job. If I could have worked shorter weeks or shorter days I would have taken that option. Instead I was offered to work a fifteen hour week from home on a trial basis. It sounds ideal but the reality was not so great. I was supposed to be connected to the office network from home but most of the time it did not work. I kept getting called into the office at different hours and it became very hard to sort out childcare. I chose to stop work altogether once the trial period was up.
What kind of childcare do you use?
A lot of my working hours (birthday party or public events) occur on the weekend when my husband is usually free to mind the children.
My husband is self employed so once we know my schedule well enough in advance, he can usually take over the childcare while I work.
If I have a really busy schedule (like Science Week for example) then my Mum will often come and stay to help out. On the rare occasion that both myself and my husband are working at the same time we get a baby sitter to mind the children in our home.
Is your childcare solution working well for you?
Yes overall I think it works well for us. I still mind the children 80 to 90% of the time.
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
My two older children are in school from 9am to 2.40pm and my youngest just started five days of Montessori school this year (9am to 12.30pm). I am still adjusting to the new set up but I think overall things are easier for me.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
Time! There never seems to be enough hours in the day. I never seem to get the house clean enough or get to the end of the laundry basket. Some days just doing the grocery shopping or cooking the dinner are frustrating inconveniences pulling me away from work.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I think once you become a parent, guilt is inevitable. When I returned to work full time after my maternity leave on my first child the guilt was terrible. I found myself trying to overcompensate in silly ways which just created more pressure. Now I try to work around the children as much as possible but there is still plenty of guilt involved, I often feel like I am present physically but trying to work on something myself while doing homework/cooking dinner etc. I feel like I may be around my children a lot of the time but I need to give them more time!
It is also hard to go out to work when my children ask me not to or are sick and want me around.
One of the main stresses I feel is preparing to leave for work while looking after the children! They always seem to need my attention as I am preparing and packing my equipment, or when I am trying to research and trial some new experiments.
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?
To be honest I think this is different for every mother. In an ideal world I probably would have liked to wait a year or two longer before setting up my business but I love what I do and like the challenges and diversity.
I love the fact that I can fit things around the children as much as possible. Nobody is happy with their set up all the time but overall I think this solution works very well for me and my family.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
As I said I really do enjoy what I do at the moment. I have a number of projects and new developments that I would like to add to my business over the next few years. I really enjoy scientific writing and visual presentation and would love to expand my work in these areas also.
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 women are very good at multi-tasking and are capable of reaching the top in their chosen career as well as raising their children. However they may have to overcome a number of obstacles to achieve this. Some of these obstacles are in the minds of society and the people they work with; some of these obstacles are of their own creation… guilt being one of them.
I think there are a number of wonderful role models in our society of woman with a successful home and work life but I also think that it is difficult for women to reach the top in certain fields.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
1. It will take time for you and your family to adjust to the new situation – expecting this will make the change less stressful.
2. A happy Mum means a happy home! If you feel happy and fulfilled in what you do then it fill filter through to the whole family. This applies whether you are a stay at home mum or work full time outside the home!
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Once the kids are fed and healthy the rest will fall into place and you will all eventually fall into a routine that works.
Naomi I love that you are running a business from home, in your own career area, but still looking after your children 80 to 90% of the time. I think many of us aspire to this – thank you for sharing your story!
A little more about Naomi and links to her websites:
Naomi has a PhD in Molecular Biology from NUI, Galway. She worked in research, as a lecturer and in the medical diagnostic industry before giving up her job to be a stay at home mum after her her first child was born.
Seven years and three children later Naomi set up Dr How’s Science Wows, to get children involved in science in a fun, entertaining and hands-on way! Naomi has worked with thousands of children bringing “Science to life” in their schools, at their parties and at public events.Naomi also writes and blogs about Science and Nature and has a regular children’s Science page in Science Spin Magazine.Naomi lives in Galway with her husband and three children.
Science Spin Magazine http://www.sciencespin.com/