“Of course I feel guilty . . . In my area of work I have to work Christmas, Easter, birthdays too, and the guilt is huge then too but I didn’t go into nursing blindfolded. I knew that this was ahead of me but it doesn’t make it easier when I’m not there to see his face after Santa arrives.”
Niamh Whyte is a mother of one, living in Drogheda and working as a nurse in a busy Paediatric Emergency Department. She recently undertook a Graduate Diploma in Emergency Nursing which meant she was very busy with assignments. Now that it’s done, she has a new project keeping her busy – planning her upcoming wedding.
Thank you Niamh for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
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 am a senior staff nurse in a busy emergency department of a children’s hospital in Dublin. It’s the second busiest Paediatric Emergency Dept in Europe. I’ve been working there for the past seven and half years. But I worked in the hospital for a year before I started in ED while I was doing my Higher Diploma in Children’s Nursing.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work twelve shifts – days, nights and midday-midnight – in a four-week roster period. The shifts are twelve hours long both days and nights. They’re long shifts but I love having my time off in between them so I don’t mind them.
Do you have to travel for work?
The only travelling I do for my work is my 50Km commute to and from work each day.
What kind of childcare do you use?
I’m so lucky that myself, my son and my partner live with my dad, and he minds Taylor on the days and nights that I am working. Taylor absolutely idolises his granddad so it’s great for him too.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
At the moment I’m undertaking a Graduate Diploma in UCD in Paediatric Emergency Nursing. With working full-time and trying to get assignments done there isn’t a lot of spare “me time” but when I finish the course in May I plan on going back to the Gym and getting out walking again. The only “me time” I have at the moment is flicking through Facebook on my phone when I get into bed at night.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
It’s tough. I won’t lie. I know I’m lucky in that my dad looks after Taylor and he manages the school drop offs and collections on the days I work and I do it on my days off. The house is generally given a cursory tidy over every few days and then once a week – or fortnight! – it gets a good blitz. The washing has been building up lately with the weather so now the washing machine doesn’t know what’s hit it as it’s on its third cycle of the day! Cooking wise, I try to cook meals that can do us for two days – curries, stews etc. for the days I’m working but I won’t lie – I’m on first name terms with the girls in the local take-away too!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Of course I feel guilty! Show me a mum who doesn’t!! It’s worse for me if Taylor’s sick though. I feel awful leaving him to go and look after other sick children. In my area of work too I have to work Christmas, Easter, birthdays too, and the guilt is huge then too but I didn’t go into nursing blindfolded. I knew that this was ahead of me but it doesn’t make it easier when I’m not there to see his face after Santa arrives.
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’d love a term time job but logistically in my area that doesn’t work. I just thank my lucky stars that my dad is able to mind Taylor in his own home.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I love working in ED. I love the excitement and the unpredictability of it. Ideally though I’d love to work maybe eight-hour shifts and no nights!
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
Being honest (and selfish maybe?) I don’t think I would be. I’ve studied and trained too long and worked too hard to get to where I am to give up and stay at home. I honestly think my own mental health would suffer too and ultimately my relationships with Taylor and his daddy would suffer.
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 suppose working in a predominately female profession I don’t really think of glass ceilings. All of the nursing management team in my hospital are females and mothers.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Plan. Batch cook and freeze dinners. Enjoy being you and not just “mammy”
Thank you Niamh for taking part in the series – it’s really interesting to hear from a paediatric nurse – we all have some sense of the kind of work you do, but I don’t think the rest of us can really imagine what it’s like to work a twelve-hour shift and to look after sick children.
It’s so inspiring to hear that despite how busy it is, and despite working nights and long shifts, you wouldn’t give up even if you could – I think it’s huge to be able to say that about any job. It’s also very interesting to hear from someone who works in an area dominated by female staff – how refreshing to be immune to the glass ceiling.
And I wholeheartedly agree with your approach to a cursory tidy-up and a weekly or fortnightly blitz – that’s my way of dealing with it too, and the house is still standing. We can’t do everything. The very best of luck with your wedding planning!