Office Mum stories – Regina Graham

“Parent Guilt is a much documented issue and is often described as “A Silent Epidemic”. It’s hard to avoid these days in the online world we live in.”

Regina Graham is a Dublin mum of three and owner of Childcarefinder.ie – here she talks about the guilt epidemic that goes hand-in-hand with parenting, the glass ceiling, and what prompted her to set up her business.

Thanks Regina for taking part in the interview series – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

reginaI have 3 children, Isabelle is 9, Aaron is 7 and Adam is 4.

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

When I was looking to find childcare for my children, I found it frustrating that I could only go by ‘word of mouth’ and by lists of telephone numbers. The lack of visual information on my local childcare providers meant that I had to take time out of work and life to visit each one individually before I could even begin to narrow down the ones that suited me and that I liked. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could view all the childcare facilities in my locality online” and see what facilities they offer with some photos to get a feel for the place, and perhaps an email address to contact them directly. As we know in work, it’s not always possible to make phone calls. So, we developed Childcarefinder.ie.   Childcarefinder.ie has been running for 6 years now.

So what kind of hours do you work?

I work 5 mornings a week, from 10am to 12.30 – and most evenings when the kids are in bed.

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

I work from home. I’m mainly on the computer or phone which is great and I use a desk in the attic room, away from house work and distractions to try to keep me focused.

Do you have to travel for work? 

Yes, I do have to travel, but only occasionally. Mainly, to visit a childcare facilities to have a chat about their digital marketing strategy and about getting them the best online presence. People in Ireland engage much better face to face than on the phone, from my experience.

What kind of childcare do you yourself use?

Two of my children are in school, and my youngest boy is in Montessori. Between myself and my husband, we tend to cover all bases between us. So we are very lucky that way.

And Is that working well for you? 

Yes, we have tried different options. But with three different pick up times, we find this works best for us.

With two of your children now in school, has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?

I can definitely say having them in school and giving me the morning to work has made the work life balance a bit easier. You just make the best of time you have. It has definitely made me more efficient.

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

Time! The time to get everything done is difficult to find. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. And if something unplanned happens, it throws everything in to chaos and the plan goes out the window.

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!

I love working for myself and working from home, as it gives me the flexibility to be there for my children and still be able to achieve work targets in the meantime. Being able to drop and collect my children to and from school is a real luxury that I’m very grateful for. On the flip side, because you don’t work 9 to 5, you’re always on. Anytime you get a chance, you’re checking email on the phone or laptop. It’s also very difficult to motivate yourself, on a sunny day for example, you just want to go for a walk, and not be at a desk! But I guess that’s the same no matter what working situation you’re in.

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

I think “Guilt” and “Parenthood” go hand in hand. Parent Guilt is a much documented issue and is often described as “A Silent Epidemic”. It’s hard to avoid these days in the online world we live in. We seem to be surrounded by parenting advice and information more than ever before. Conforming to all the advice we read – which is often conflicting advice, depending on the author – leads to inevitable guilt.

From the moment your children are born, you feel guilt that perhaps you’re not doing your best for them. During the rare times where you are having some “you time” the guilt of not being with your kids is always there. Working person’s guilt is a bit of a vicious circle. One which is hard to break. We need to work to earn money to provide even the basic needs for our children. And in doing so we’re not able to be there with our children. With Childcarefinder.ie, I set out to get the holy grail of ‘the perfect work / life balance’, and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is no such thing. Every family has their own dynamic, and the best we can do is find the one that works for you and your family.

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. I think choice and support are essential. If a mother decides to continue working full-time, then she should not feel judged by this decision. Likewise if a mother decides part-time work is a better option, she should not feel judged. Women in the workplace need to support each other whenever we see the opportunity. Support and choice from home is also essential. I feel as long as we make our decisions – work decisions and any parenting decisions – with our children’s needs included as a priority, then this leads to the optimal solution for our own respective families.

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

I’m very happy to say that I would keep doing what I’m doing. Childcarefinder.ie is only in its infancy compared to what I hope to achieve with it but I’ve already learned so much. I would like to grow this in to a successful online business and prove that you can have a ‘kind of’ work / life balance.

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?

Recent statistics I’ve read show that Irish women are better-qualified and more likely to have a third-level qualification than Irish men. Yet there seems to be a perception in society that women ‘check-out’ of their careers after having babies, as if maintaining a career while raising a family holds little interest for them anymore. Perhaps this “stigma” comes from some women needing to take advantage of flex options on offer once children arrive. Perhaps women returning to work now need to take parental leave from time to time. Some have to leave the office dead on 5pm to collect children from childcare. As a result I feel women sometimes get overlooked for high-profile assignments which might be perceived to require extra hours to be worked during certain periods of the project, for example.

If only employers could see that these are the same women getting 5 days work done in 3, for example and are every bit as efficient of those employees who do not have the same draw on their time. Experience seems to be something that is something that is totally underestimated and undervalued.

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

Organization – take 2 hours on a Sunday evening to plan your week, write it all down, and you will start your week feeling like you’re not playing catch up.

Help – say yes to any help offered from family or friends. We have a tendency to want to do it all, to be super Mom. If help is offered, take it!

Use Childcarefinder.ie to help you find your ideal local childcare! You can view the different childcare facilities without having to visit each one by taking precious time out from your already busy working week.

Thanks Regina!  I was so interested in what you said about the proliferation of often conflicting online advice. If we take all of it on board, it’s impossible not to feel guilty. And although as time goes by, I think we become wiser and better at filtering what’s relevant, there are always new stages coming up, and we’re back to being novices again. And therefore vulnerable to feeling like we’re getting it all wrong. I wonder does it ever end. 

I really like your advice about taking time on a Sunday evening to plan the week. It’s a great way to avoid starting Monday in a confused fugue, and wasting the first hour trying to figure out what you’re trying to do!

And I love that your business came about because of your own experience in searching for childcare. It’s such a daunting process, especially for first-time parents who don’t know where to start. Congratulations on everything you’ve done so far and I wish you continued success with it!

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