Office Mum stories – Rosemarie Hayden

Rosemarie Hayden, a solicitor and mother of two, has had two distinct experiences of working parenthood and childcare. Here she talks about guilt (or lack thereof), flexibility, women in the legal profession, and the sticky floor:

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

I have two girls, aged almost twenty-two and one. Not the most conventional of age gaps but always a conversation starter!

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’m a solicitor working in the Law School, at the Law Society of Ireland. The Law Society represents, educates and regulates the solicitors’ profession in Ireland. There are approximately 10,500 practising solicitors in Ireland and my role is to support solicitors nationwide in keeping up to date in their profession with continuing professional development. I love how the work combines my love of the law and my love of life-long learning.

I started at the Law Society in early 2016. Prior to that I had worked from graduation in 2000 in a variety of legal roles in private practice and in-house legal.

What kind of hours do you work?

My work hours are generally the typical 9-5 Monday-Friday office hours. There are occasional conference and seminar attendance outside of those times.

What kind of childcare do you use?

I’ve basically had two distinct experiences of parenting and childcare. For both my girls I have always worked full-time, and up until my elder daughter completed her Leaving Certificate, I had also been in something approaching full-time education. For example, my elder daughter’s Leaving Certificate overlapped with my finally completing my qualification as a solicitor, and for this I am very appreciative of the support I received from the Law Society and my then employer who were incredibly supportive in assisting me to complete a full-time university course while still working full-time – and feeling like an occasional parent at times!

My elder daughter went to crèche/playschool at the university I attended but over the years our main childcare was family – in particular my amazing mother, who, as she approaches 70 is still hugely busy as a self-employed farmer, and has raised six children while keeping her business going in good times and bad. This was far and away the best possible solution for us as it meant that my daughter essentially was raised in a household spread between two adjacent houses so she was home regardless of which house she was in. While she was in primary school my working hours in a multi-national were very long and in retrospect I wish I had had more interaction with her school life. While she was in secondary school my working life in a different multi-national included more flexibility and she has mentioned that it’s a pity that those two jobs weren’t reversed! I think when they get to be teenagers, they may be more interested in their parents as an ATM/taxi combo rather than itching for them to be cheering them on at the sports pitch!

Now with my younger daughter, our little one enjoys extended family time with a variety of family members throughout the week. There’s a bit of coordinating and a constantly updating colour-coded timetable but I love that she is surrounded by family at all times. I feel that later when she’s a little older she’ll benefit from the playschool experience of interacting with more kids but for now I feel this works best for us all. It really does take a village!

Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?

Since returning from maternity leave my husband and I have agreed to have one night a week each ‘me-time’. It doesn’t always work out that way but when it does my ‘me-time’ is spent volunteering with Irish Red Cross. This allows me to indulge my love of teaching and spreading the word on the benefits of first aid. Playing my small part in the world’s largest humanitarian organisation gives me a huge sense of personal satisfaction.

My day is generally so busy that another way I enjoy some ‘me-time’ is to go somewhere quiet at lunchtime if I can make the time and read a book. It’s that quiet time that I missed most on maternity leave!

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

I feel that in order to balance work and home a huge level of organisation is required. The morning begins the night before with packing the bags and laying out clothes so we’re ready to hit the ground running. I run a load of laundry morning and night as it looks like Armageddon if not! Sometimes I find myself thinking ‘no I don’t have time’ but doing a little often makes it all so much more manageable. I also love google shared docs for managing home administration.

Regarding time pressure, if a year-old baby is ideally supposed to get 11-12 hours’ sleep at night it’s almost impossible to make that happen with a standard work, commute and childcare timed arrangement. To be at work for 9am, with an average hour-long commute and a minimum 30-minute time needed for drop off for childcare; my experience is that the only way to make this work is to have baby up at 6 so everyone’s fed, dressed and ready to leave at 7am. At the other end of the day if the commute means the earliest baby is collected and home is 6.30pm then bath, supper and bed needs to happen at breakneck speed to get baby into bed for 7pm to have the possibility of the minimum optimum 11 hours’ sleep at night. The health implications for society at large for long-term sub-optimal sleep for children can be quite serious – lack of concentration and memory issues, propensity towards obesity and cardiovascular disease. As Ireland is currently on track to become the most obese country in the EU within a decade, I think it’s possibly time we looked at every way in which we can better support child health, including looking at the impact our standard working and commuting times have on family life and child health.

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

I may sound unusual here but I don’t feel at all guilty for working outside the home. I find it interesting that this is a question often asked of mothers and almost never asked of fathers. I found it especially interesting that after our baby was born no one asked my husband how he would manage balancing work and home, or if he would return to work but almost everyone asked me! I’ve never heard of ‘working-father guilt’!

Regarding expectations – there is an expectation I find that modern women can ‘have it all’ but in reality that ends up instead being required to ‘do it all’. There appears to be an assumption that childcare and home management is default the woman’s role and so after a man and woman spend the exact same time outside the home in paid work they return home and the woman is expected to start ‘the second shift’ while anything the man contributes here is lauded as ‘help’. In theory society pays lip-service to the concept of equal parenting and household management etc. but the reality is still quite different.

It almost feels as if society expects women to feel guilty for perceived inadequacies while in reality they are doing far more than is expected of men, a bit like how it’s Fred Astaire who is remembered as the great dancer while Ginger Rogers was doing all the same steps backwards in high heels! I enjoy my work, I enjoy my time with my family and I enjoy my social time and I don’t believe that the world would be a better place if I were to feel guilty about any of that!

I’m hugely proud of my elder girl who flew through her university education and emerged with a stellar qualification as a healthcare professional, and is now working in her chosen field. What I’m most proud of is that she felt empowered to spread her wings and attend university overseas at only 17, while still staying connected enough to home to want to return here when she qualified. I feel that her experience of growing up in a family and an atmosphere that celebrates hard work and education has facilitated her growth into a fantastic human being. If my younger daughter were to be inspired by her big sister and all the other fantastic women in our family I think she’ll be fine. Okay I’d better stop now or she won’t let me publish this!

Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a parent to have a fulfilling career while being there for the kids?

I don’t believe there could ever be an optimal solution for everyone. I think the key is flexibility, not ‘one size fits all’ but an openness in society generally that conversations about family and work should not just be from the woman’s perspective or viewed as a woman’s issue but as an issue for society as a whole. Society needs children and the best thing for our entire society is for those children to grow up to be happy, healthy, productive members of society – available to pay their taxes for our pensions when it comes to it!

For me my current situation is, dare I say it, pretty close to perfect. With a combination of supportive employers and family, my husband and I get to enjoy our chosen careers, time together as a family and even the commute counts as time to chat as a couple!

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

My current role ticks pretty much all the boxes for me. If I were looking for something to pick then perhaps I would like to think at some stage I’d get to do some more courtroom advocacy work as I very much enjoyed that in a previous role. I think my dad at least figures you couldn’t really be a lawyer if you’re not cross-examining someone on the stand!

Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?

Yes and no. Yes for a short time but no in the long-term. For my own sense of self I know I am happier and more fulfilled when I feel I am fulfilling my potential and using my skills, and happy mum = happy everyone!

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 would say the latter. I’ve found it very interesting to be a female solicitor in Ireland at the same time as that profession became the first legal profession in the world to be predominantly female. I graduated in a class which was ¾ female and last year the Chief Justice, President of the District Court, Garda Commissioner, Minister for Justice, Attorney General, DPP, Chief State Solicitor, Data Protection Commissioner, Chief State Pathologist, head of the Free Legal Aid Centre, and the Ombudsman for Children (phew!) were all female. In addition, this came shortly after a time where we had had a 21-year unbroken time period where the last eye cast over a law before it was signed was by a succession of talented female constitutional lawyers as President of Ireland.

On that basis, it would appear that the glass ceiling is well and truly smashed in the Irish legal professions at least, but digging beneath the surface means this isn’t the whole story. As of 2016 only 16% of Irish Barristers at Senior Counsel level are female, which raises the question of where the rest of the total 36% female barristers disappeared to between initial qualification and the inner Bar. Meanwhile among solicitors, a certain thinning of the number of women likewise occurs approaching partner level. I don’t believe that this shows an incompatibility between legal careers and women at the highest level, but rather a sign that we may need to look at a societal shift away from the message that in addition to working full-time a woman has the primary responsibility for all home matters too. That’s probably a long way of saying that I’d agree with Ivana Bacik that we’ve got more of a sticky floor than a glass ceiling!

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

  1. Be kind to yourself. Accept that it’s going to feel strange for a while and there will be days when you feel like you’ll have to jack it all in because you can’t bear to leave your baby today and they’ll never survive without you! Then gradually the new normal kicks in and at the end of the day babs is looking up at you with a look on their face that says ‘ah, it’s yourself! I had an amazing day, let me show you what I can do now!’
  2. Get help. Get whatever help makes things easier for you. If its cleaner, dog-walker, gardener, grocery delivery, laundry service (that all sounds lovely actually!!) don’t feel one bit guilty for exchanging some of the money you earn doing what you enjoy to pay someone else to help you have more time doing the things you want to do with the people you want to spend time with. I’d rather have more time than more stuff.
  3. Be proud of yourself. You’ve brought your children into the world and showing them a life well lived gives them every reason to aspire for that themselves.

Any other comments?

I’m writing this as we celebrate the centenary of voting rights for women and feeling rather incredulous that while there’s no bar to what women can achieve, there’s still great inequality in expectations of men and women. In raising my daughters I hope that as they live their lives they are guided by the knowledge that there’s nothing beyond their grasp as long as they’re prepared to work for it, and the only expectations they need worry about meeting are their own.

Thanks Rosemarie! It’s fascinating to hear about your experience with your two daughters – in a way it made me think how great it would be to really spread the age gap and try different options with each child, learning what works and what doesn’t. Mine are close in age and will have had roughly similar experiences as kids so if I’m getting it all wrong, they’re all doomed together!

I was interested in your point about sleep and babies – it’s something I used to worry about when mine were out of the house for long days at crèche. But they seemed to eventually find their own way around it – sleeping more during the day to balance it out – and in the end it worked. It’s hard though – those are the  things that prey on your mind as a parent, and bring about the dreaded guilt!

I think the reason women tend to feel guilty more so than men is because we are often surrounded by mothers who are at home with their children. When my kids were in full-time childcare (and I was worrying about the above-mentioned sleep!) I had friends who were working part-time, and I worried that I should be trying to do the same. My husband on the other hand had no friends working part-time, nor was anyone in his office working part-time, so there was doubt there – no concern on his part that he was making a mistake, no looking over his shoulder and wondering. I imagine until we reach a point whereby fathers are working as flexibly as mothers, it will be difficult to move away from this sense that we might be getting it wrong. 

I think you’re absolutely right that flexibility is key – and I love what you said here:

“Society needs children and the best thing for our entire society is for those children to grow up to be happy, healthy, productive members of society – available to pay their taxes for our pensions when it comes to it!”

It’s too easy to argue that people chose to have kids/ shouldn’t have had kids if they can’t handle work and family/ shouldn’t expect state investment in childcare, so I’m going to remember your quote the next time someone brings it up. Thanks for taking part and I wish you continued success in your career! 

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Author: Andrea Mara | Office Mum

Blogger, freelance writer, author, mother - muddling through and constantly looking for balance.

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