“I have guilty moments, I think most mothers do. Fathers tend not to, which is interesting; most men I know are pragmatic about it. Work has to be done, bills have to be paid”
This week’s Office Mum interview is with Sinéad Crowley; journalist, RTE Arts and Media correspondent and mother of two. A self-confessed internet addict, she discovered the world of parenting websites while on maternity leave with her first child. Her debut thriller, Can Anybody Help Me?, being published on May 1st, is set on one such site.
Sinéad lives in Dublin with her husband and two young sons.
Thank you Sinéad for taking part in this interview for Office Mum – I LOVE your book, so am very excited to have you take part in this series! Could you begin by telling me how many children you have and their ages?
Two boys, one is four and a half and the other is 18 months old.
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?
And what kind of hours do you work?
At the moment I’m working a nine day fortnight in RTE, I’m off on Parental Leave every second Monday. My usual hours are roughly from 10am – 6pm but to be honest no two days are the same. Sometimes I work until the 9pm news, or later if I’m editing a radio package for the following morning, and I also work some weekends as well.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
I can do some work from home, research or radio editing for example. But if a story breaks I have to be prepared to drop everything and come into the office so I can never plan on spending a day at home.
Do you have to travel for work?
I travel all over Dublin and occasionally elsewhere in Ireland. I go abroad once or twice a year, usually for short trips of 2/3 days duration. I will hopefully heading to the Eurovision final in Copenhagen in May!
What kind of childcare do you use?
The boys are in a crèche but we have a childminder as well in the early evenings because we both work unpredictable hours
Is your childcare solution working well for you?
Yes. We really like our crèche and the boys are very happy there but we needed someone to fill the gaps in the evening so this is the best solution.
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
The eldest boy starts this September. Short term he’ll go to afterschool in the same crèche he’s in at the moment but medium to long-term we’ll have to investigate other childcare options.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
When the boys were very small the big problem was sudden illnesses – that feeling you get when a baby is running a temp at 3am and you know you have a big day in work the next day. Looking down the line it’s long school holidays that will cause the problems but I haven’t had to tackle them yet! I suspect we’ll have to look into a full-time childminder or au pair when that happens.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I have guilty moments, I think most mothers do. Fathers tend not to, which is interesting; most men I know are pragmatic about it. Work has to be done, bills have to be paid. But I try to keep it in perspective. We put a lot of work into finding the best childcare we could and I know the boys are happy there. All of their friends have two working parents too so attending a crèche is perfectly normal for them. I really enjoy the parental leave days I spend with them but I also think that in my personal case my job makes me a happier person and therefore a better mother when I am around.
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 think a 4 day week, if you can afford it is a great solution. A four-day week allows you to work almost full-time, indeed many people end up squashing five days work into four. But it also gives you a full day to spend with your children and allows you to do things like school pickups and keep in touch with that aspect of their lives. Both parents on four-day weeks would give the family a terrific balance I think but obviously you’d have to look at the loss of earnings in that situation.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I’m very happy in my current job! I’d like it if someone could discover an 8th day in the week though, so I could do more writing.
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 don’t think this is a woman only issue. It is hard to be a parent and a full-time employee, you’re essentially working at two full-time jobs but that doesn’t mean the woman has to automatically be the one who takes a step back or goes part-time. The more input the father has in childrearing and housework, the fewer difficulties there are for both.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Get as much help as you can, no one can do everything. If you can afford it, get a cleaner. Even a couple of hours once a fortnight can free you up to spend more time with your children when you are not working.
Try and plan meals ahead of time.
Own your decision. If you decide to work, if you’ve reached a solution that works for your family, don’t feel guilty about it. Men don’t. Many older women have told me they were delighted they kept their jobs when their kids grew older and got their own lives and I hang onto that thought when life gets tough.
Thank you Sinéad for taking part in the interview. I really liked what you said about owning your decision: that’s something I feel strongly about too. I think once we find something that’s somewhat balanced, it makes sense to focus on work at work, on kids at home, and enjoy both as much as possible – rather than spending the day wishing and worrying. You mention older women saying they were delighted they kept their jobs – that’s very reassuring to hear and I too will hang on to that on the tough days. Best of luck with the book – not that you’ll need it; it’s a fantastic read!
Sinéad’s book, “Can Anybody Help Me?” is a crime thriller set in the world of new mothers, working mothers, parenthood and internet forums. So basically the life that many of us have been living for the last five or ten years – minus the murder element (hopefully).
It’s a real page-turner, especially if you enjoy well-written, plot-driven crime fiction. The added enjoyment is the context and the familiarity of the characters – the new mother muddling her way through the early newborn months; the expectant mother trying to keep her pregnancy low-key in her male-dominated work environment, and the internet forum– Netmammy – a fictional version of the parenting forums we all know so well. It’s sharp and smart, with very believable characters, and set in a world with which we’re familiar – post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.
I loved this book – I knew I would from the very first page – and I’d highly recommend it, particularly if you like your plots twisty.
Competition time! – the below competition is now closed but if you’re reading between April 12th and April 19th 2016, there’s a Facebook competition to win a copy of Sinéad’s second book. Just comment there to be in with a chance (ROI only)
Sinéad’s publisher Quercus have very kindly given me four copies of “Can Anybody Help Me?” to give away, so if you’d like to be in with a chance to win one, just comment below, or on the Office Mum Facebook page or share the post on Twitter, copying @office_mum
Can Anybody Help Me? is published by Quercus on 1st May and available in all good bookshops.