Office Mum stories – Tamara Whitney

My husband is the main carer for the children and always has been – as he left a job in the City of London to change career when I was pregnant with my first child”

This week’s interview is with Tamara Whitney, a mother of two who works full-time, and has recently moved from the UK to Ireland for her job. She compares life for working parents in the UK with her experience of Ireland to date, and talks about her pretty great childcare solution – her stay at home husband.  

Thank you Tamara for taking part in this interview series for OfficeMum.ie – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

Tamara Whitney - Office MumYou’re more than welcome, delighted to be asked! I have two children; a son who’s 12 and a daughter almost 7.

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 Head of Sales for Nestle Ireland – responsible for sales operations across our Confectionery, Beverage, Food and Pet care categories. I manage a team of account managers who work with customers as diverse as Tesco’s & Dunnes through to Spar & MaxiZoo to ensure that our products are in the right place, at the right time to satisfy and delight consumers!

We moved as a family for me to take up the role here in Ireland, I came ahead and have been in role for a year. My family arrived in the summer of 2014.

What kind of hours do you work?

I work full time, at least 9-6 but most of the time a fair bit more, I find it hard to switch off – but I love what I do – so no complaints!

Do you work from home, occasionally or regularly? 

I am office based – but my role is fairly flexible and if I needed to work at home occasionally it wouldn’t be an issue.

Do you travel a lot for work?

Yes, I travel back and forth to UK and beyond fairly regularly, but usually for only a couple of nights at a time.

What kind of childcare do you use and is it working well for you?

My husband is the main carer for the children and always has been – as he left a job in the City of London to change career when I was pregnant with my first child. He now works for himself as a Chiropractor but manages his diary around childcare.

To allow him to work a little later a couple of nights my youngest has just joined an after school club twice a week.

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

Having a husband at home takes most of the stress out of the situation, but I think that logistics are probably the hardest; the school day in Ireland is a lot shorter than the UK where they finish at 4.

Also more schools in the UK provide affordable wrap around childcare (from 7.30am to 6.30pm in our last UK school for £12 a day) which gives much more flexibility for working parents.

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

Very rarely; as I know my children are happy and well looked after – my husband has far more patience than me.  When I am travelling and away with work for long stretches then naturally I miss them, but it’s a lot easier now they are older. When they were toddlers I was quite frequently given the silent treatment if I had been away with work for a long period of time. Now they Skype or face-time when I am working away so I never feel too far from home.

Do you see differences between the UK and Ireland, in terms of how easy or difficult it is to be a working parent, or how working mothers are perceived?

In terms of ease – see the answer above re. wraparound child care, it’s much more affordable in the UK than here in Ireland. Although the reverse is true of Nannies which seem to be a much more common solution in Ireland than the UK.

In terms of perception, I don’t think it’s very different – although our arrangement (with my husband doing the majority of the childcare) is far more unique in Ireland than it was in the UK.

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?

Difficult to answer as it really depends in the individual definition of fulfilling (from a career perspective) and optimal (in terms of childcare). Many families employ nannies round the clock or use boarding schools, that wouldn’t work for us – but it may well be the optimal solution for some families!

The arrangement that we have at home works well for our family, but I appreciate that it wouldn’t work for everyone.

I think ultimately every family has to find their own solution one that works for them, and also understand that it might not work all the time!

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

I am fortunate that I really enjoy my current area of work, its challenging enough to be fulfilling and its different everyday so I never get bored.

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 work in a business run by a female CEO, and here in Ireland I am managed by a female Country Manager and work alongside a female Head of Finance, so no I don’t believe in glass ceilings!

I have plenty of friends who have taken career breaks to look after their children whilst they were young and who have since returned to work in completely new and far more fulfilling roles. 

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

  • Sort out the childcare early on and fully anticipate at least a month of coughs and colds once little ones start in a nursery – your children will be rewarded with cast iron immunity against all ills once they start school!
  • Form a network with other parents so  some else can pick up for you if the M50 is a disaster – then at least you won’t be panicking about the nursery closing and leaving your little ones on the doorstep if you are delayed at work.
  • Read a copy of “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg – and get your partner to read a copy too – it’s a great book with a real call to action to help address the gender balance in the workplace and to help boost the confidence of working women.

Tamara I’m delighted you took part in the series – we’ve had lots of mothers who work part-time or own their own businesses, and some who work full-time but reluctantly, but there have not been many who work full-time, don’t suffer from working mother guilt, and very much enjoy their jobs.  I imagine childcare is a large factor – the fact that your husband is looking after your children means that you can focus on work without worrying.

I was particularly struck by your comment on glass ceilings, because that’s also my experience – my boss is a woman, and at work I’m surrounded by successful, high-achieving women. I do find it colours my judgement – I tend to assume that every industry is the same. I also think that glass ceilings are linked with motherhood and the desire for more flexibility. I think any woman, mother or not, who wants to succeed, can do so. But if she wants flexibility, it tends to close doors. Unfortunately!

Your comparison with the UK is really interesting – life would certainly be easier for working parents here if school ended later and the wrap-around care you mention was in greater supply.

Thanks for taking the time for the interview Tamara!

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4 thoughts on “Office Mum stories – Tamara Whitney”

    1. Yes, they sound like they have it sorted! I imagine that if I worked full-time and my husband was at home, I’d probably freak out a bit over the house, but I’d relax about being away from the kids, knowing they’re with their dad. I’d still be jealous though 🙂

  1. I thought that this was a very balanced article though I still believe in glass ceilings, but agree that the need for flexibility has a lot to do with it. But you also need confidence and self belief (and I don’t think that you can get that from a book, sorry!), and a bit of luck: like a partner who is happy to stay at home, a strong marriage, a healthy economy, children who are relatively healthy and don’t have other issues, childcare that works, an understanding boss etc etc. I will always be thankful for my career, but what happened to me proves that if you take away some of the above, it becomes almost impossible to hold onto your career. Loving these interviews!
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    1. I think the glass ceiling question is so interesting – it is the one question the whole series that is not consistent in terms of answer. Some believe in it and some don’t. I think it’s totally about context. If all of the things you mention above are in place, then the sky’s the limit (not even!) But for most of us, there’s something that doesn’t work or perhaps just too much of the dreaded guilt, and we want the flexibility. And bang – down comes that ceiling.

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