“I never wanted to be a SAHM. I felt it would not suit me”
For this week’s interview, I speak to Tracey Holsgrove, proud mother of one daughter with special needs. Tracey is a community activist who is currently at home, though getting back into part-time work. She blogs at Musings and Chatterings
I have one daughter, Fionnuala, who will be 7 in early July.
And now could you tell me a little about your career history – what did you do before you had your daughter and for how long you were working at this? Did you enjoy this work?
My career history is quite mixed! I worked at various jobs in my late teens and early twenties but I always knew I wanted to work in history in some way shape or form. I was a bit late starting third-level and went to Liverpool Uni to study History and Irish Studies at 21. After my degree I worked in retail for a year and then undertook a full-time Masters degree in Historical Research in Liverpool. I then worked for the university in a fundraising and admin role for two years.
In 1999, I won a scholarship to undertake doctoral research in Irish women’s history. I worked at that full-time for three years and then part-time for another year. I did not finish my PhD at that stage and – by this time I was living in Ireland – took a variety of casual jobs. In 2005 I began working for Amnesty International in Dublin on the fundraising team. I left there in 2006.
My work for Amnesty and Liverpool University was very similar – working on fundraising events – and I did enjoy it. It’s a lot of work but I got a great buzz out of making the events come together. I did a Diploma in Event Management in 2006 in the evenings. But my favourite work has always been my research. No contest.
Did you consider going back to work at any stage after you finished up in 2006 or did you always want to be a stay-at-home mom?
I never wanted to be a SAHM. I felt it would not suit me. When I was pregnant we discovered that the baby had a rare neurological condition which made it likely that there would be physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Fionnuala has both. I am now her full-time carer and to be honest it would be extremely hard for me to hold down a job outside the home.
Is there anything you miss about working?
I miss my research, I miss intellectual stimulation but I am starting to get back – on a very small scale – to some of that which is great
What do you love about being at home with your daughter?
Fionnuala is now at school 5 days a week, and is out from 8am to 3.30pm so I’m no longer at home with her all day every day. What I love about being here with her is just playing with her and seeing how much progress she is making.
Do you ever wish you could work part-time?
I have – over the last year – begun to do some adult education teaching which has been brilliant. I would very much like to build that up
What do you do for yourself – your own creative outlet or “me-time”?
Good question! I am involved in a number of community projects which takes up a fair bit of my daytime. I am very aware I probably don’t make/take enough ‘me-time’. I love to garden and do that a good bit
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 don’t think there can be a one size fits all answer. The circumstances of each family are so different. In our case, the ideal – or as near to as possible – situation would be where both my husband and I can work from home – with some time away (teaching etc) so we can both spend more time with Fionnuala and its not always one of us who has to go to her appointments etc. We would also both love to have more time to work on renovating our 110 year old house and on our garden!
If you could do any job, what would it be?
Dream job? Lectureship position in third-level teaching history, researching women’s history and maybe writing a book! Ideally this would mean I would be in college part of the week but working from home the remainder of the time, which would enable me to fit in Fionnuala’s various appointments.
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?
Most definitely there is a glass ceiling. Attitudes towards parenting and working outside the home need a serious overhaul. There should be paternity leave for all fathers, for example. The assumption that it will always be the mother whose job is most affected by the birth of a child is still a very real one. I know of so many cases where a woman has asked for flexi-time etc in order to manage her family responsibilities and her employer has refused. All employers should have to make a very strong case for refusing such options. And it “not suiting them” is not a good case!
Do you have any advice for expectant or new mothers thinking about leaving their jobs to stay-at-home, e.g. how to weigh up the decision, how to know it’s the right thing to do?
No one can tell anyone else what is the right thing to do. That’s the first piece of advice I would give them – it has to be their decision. The second piece would be to look at all factors – financial, time, childcare, emotional, everything.
Do you have any other comments?
I suppose I am a mix of a SAHM and now a bit of a WAHM. I ended up in this situation through circumstance not by choice. However, even if my daughter did not have disabilities, I don’t think I would be happy in a regular 9 to 5 role. It doesn’t suit me 🙂
Thank you Tracey for taking part – it’s really interesting to hear your story as someone who didn’t intend to stop working outside the home but is making the most of the changed circumstances in a really positive way. I agree absolutely with your comment about flexibility in the workplace – so many employers are still saying no. In the UK now employers have to be able to stand over refusals and give valid reasons – we have nothing at all like that here. And I love what you said about your dream job – I don’t think I’ve ever had a more definitive, details response to that question – it sounds to me like you know exactly what you want and that’s half the journey towards achieving it!