The next interview in this series is with Brenda Brooks; mother of two small children, actress and producer. She has just finished filming The Play Next Door by Deirdre Purcell which will be broadcast in January on RTE 1 and is currently filming Citizen Charlie a three-part drama about Charles Haughey’s life. Brenda is also the face and voice of the recent FBD commercial campaign and is co-Producer of the June Rodgers Christmas Show which is running from now until January in The Red Cow Moran’s Hotel.
As she explains below, the sporadic nature of her work means that she has to be available at short notice, and she can fluctuate from having time on her hands to being extremely busy, so relies on family rather than using formal childcare.
When I asked Brenda if she finds it challenging or stressful to work outside the home, she answered:
“To be honest, being a mum means I am not free to take on certain types of work. Prior to having children, I could head off on a tour at the drop of a hat… so I guess I have made changes and only take work that takes me away for shorter periods of time.“
To see how she manages the juggle, read on:
Thank you Brenda for taking part if this interview for Office Mum – to begin with, could you tell me how many children you have?
I have two children, Sophie aged 5 and Cillian aged 2.
And now could you tell me a little about your career – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
My initial career calling had me working in Insurance for a number of years, but my true passion always lay with theatre and singing, so by day I worked the “normal 9 to 5” and by night I was gigging and using up most of my work holidays to perform in shows.. Back nearly twenty years ago (where does the time go!), I decided to take the leap of faith and head full time into theatre and have never looked back… from playing in Panto in the Gaiety to touring with Riverdance, playing a Russian in Fair City, working as producer of the June Rodgers Christmas Show at the Red Cow Hotel, and presently filming for Citizen Charlie, a three part drama of Charles Haughey’s life, it’s a career that thankfully has kept me busy and certainly been varied!
What kind of hours do you work?
Hours in the acting world are difficult to manage in that the work is not regular so you can go from having no time on your hands to having plenty of time on your hands! It all depends on the gig; if its TV work you can be required from 6 am in the morning to whatever time they finish at night… If it’s a theatre gig the rehearsal part (usually two weeks) will be from 9am to 5pm but then the show part will be from 6pm to 11pm.
Do you have to travel for work?
Pre kids, I travelled a lot with touring companies, which could be for months, however, since having the children, I decided travelling for long periods of time was not workable for me.
Do you use formal childcare or can you work around looking after your children at the same time as working?
I don’t have formal childcare; I rely on the kindness of my family. Which at the moment works for me due to the sporadic nature of the work
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
Sophie is in school, Cillian is only two so he has a few years to go yet. I think having Sophie in school has made life a little easier, it frees up time, to get some preparation work done at home, while Cillian is having his nap.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
I guess it’s getting work at short notice. I could audition on Monday and be working the next day! In fact with an FBD advertisement that I’m currently in, I auditioned at 11.00 am, got the call that I had the job at 3.00 pm, was told that there would be a taxi to pick me up and fly me to London to shoot it at 6.00 pm! That was hairy I can tell you! Luckily that doesn’t happen very often.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – you suffer from working-mother guilt?
To be honest, being a mum means I am not free to take on certain types of work. Prior to having children, I could head off on a tour at the drop of a hat. For instance I was offered work for this Christmas period in Belfast. I simply couldn’t do it, heading off for six weeks to do a show is not an option for me, so I guess I have made changes and only take work that takes me away for shorter periods of time.
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?
That’s the age-old question. I’m not sure I’m experienced enough to answer it! I guess the perfect balance is a bit of an enigma, but if you have good childcare in place it certainly makes things a lot easier. Once the kids start school, it does become easier! In my line of work, it’s certainly restrictive and I have made changes to accommodate that, but I am honestly happy with the changes and don’t feel I have compromised myself.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I am lucky in that I am actually working in a job that I have always wanted to do, so it doesn’t really feel like work for me. I get to be at home with the kids and keep my hand in working on various projects. Working on the production side on the June Rodgers Show over the last few years has been fascinating. June was willing to work around the children, often holding meetings very late at night or when Rob gets home from work to accommodate me but I’m not sure everyone would be willing to do that!
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?
That’s a good question, if I’m being honest; I think there are sacrifices to be made either way. Women do have to compromise, they have to be all things to all people and that is not conducive to climbing up the ladder!
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
In my experience, it would be a good support network, finding the right childcare match for you and your children’s needs and don’t be too hard on yourself, you are doing your best!!
Any other comments?
Being a mum is a full-time job in itself and I know I put pressure on myself to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. But recently I attended Sophie’s parent/teacher meeting and I thought long and hard about what I needed to know about Sophie. I realized in that moment that whether she was a genius or ahead in the curriculum wasn’t important to me. I wanted to know that she was a happy, social girl who could adapt to school life. I think we just want to give our children the tools to live a balanced, happy life and to get as much out of it as possible. Job Done!
Brenda thank you for taking the time to answer these questions – I know you’ve been very busy getting your show ready! What struck me most was your final comment, about what you want for Sophie – it’s a lovely sentiment, and I think many of us can relate to it – “the tools to live a balanced happy life and get as much out of it as possible”. If in the midst of all this juggling and parenting and reading up on parenting and wondering about parenting we could give them that, they’d all turn out OK I think!
Brenda’s detailed bio:
Brenda has just finished filming The Play Next Door by Deirdre Purcell which will be broadcast in January on RTE 1 and is currently filming, Citizen Charlie a three part drama of Charles Haughey’s life which will be on your screens next year.
Brenda is also the face and voice of the recent FBD Commercial campaign and is Co Producer of the June Rodgers Christmas Show which is running from now until January in The Red Cow Moran’s Hotel.
Brenda played Olga in the RTE series Fair City for two years and Nurse Jenkins in George Gently drama for BBC1. Brenda’s career covers a broad range of parts in theatres nationwide and abroad, these include Riverdance (European Tour), Magical Rhythms (European Tour) Fairy Godmother in a number of Gaiety Pantos, Molly in Hapenny Bridge at the Cork Opera House, Bridget Foley in the Wiremen, Gaiety Theatre, The Snow Queen, Lyric Opera House, Belfast to name a few….