“When you are home, the children come first, simply because they need you most”
Louise Phillips is an author, mother and grandmother, and over the years has worked in a huge variety of jobs, using every type of childcare. Here, she shares her story of working parenthood, passes on tips she’s picked up, and explains why there’s no quick fix for working mother guilt.
Thanks so much Louise for taking part in the interview series – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
And now could you tell me a little about what you do, and for how long have you been working at this?
I’ve pretty well worked most of my adult life from aged 16. I’ve done everything from working in a florist to a bank, from teaching to accounting, from project management to managing a family. Right now, I write novels, work in the family business as admin/accounts manager, teach creative writing, and try to be the best mother and grandmother I can be.
That’s a lot! What kind of hours do you work?
I’ve always been balancing things between the day job, family and working in the family business, so I’ve little or no respect for hours. I will work all day and all night if I have to, but I do try to carve out the early hours, from 6 a.m. for writing. I find it is my most creative time, so I do my best to keep the rest of the world at bay for as long as I can.
And do you work mostly from home?
I do most things from home apart from teaching, or if I’m involved with an event for promotion of my novels. It’s a very good thing for a writer to share time with real people instead of their fictional characters.
Do you have to travel for work?
It can vary. When I am writing the first draft of a novel, I don’t do much travel, other than a drive to the city centre to teach a class, or if I’m taking part in a writing festival, it can mean a longer journey. I don’t mind travel, but I’m not fond of driving at night.
What kind of childcare did you use when your children were young?
Over my parenting lifetime, I’ve used crèches, childminders in my home, childminders in their home, my own parents, or the in-laws. I’ve worked full-time, part-time, I’ve done job sharing, worked from home, and further away. All in all, I’ve tried it all. Two things have stayed with me. Choose childcare wisely, and when you are home, the children come first, simply because they need you most, and a piece of advice I got early on….always try to have your evening meal together as a family.
Do you think that working for yourself makes it easier or more difficult to balance work and home? I imagine there’s more flexibility but that it’s also difficult to switch off!
Yes, to easier, and yes, to making it more difficult to switch off. Now, instead of children, I have grandchildren. When they arrive, everything else has to stop… getting older must be reducing my multi-tasking skills!
And over the years, did you find it psychologically challenging or stressful to work outside the home – did you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I’ve lived with working-mother guilt my whole life. There is no easy answer, except to say, when you are in work, you have a job to do, and you also need to know you have ensured your children are safe and happy. When you are with them, they are primary. Sounds simple, but it isn’t, it is tiring and emotionally draining. The world is complicated with its pressures. Even now, when I don’t have young children, I feel guilty if I’m working in the family business and not writing, and vice-versa. I want to spend more time with my grandchildren. I want to have shorter ‘to do’ lists. There is no magic formula, but I’ve done my best over the years, and at the end of the day, that is all any of us can do.
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 the more choice and variety available, the more likely it is that someone will find the optimal solution for them. We are still lacking that choice for everyone, and the cost of childcare, with little or no support, is crippling for a great many families.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I love my creative work. I stopped writing for a great many years, simply because as a working mom, I didn’t have the time. I have that time now. I value that greatly, but I also value the memories of parenting, no matter how tough it was at times.
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 think there is still gender bias, and we must constantly question it. All in all, I think society has failed in many ways to provide the flexibility required. Do we want robots or families? If we want to nurture children as a society, we need to be doing a lot more to make career choice, and parenting, interweave in a more holistic and positive way.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Be organised – things will work smoother that way. If you want something done, ask a busy person and all that…
Find time for you, difficult and all as it might be – you and everyone else around you will reap the rewards.
Most working mothers suffer guilt of some shape or form – make good childminding choices, and when you are with your children, relish every moment…it won’t last forever.
Louise, thank you for taking the time to do the interview – I’m blown away by how much you do as well as writing. When I met you at your seminar, I assumed that writing was your full-time job. I don’t know how you fit everything in!
I love the advice you give about choosing childcare wisely and that when you come home, the children come first. It’s so hard to do, especially for parents who are trying to cook dinner and get crèche or school bags ready for the next morning, but so important to give them that time.
And I think what you say about working mother guilt sums it up perfectly: “… when you are in work, you have a job to do… When you are with them, they are primary. Sounds simple, but it isn’t, it is tiring and emotionally draining.” That’s just it – it always sounds reasonably straight-forward, but the reality is that life is messy. The plan to spend the evening asking the kids about school falls apart when dinner’s not ready or someone is crying or uniforms aren’t washed. Tiring and emotionally draining indeed.
Louise, I think the fact that you have had so many different jobs and now write hugely successful novels too is incredibly inspiring – perhaps (with a lot of hard work) women can have it all. Thank you for taking part in the series, and I wish you continued success with your writing career.
A little more about Louise, and her current book, The Game Changer:
LOUISE PHILLIPS is an author of four bestselling psychological crime thrillers. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS was nominated for the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year 2012, and her second novel, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, won the award in 2013. LAST KISS, her third novel was also shortlisted. Louise’s work has formed part of many literary anthologies, and she has won both the Jonathan Swift Award and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform, along with being shortlisted for the Molly Keane Memorial Award, Bridport UK, and many others. She teaches crime fiction writing at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin, and in 2013, she was the recipient of an arts bursary for literature from South County Dublin. This year, she was awarded a writers’ residency at Cill Rialaig Artist retreat, and she was also a judge on the Irish panel for the EU Literary Award. Her latest novel, THE GAME CHANGER, was published in September 2015 and has been receiving rave reviews.
The Game Changer:
WHAT IF YOU WENT MISSING AND COULDN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING?
When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson was twelve years old she was abducted, but she has no memory of the time she was held.
Over twenty years later, an anonymous note is pushed under her door…. I REMEMBER YOU, KATE.
And suddenly Kate’s distant past becomes her present.
When Kate discovers that her parents lied to her about the length of time she was missing, she is forced to question everything about her childhood.
Could the suspected suicide of an ex-headmaster in Dublin and a brutal murder in New York be connected to her abduction all those years ago? And was her father involved?
While Kate delves deeper into the recesses of her memory to uncover the truth, a murderous cult leader is bearing down on her. THE GAME CHANGER is out for revenge. Someone has to pay for the sins of the past.