“I think all mothers suffer from Mammy Guilt at one time or another – you’d want to be made of steel not to. I don’t think that should stop women going out to work though – many women need to work for their mental health too. I certainly do. I feel I’m a more balanced Mam when I’m not at home 24/7.”
The interview series returns after a very long break (all the background here) with marketing manager, author, and mother of two, Nicola Cassidy.
Thank you for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
I have two children, August, is five and Bonnie is two and a half. I also have a stepdaughter Abbie who is 16.
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 work as an office and marketing manager for a new company called Erin Research. It’s a probate genealogy company, we trace missing beneficiaries for estates and work with solicitors on complex probate cases. Think heir hunters! It’s a really interesting company and I’m loving my role there.
Previous to this I was writing and being a stay-at-home-mam. Before that I was working as a marketing manager part-time in an electrical engineering consultancy. I loved the work – taking technical projects and services and thinking of creative ways to communicate them.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work four days a week, but my days are shortened. This works really well for me, because I need flexibility around time management and all my writing projects.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
Yes, I do now. In my last job I didn’t have this – you had to be in the office. I think it’s important that employers offer that flexibility – give you that trust, that you will complete the work at home if necessary. For many roles nowadays everything is virtual and you can do the work once you have wifi and a laptop. People spend so long travelling to get to their jobs too – it can make such a difference if you can work from home when you need to.
Do you have to travel for work?
Not in my current role, but previously there would have been travel involved in other jobs. With marketing, there’s a lot of hosting events and attending events. It’s the nature of the business – you have to get out and about and sell your services. Travelling when you’ve small children can be difficult, because you have that extra layer of stress ensuring they’re picked up, minded, favours called in. That said, the thoughts of a night in a hotel, sans children, with just yourself to look after sounds likes bliss! In the past year I have travelled quite a bit for my writing – I’m lucky in that I’ve got to do that and I relish every minute of it.
What kind of childcare do you use?
We have a fantastic child minder who lives just around the corner from us. She started taking my daughter when she was one, for one day a week. Now my second daughter goes to her for two days a week. My eldest is in school now but we send her to after school care too some afternoons, because she loves it – it’s in her old playschool and it’s fantastic – they get to go outside, mix with older kids, feel very grown up. We’ve always been fairly flexible because my husband is self-employed and works mainly at weekends and at night.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you do for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
I’ve gotten a bit better at the ‘me’ time thing. I think this has gone hand in hand with my children getting older and more independent. Previously, with tiny kids, I felt I was waiting all day just to get a small bit of time to myself and then when I did, when they went asleep or whatever, I’d have to plough it into writing or emails or jobs that had to be done. I’m calmer now. I try to get my writing or my work done earlier in the day if I can, and I let myself rest quite a lot as I’ve been quite ill over the past two years and suffer a lot of fatigue and pain. Sometimes I wonder if my illness and symptoms are a result of being stressed out and overworked, or putting too much pressure on myself. Stress is a very insidious, dangerous thing for the body, so I’ve been training myself to relax, and I’ve discovered, it’s grand if you don’t get everything done you want to do today. There’s always tomorrow. Me time and rest is important too.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
All of it! There were times when I was going out the door to work, when both children would be clinging to me, crying and as soon as I walked in the door from work, they would come straight up and latch on. And that was it then, it would be chaos until bedtime, which might run on till 11pm depending on what was going on with the children. You might have very little sleep then and you had to get back up and do it the next day – and you would be exhausted at your desk, trying to do your work to a professional standard. I think it is very tough to have small children and go to work too – it’s not easy on anyone. The housework, I always found to be a bit of a disaster. I just could not stay on top of it and I still really struggle, though I feel a bit more collected now! Recently I broke my ankle so haven’t been able to drive for weeks. That really put pressure on us logistics wise. Working locally and cutting out the commute has made a massive difference to logistics. And since school has started back up, we spend a lot of time over the weekend getting ready for the week ahead to try and take some of the pressures off. It’s a nice feeling when you feel you have accomplished lunches, uniforms, drops offs, work and homework successfully!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Mother guilt must be some sort of inbuilt hormone system designed at making sure we never abandon our children. We are so sensitive to their needs that we are overwhelmed with negative emotions about how we care for them and the things we have to do to care for them. Like going to work to be able to buy food for them to eat!
I suffered guilt more when the children were smaller. I remember dropping my daughter off to the childminder one day and crying the whole way back home. I thought – I’m such a bad mother, I can’t even look after my own child for a day! It’s horrible. It’s different now, as my eldest is older and she loves going to school. As my second daughter only has limited childcare – she’s with either of us five days a week, there’s not much guilt.
I wish maternity leave was longer. I know some will say it’s long enough, but I returned at five months on my first daughter and six months on my second. I was still breastfeeding both; on my first she hadn’t even started solids yet. That was very hard, and at the time, I felt – I need longer – this is wrong, I should be at home with my baby, but financially it was what we had to do at the time. So yes, I think all mothers suffer from Mammy Guilt at one time or another – you’d want to be made of steel not to. I don’t think that should stop women going out to work though – many women need to work for their mental health too. I certainly do. I feel I’m a more balanced Mam when I’m not at home 24/7.
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 it depends on the situation, but yes, there may be, if you can find it. I’ve always looked for it. When my first daughter was born I found a new job that allowed me to work three days a week. That was perfect for that time as my husband took on to take care for our daughter. After having our second daughter, our circumstances changed, so I took to take a break for a while. We decided that we would rather cut back and have me at home, than have me go out to work and juggle everything and deal with the stress and pressure that that brings. After a year and a half, the time came for me to return to work and I spent a time getting the right fit of job. I think we’ve struck a great balance now. I would urge everyone to really look at their situations – to ask – am I happy? Am I really happy? What could I change that would make our lives easier, happier? It may be that there’s work there for you, but in a different way, a more flexible way. You may have to take up a lesser paying job. But if it will make things easier then it will most likely be worth it.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
No, I don’t think so! I became a stay at home mam in early 2018 (mostly through illness) and being honest, I found it really difficult being at home with the children all the time. There was no routine, no break. No adult conversation, no using of the skillset I’ve spent years building up. My husband supported us, but I hated not having my own income. I fit my writing in around everything, so even while being at home, I always had some projects going on. I find I’m happiest when I’m working at a job outside of the home and writing and using creative skills around design, marketing, strategy. You ask if you could do any job, what would it be? Well, I guess I’m doing it – 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?
Oh… a can of worms. I think there are many women who rise to the top and manage to do it with their children on board. I always look to Miriam O’Callaghan who has EIGHT children. It can be done! But, whether we like it or not, women do face more challenges when it comes to promotion in the work place, as can be seen by the balance in numbers of CEOs, high ranking managers etc.
Too often the responsibility seems to fall to the woman when it comes to taking off when children are sick, or looking for that flexibility. But, more and more, we are seeing families divide up things. I know of families where the Dad decided to be full time carer for a while or take over the responsibilities.
One of the issues in the glass ceiling debate is that women of course need to take maternity leave and this takes us out of the office and can change things, a lot. We’re seeing change though and things are moving in the area of paternity leave, with a lot of focus on ensuring Dads too get to spend time with their newborns and help bear some of the load. We might move more in the way of the Nordic countries where maternity and paternity leave can be divided up more equally.
A friend of mine recently had the policy changed at her company and she went back to work earlier and had the dad take some of her maternity leave.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Bring tissues. You will probably cry! (Although on my second baby, I bounded back into the office, delighted with myself!)
Get a cleaner. This help cannot be underestimated. For €20 you could gain hours back in the week to spend with your children. Same with launderette. I used to feel like I had to do all these things, but came to realise that the small amount of money spent on these services could save me so much in the long run. I don’t have a cleaner at the moment, but I wouldn’t rule one out in the future.
Put quality time in the diary. Arrange things to do with your children or partner on your off days or at weekends, so that it’s not all work and no play. Which is easier said than done. None of it is easy, is it?!
Any other comments?
I would say that every woman, whether she is working in the home or working outside in the workplace, should pat herself on the back and say, this is good enough for now. I don’t know of any woman who doesn’t want the best for her children – who doesn’t do the best for her children. We know our own families best. I feel very lucky have been able to spend time with my children since they’ve been small, but equally lucky to have found suitable part-time work that helped keep an income and keep me sane. I would also go back to a prompt on happiness – balance, equilibrium in your life. Through ill health I’ve come to a whole new level of appreciation for the small things. Just having the energy to get up and get on with your day is a blessing. I never forget that now.
Thank you Nicola for being first in the re-launched series! I love your story for lots of reasons, not least because I know your story – through your own blog, I knew about you taking time out from work, and knew about you going back. It echoes what I’m seeing with so many women – my friends from school, my friends from my kids’ schools, and everyone in between. Taking time out, going back in – because it’s a fluid thing, now more than ever I think. Giving up work doesn’t have to mean forever, nor does going back. All of my friends have chopped and changed between full-time, part-time, time out. As kids grow, needs change. And I think our needs change too. Which is why I love what you said about needing to work for your sanity – I think that’s true for many of us. I’m delighted for you that you found work you can do part-time and work you enjoy. And hopefully lots of time to keep on writing books, because if the Nanny at Number 43 is anything to go by, the world needs more Nicola Cassidy books!
You can follow Nicola on her social channels:
Now a bit more on books…
I bought a copy of Nicola’s book The Nanny at Number 43 when we did an event together this summer, and I absolutely loved it. Dark and page-turnery and so well written. Below is the blurb, for anyone who’d like to take a look:
Wanted, a respectable woman to care for a motherless child.
When William D. Thomas’s wife dies in childbirth, he places an advertisement in his local newspaper seeking a nanny for his newborn child.
He is thankful when an experienced nanny arrives at 43 Laurence Street and takes over from his frazzled housekeeper Mrs McHugh.
Mrs McHugh confides in her bedridden friend Betty, who has a bird’s-eye view of all the happenings on Laurence Street, that the Nanny is not all she seems. Betty begins her own investigation into the mysterious woman.
When the bodies of twin babies are discovered buried in a back garden, by a family who have moved from their tenement home into a country cottage, a police investigation begins.
But it is Betty who holds the key to discovering who the Nanny really is … and the reason she came to 43 Laurence Street.
If you like the sound of it, you can buy it here