In honour of Mother’s Day, we sat down with four women to discuss how they manage the combined pressures of work and family.
As another Mother’s Day passes, many mums will have been looking forward to a break from the daily grind, at least in theory. Working mothers in particular should be able to look forward to a day where they can leave the stresses of both work and household behind.
Of course, this may not be the case, not least because Sundays are not generally carefree for women. Facing a week filled with not just work commitments, but also crèche, school runs, dinners, house work and a multitude of after-school activities, is part and parcel of many women’s lives. While most manage these challenges with little fanfare or fuss, it is important to recognise that there are struggles caused by internal and external factors in their lives.
Women are often inundated with well-meaning advice on how to juggle the work-life balance. However, according to this article in the Harvard Business Review, this advice can be too vague, overly-ambitious, or under-appreciative of the practical realities of working and raising children. For example, carefully crafted plans can be thrown into the air if a child is sick, and some employers may be less than understanding of these circumstances.
We spoke to four women, Rebecca, Patricia, Carol and Shauna, all working mothers, about their experiences with child-rearing while pursuing their respective careers. All of them have faced unique challenges and became working mothers at different stages of their lives.
Q) What prompted your decision to return to work?
Rebecca: I never really thought of not working. My kids and my family are hugely important to me but so is my career. And I do believe that my family benefit from my working and not only in a financial way, by my continuing to develop my professional self over the years I think we have a better balance in the household and I truly believe we take our role models first from our home.
Carol: My kids were older, all in school and I wanted to return to work for career progression, financial reasons and also to show my children that women play an important part of the workforce.
Q) What were the challenges that you faced in your early days as a working mother?
Carol: Reasonably priced childcare is an issue. Also, dealing with school holidays, teacher training days, half days etc. is problematic, and trying to organise cover when the children are unwell.
Shauna: The children were not used to spending time without me, household chores suffered, tiredness, juggling my time between my work and family life.
Q) What is your opinion on ‘working mother guilt’? Do you think it is as prevalent as it is made out to be? Is it something you have faced?
Rebecca: I do believe guilt is something every mother feels some more acutely than others. You do question your decision to work outside the home as it results in your children being cared for by others.
Patricia: I didn’t face it on a daily basis as my working hours are during school hours. However, during school holidays I felt guilty for leaving the kids, especially as I had not worked outside the home since having children.
Carol: I don’t feel guilty at all for working as I am financially providing for my family. Thankfully my children are happy and healthy and as I am working flexible hours I still get to pick them up from school and drop off a couple of days a week. I am around to do homework with them and bring them to their sporting commitments.
Shauna: Yes, I was faced with guilt when I first started back to work, as I was always there for my children every day, taking them to and from school and at meal times. I am now trying now to spread my time between each child and housework. But I no longer feel guilty as I have given them all a great start by being there when they were young.
Q) In general, what supports do you feel are lacking for working mothers in Irish workplaces?
Rebecca: More flexible hours for mums AND dads so that rearing a family does not fall in the larger part of one or other of the parents.
Patricia: I think the main support most working mothers need is help with childcare.
Carol: Affordable childcare. Employers could be more open to flexi-time and remote working to facilitate working parents. It the long run, it would be to a company’s commercial benefit to have a happy workforce.
Shauna: I really don’t feel like I am lacking any support, I think support should come from the family.
Q) And finally, was Mother’s Day a big deal in your house this year?
Rebecca: Yes. Both the girls and their dad made a big fuss of me.
Patricia: Yes, we made a big effort to enjoy the day as a family.
Carol: Not particularly. I got breakfast in bed but it was business as usual after that.
Shauna: Yes, I got gifts and homemade cards and it was all very special.