Women at Work: your responses
All week we have been running articles on Irish women’s working lives, and inviting you to share your stories with us. Here is a selection of the contributions
Constant juggling: it can be a challenge to have a career when you’re a mother. Illustration: Amy DeVoogd/Getty
I’m always planning: what’s for lunch, what’s for dinner?
My day starts at 6.30am. I get up, dress, eat and ensure the lunch boxes and my own lunch are ready to go before moving my five-year-old girls into action. My husband leaves for work before 7am. As in many houses, the morning often revolves around squabbles about eating, leaving and so on.
I work full time, and I have always enjoyed it, but this year, in particular, I find I am exhausted and having difficulty concentrating on simple things. I am always planning: what’s for lunch, what’s for dinner, is there ironing to do, when can one of us go to the supermarket? It is draining.
When I get home, around 6pm, I roll into the evening job: homework, dinner, further squabbles, bathtime, bedtime, stories and then whatever cleaning I have the energy to do. I try to ensure I am sitting down by 9pm for an hour before going to bed, but that doesn’t always happen.
I feel guilty a lot of the time: that I can’t collect my girls from school, that I don’t have time to sit and play with them because I need to get the dinner ready or clean the bathroom. I feel they are growing away from me, and I dread not knowing and enjoying them as well as I should.
I worked in a male environment and achieved responsibility and status
Last year I decided to leave the workplace, to the disbelief of my colleagues and family. It was a difficult decision considering that I had worked in a predominantly male environment and achieved responsibility and status. Just five years ago I earned more than €80,000 a year. If our society measures success in terms of wealth and job status, then I was to be envied. The reality was that I was so busy and stressed that I had no time to really connect with my children, aged eight to 15.
The working mother is constantly busy. Demands from the workplace often compete directly with the needs of the children. Do I dial in to that evening conference call where critical decisions are being made, or do take my child to hurling practice? For me the most stressful dilemma occurs when a child is sick. At breakfast you realise that the child just cannot go to school. I recall one female GP offering me a sick note for myself, to cover the period of my daughter’s illness.
I believe we should celebrate all that women have achieved at work, but I wonder whether we understand the cost in emotional terms.
At first work was just a requirement for legal residency
I got my first proper paid employment eight years ago. For an immigrant mother it felt like I had won the lottery – at least for about five minutes.
I was ill prepared for the numbing guilt, the physical pain of leaving my kids with someone else while I clocked in for my daily stipend. I got the “news” every time I came home: about the new tooth, the first step or first word, all the things that I missed while I was out saving the world.
I grew up with a stay-at-home mother, and my idea of motherhood went through several changes before I decided I was going to work. At first it was pure necessity, as it was a requirement for legal residency. Now I’m a citizen and I’m more or less past the need to justify. I have a job: deal with it.
I still have to make excuses to my dad and family about my choices regarding my children’s welfare, and I still have to perform miracles every day to make ends meet. For the most part it’s a fine line between an exercise in futility and a labour of love, but I’m worth it.
I’m still penalised by the marriage bar
I had to retire on marriage but did an exam and went back into the Civil Service in my 50s. When it came to retirement and a meagre pension, through lack of years’ service, I was told I could buy back the service of my premarriage working years on repayment of the gratuity, which in my case was £250.
I opted for this, but the repayment of the £250 carried with it 39 years’ interest – the final kick in the teeth. I felt I had to take it to boost the pension. By being a female worker of the time of the marriage bar, you are penalised through all of your life.
Mairéad Ní Dhroighneáin
I have become the main breadwinner
I am 36, a working mum of two with a professional qualification. In recent years I have been the main breadwinner. With that comes extra stress and financial pressure. I wouldn’t mind being the main earner if that’s all I had to worry about, but as a mother it is also my responsibility to manage the kids and manage the house.
I often feel my generation of women have been shafted, as mortgages and the high cost of living have left us with no other option but to work full time. Having a third child is fully dependent on achieving a good work-life balance. A good work-life balance is currently unattainable, as I have never worked harder.
Being at work is both tough and liberating
I became a “working mum” in January 2013, when I returned to work after my first baby was born, in June 2012. We don’t talk about “working dads”, and for me that shows there are still significant differences in how we view the role of women and men in bringing up our children.
I find being back at work both tough and liberating. I went back four days a week rather than five. I welcome (and need) the income, the daily interaction with my work colleagues and what my job enables me to do in my personal life.
I find the juggling hard. My workplace demands more than nine-to-five. In the past this didn’t bother me, but now early-morning meetings are a logistical nightmare, as are late-afternoon ones that spill over and lead to a frantic rushing out of the office to pick the baby up on time. I never understood the different pressures my “working mum” colleagues were under until now.
My bosses with stay-at-home wives presume I can drop everything for work
I work full time in the public sector. It’s family-friendly, well-paid and interesting work. I don’t know how we could manage without the flexibility it offers us.
But although I love my work I hate that I have to work. We have a large Celtic Tiger mortgage and years of expensive education before us. I know we have made those choices, but I hate that someone else looks after my children because of it. Life is short, and childhood is even shorter.
I hate that my middle-aged, middle-class bosses with stay-at-home wives presume that I can and will drop everything for work.
But I also hate the memory of my clever, ambitious mother being bitter and angry at being forced to stay at home. I love that my children see that Mummy and Daddy both do important and interesting jobs.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that I am luckier than my mother. I have some choices. She had none.