I love my job. But I have to push aside the guilt loaded on to women like me

Chef and restaurateur Anna Haugh on the challenges of juggling work with motherhood

Irish chef Anna Haugh is the proprietor of Myrtle restaurant in London

Irish chef Anna Haugh is the proprietor of Myrtle restaurant in London

 

Anyone who talks to me for more than two minutes can tell I love being a chef. I love the action in the kitchen, the planning behind the scenes, the dreams that you can make a reality. I do not think I chose this job: it chose me. I walked into an empty kitchen, a sea of stainless steel, 22 years ago and something clicked. I felt like I belonged. I have since that day felt lucky that I had that epiphany. Enjoying what you do can really lead to a fulfilled life.

I met a lot of initial resistance from my wonderful and loving family in Dublin. It was seen as a job that has very few benefits except for being a great way to burn off energy and eat free meals. My father, I believe, was a little embarrassed; my mother and sisters were concerned about my work-life balance. All I wanted was to learn and to understand my craft.

The only other thing I felt destined to become was a mother. I love all of my nieces and nephews, and seeing my family reflected in them has always made me hope to have the same. I believed deep inside me that I should be a mother, but it took my partner and I seven years to conceive Oisin, our beautiful little cherub.

I was once told, in a job I liked very much, that if I fell pregnant I would be asked to leave. I was horrified. I still am. I cannot think of a job that is more flexible and suitable for being a mother, with the right approach from employers, than being a chef. Kitchens need people from early in the morning until late at night, meaning there is room for flexible hours, especially for well-trained hands and minds.

Opening my restaurant, Myrtle, in London, meant I had culinary freedom. It has given me employment freedom too. If I can’t get someone to mind Oisin I can bring him to the meeting. This is part of the privilege of being your own boss

Fast-forward another decade and here I am, holding my beautiful son. He’s giggly, eats well and isn’t a bad sleeper. He looks like his dad. I’ve been waiting and planning for this for 10 years. Opening my restaurant, Myrtle, in London, meant I had culinary freedom. It has given me employment freedom too. If I can’t get someone to mind Oisin I can bring him to the meeting. This is part of the privilege of being your own boss. A privilege I am aware of and acknowledge.

Everyone is different; every child is different; there is no cut-and-paste way for a woman to go back to work after having a child. For me to work in the restaurant and be on Morning Live for the BBC, I have to have a plan for each part of the day, week and month. But I am only part of the plan. There are a few other elements I need to make my days go as smoothly as possible.

First, I have a partner, not a boyfriend – a man who is my partner in making and raising our baby. He already has a wonderful son called Henry, and I believe it is Henry who has helped shape Rich as a great father.

Second, I knew having a child and being a head chef and restaurant owner was always going to be tricky, so I trained my team to be able to do what is necessary if I am not at the restaurant. Now it’s in place, it looks easy. But it took time and a lot of effort. It’s the hardest thing to create a business that can strive and grow without you being there every minute of the day.

Anna Haugh with her partner, Rich, stepson, Henry, and baby, Oisin
Anna Haugh with her partner, Rich, stepson, Henry, and baby, Oisin

Third, I have good friends, and I ask them for help when Rich and I can’t make it happen ourselves.

Finally, it’s about pushing the guilt aside, the labels that are pressed invisibly on to women’s heads. There are too many unfair expectations on women. I’d rather not list them, as I believe that only reinforces our sense of them. I’ve watched many great women and men raise their children around me. One thing I learned is that a happy parent is a good parent. I watch Rich with Oisin and I feel great pride. He is a wonderful father.

It is not perfect, though. I often have a lot of balls in the air, so I have to drop some to keep the others up. I can’t seem to get home to Dublin to show my new baby off to my friends, aunts and uncles. This is a really hard decision: there are a few of my dear friends that I cannot see as often as I used to and as much as I want to.

I’m not a fan of housework at the best of times, but that definitely is not a priority now, leaving me with piles of laundry that needs to ironed and removed from the kitchen table. I also cook less at home, something I find therapeutic and nourishing. I am often really tired but hate to admit it. It was drilled into us as young chefs that to admit you’re tired was to admit defeat. I often feel defeated.

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