Lucy Ní Raghaill
Lucy Ní Raghaill is “excited and ready” to go back to work this month after the birth of her second child and extended maternity leave, even though she and the family are facing what sounds like a demanding schedule.
The couple and their two children, Oisín (three) and 11-month-old Cormac, live in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, so there is a lengthy commute to their Dublin workplaces. But what makes it possible is the flexitime that is available at the company her husband, Gavin Kearns, works for, and the flexibility she has from her employer, Twitter, to work at home one day a week.
Gavin leaves the house at about 5.15am, she explains, as his hours are 8am-4pm, although he tends to start earlier. She will get the boys up and out to a local creche by 7am. “It’s a long day for them but it’s a good creche that I’m happy with,” she says. Her travel to Dublin 2 then takes about an hour and a half.
In the evenings, Gavin does the creche pick-up by 5pm and gives the boys a snack before bathtime and bedtime. They will be asleep by the time Lucy is back. Her official finishing time is 6pm but she could be in the office until 7pm or 8pm, before the commute home.
Weekends “are definitely precious family time, so when we’re there, we’re there in the moment and we’re not working – at least we try not to”. They even fit in “me” time – for her it’s horse riding, while Gavin might meet friends.
“I think we have managed it quite well – we have adapted,” says Lucy, who says they are blessed with both boys being good sleepers. She wonders how other couples cope without the sort of work flexibility she and Gavin have.
Working a day a week from home means she can collect the boys from the creche and do the evening routine, before finishing her day’s work after they have gone to bed.
You have to be very organised to keep everything running smoothly, she agrees, but the 50:50 division of domestic labour between her and Gavin is essential too. “If I had to do all the washing and cleaning, it just wouldn’t work.”
Lucy enjoys her job and says it would be very different if she was going back for financial reasons, to work she didn’t like. “I think that would be soul-destroying.”
Before she had Oisín, she was self-employed and intended to be a stay-at-home mother. But she found the 24/7 of being with him very different from the 24/7 of working for herself, so when the Twitter opportunity came up she decided to take it when he was five months old.
“It just felt right for me to go to it because I was able to make sure there was good childcare in place,” she explains. A cousin looked after him when she started working, three days a week initially – “that was a really good balance. He was in good hands and I didn’t feel bad about going into work.”
Every mother is different and some really struggle to go back, particularly after the first baby – although the consensus is that it is rarely as bad as you think it is going to be. And perks such as adult interaction and undisturbed lunches are most welcome.
Primary school teacher Rachel O’Regan, who has three children, says it was most difficult to go back after the birth of her first, Lauren, who is now aged five.
“I don’t think I was prepared for what it would be like,” she says, while acknowledging that she was fortunate Lauren was nine months when she went back because the summer holidays came at the end of her maternity leave.
Living in Skibbereen, Co Cork, she chose a childminder close by who she and her husband, Dáire, knew. Leaving Lauren the first day "my heart was broken – walking away was just so hard", she recalls. "At the time I thought I was doing okay but the first couple of months, looking back now, I would say I was a wreck."
She reckons she would not have been physically able to go back to work when Lauren was just six months. “Breastfeeding may have been part of that,” says Rachel, who is a member of the Cork branch of the parent-to-parent support group Cuidiú and now organises monthly Saturday coffee mornings for working mothers like herself who can’t make weekday events.
Knowing what to expect, she found it easier to go back after the birth of Casey, now aged three, and since the arrival of Charlie (one) she has started to job-share. Working three days one week and two days the next, not only gives her more time with the children but spares her “the chaos of trying to get the three of them out the door five days a week”.
Getting out every morning by 7.30am with two kids under 2½ can be a challenge, says secondary school teacher Aileen Cotter, who lives in Dublin. But she enjoys her job and is happy to be “re-engaging with the working world”.
Not having any family in Dublin or knowing any childminders, Aileen and her husband chose a local creche on the recommendation of a friend after their first son, Conor, was born. They have been very happy with that decision and his little brother goes there now too.
To other mothers who might feel conflicted about going back, she says: “Don’t give yourself too hard a time about being a working parent. Once you know that your kids are in a caring environment, whether with a childminder or creche, it eases a lot of your guilt and worries.
“I feel work does give you another part of your life back and another aspect of who you are, which I feel is important for me,” she adds.
Going back after maternity leave “is never as bad as you think it’s going to be”, says
, who has done it three times. The first time is the hardest because you are entering the unknown, she says. “A part of me felt like that was the end of me being a mother as I was going back to my ‘old life’. Of course that wasn’t the case.”
She weaned her first child before going back as she didn’t think it would be possible to continue breastfeeding. However, having discovered Cuidiú after the birth of her second, she learned from others that it was eminently doable.
“It ran smoothly both times – so much so that I am still feeding my youngest [aged two]. Your baby and your body simply adjust. It’s amazing really. Having a really supportive husband was half the battle too,” says Bollard, a laboratory analyst, who is now job-sharing at a pharmaceutical company in Cork.
Her advice to others is: “Go with your gut when it comes to childcare. If there is something you’re not happy with, then keep looking.”
Finally, she adds: “Make sure you batch cook before you return to work and stock up your freezer with plenty of dinners.”