Andrea Mara

Official website

office mum stories: Elizabeth McDonnell

“just because you have a uterus should not mean you can’t have a career;          
you don’t have to leave your career aspirations in the maternity ward”


Continuing the series of interviews about being a mother and balancing work and home, I speak to Elizabeth McDonnell who is an optometrist and mother of four small children. She and her husband are also sharing their lives with chickens, hens, ducks, geese, turkeys and their beloved Alpacas.

You can follow their attempts to create their own version of “The Good Life” and passion for cooking on her lovely blog Life on Hushabyefarm


When I asked her what her dream job would be, she replied: “I actually am pretty happy with my work as it is now”

And when I asked her about the ubiquitous working mother guilt, her response was: “To be totally honest I find it neither stressful nor challenging”

To see how she has achieved this approach and how she manages it all with four small children, read on…

Thank you Elizabeth for taking part in this series of interviews – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

I have four children, aged seven, five, three and a half and two.

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 am an optometrist and work mainly as a locum. I had my own businesses for nine years but prefer the flexibility that locum work allows.

What kind of hours do you work?

My work week consists of a minimum of two days per week but during busy periods I will work up to six days per week. I usually work a minimum number of days when the children are on holidays

What kind of childcare do you use?

We have a nanny who comes to the house to mind the children

Is your childcare solution working well for you?

Our first two children were minded in a crèche, and were very happy there. When our third came along it was too expensive to send them to crèche, so we had Au Pairs for two years and that was very good. But I didn’t enjoy having the Au Pairs there when I was off with the children.

Our current arrangement works really well as the children are happier at home and it’s lovely to be able to leave the little one in his pyjamas, especially if I have to leave early, and not have to rush him.

Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?

It hasn’t made a great deal of difference as we still have one at home, I worry about homework and will go over everything when I come home, which the kids get annoyed about as they are tired at that stage…I do find this aspect difficult

On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?

It is definitely the logistics of drop-offs and collections with four children.

Our nanny would need a people carrier to do these, and she doesn’t have one, which means it falls to my husband a lot of the time, or neighbours/friends.

We have no family within an hour of us so we have no ‘fall back’. As regards housework we stay on top of the everyday things and have a cleaner once a week, you simply can’t do everything.

I love cooking and find it a nice way to wind down so if I’m working I will cook dinner the night before when the kids are in bed, I’m a big believer in batch cooking and eat one/ freeze one is my approach.

And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?

To be totally honest I find it neither stressful nor challenging. Yes, you have to be organised, very organised, but I find it liberating….I could not stay at home full time, I would find that far more stressful.

Of course I feel a certain amount of guilt, especially when my youngest looks up at me as I go out the door and says ‘you stay with me’.
But I can and do spend a lot of time with them and I feel strongly that you don’t stop being an individual when you become a Mum, all the things you study and work for shouldn’t have to go out the window…

I have three daughters and feel that in this respect, as well as so many others, I want to be an example for them, just because you have a uterus should not mean you can’t have a career, you don’t have to leave your career aspirations in the maternity ward.

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 every family is different so there definitely isn’t a one size fits all solution.

I do think families should get better support regarding tax relief on childcare to allow families to make the best choice regarding childcare.
At times working part time can be harder because you are playing two roles, working mum and stay at home mum.

Also I think flexibility regarding working times should be for both parents so that, as in my situation, where I can’t leave in the middle of a clinic, that my husband should have the flexibility to do so.

If you could do any job, what would it be?

I actually am pretty happy with my work as it is now.

Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?

  1. Do your grocery shopping online…it doesn’t eat into your time off then
  2. Leave your guilt at the front door, it will do you no good, you are entitled to your life too
  3. If your budget will stretch to it get a cleaner…it is money well spent and will reduce the number of rows.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add about being a mother in Ireland today?


My only other comment would be that I still think there is a perception out there that a mother’s place is in the home. After having my fourth I was asked/told by numerous people ‘I presume you will not be going back to work’. I found this pressure to stay at home very unsettling, and I hope that perception will change.

Me too Elizabeth – we have comes so far in the movement towards women having the choice to work in paid employment or to stay at home, and every combination in between, but there’s a long way to go. And overcoming perceptions of the “right” thing to do is a part of this. As you say, there is no one size fits all solution – we all need the flexibility to be able to make the best choices for our own families.

My own view is that nobody who wants to stay at home with her children should have to go out to work, and nobody who wants to work shoud have to give up her job becasue of lack of employer flexibility – I think we’re a long way from there though.

I find it inspiring your dream job is your actual job – interestingly this has been the feedback from almost all of the mothers that I’ve interviewed so far. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!





Click the button below to sign up to my Penguin newsletter.