Andrea Mara

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Office Mum stories – Joanna O’Sullivan

Yes, the world doesn’t see fit to give me money for looking after my children but it is my job and I’m doing it very well 😉 (My children are not available to give references). But yes, I do miss paycheques”

I meet Joanna O’Sullivan for this week’s interview;  she runs Joanna’s Little Shop and writes the blog that links up to it. She is poet at The Irish Rhymes  and completed Musings Of a Hostage Mother earlier this year. She is at home with her two children. She is delighted to be able to spend so much time with her daughters and hates cooking.

OfficeMumAnswers2Thank you Joanna for taking part in this interview for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

I have two children, Sadie is 4 and Holly is 3. 

And now could you tell me a little about your job – what did you do before you had your daughters and for how long you were working at this? Did you enjoy this work?

I did a number of things and rarely had just the one job even when I worked full-time for one company. I have always taught English as a Foreign Language both full-time and as extra work outside of another job. I ran my own language training business by taking clients (via an agency) on live-in English language courses in my own home and will return to that maybe next year. I have worked in offices, mostly in Purchasing and each time for a company that sold technical products/services (electronics, flooring, pest control). It’s surprising since my degree is in English & Geography and I hold diplomas in Irish & Italian. In nearly all the office positions I held I would find out, upon getting the job, that I was the first employee. I don’t know what that says about me but I loved whenever I was the only employee in a company. Yes, you’d have a lot of work and no chance of hoping someone else might be blamed for any mistakes (!) but there was great freedom and it meant I could often split my hours between home and office.

I really enjoyed any job I ever had and that includes going right back to when I made sandwiches in a shop in Cork when I was going to university. I like to be busy and I like results. I have worked since I was 17 years old. I was in the job I had before I had my first child for 2 years.

Did you consider going back to work at any stage or did you always know you wanted to be a stay-at-home mom? 

I always wanted children and I always wanted to educate them at home so I suppose you can’t want that without planning to be at home with your children. I hadn’t envisaged that I wouldn’t be able to work regularly on a part-time basis outside the home but then there are other factors at play there: The recession, and we had to reduce our two cars to one for me to stay at home. Also, childcare seems only to be available to those who work the same hours every week. I can’t get childcare for my children for a few days one week here and there. I do manage a PAYE cheque every-so-often still. I am an on-call Scribe/Reader for the Leaving & Junior Cert. exams and I still get teaching work that I can arrange to take once in a while.

Is there anything you miss about working?

I am still working! Yes, the world doesn’t see fit to give me money for looking after my children but it is my job and I’m doing it very well 😉 (My children are not available to give references). But yes, I do miss paycheques.

Do you ever wish you could work part-time?   

Yes. That will happen though. Even if I’m not working for someone else I’ll go back to self-employment.

What do you do for yourself – your own creative outlet or “me-time”?

I garden incessantly (ahem…don’t come and check my garden please, so much of it needs so much work!). In January and February I would say I was outside every day. I am a believer in doing just a little of something at a time. Some days I literally moved a few stones or took cuttings and replanted them and then raced back in out of the rain. I paint too. I have a range of greeting cards that I made from photos of my paintings and my current aim is to have 20 cards; not all finished paintings will do. I also knit but only in plain or purl and only in lines. My plan at the start of the year was to knit a square a week for the year so I could sew it all together into a blanket in December but I’ve been completing orders for scarves for My Little Ponys and Sadie and Holly decided they want hats and scarves too….so those should be ready in July!

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’m not sure that your definition of an optimal solution would be mine so I can’t say yes or no. I think every mother, whether they are at home with their children, working full-time or something in-between is being there for her children. She has organised things so that she can do what she thinks is best for her child at a given timeI have had a fulfilling career, I will have a fulfilling career again in the future and I’m sure I’ll look back at my years of raising my children as a fulfilling career too.  In a way I think the perfect balance does already exist but the money is being sent in the wrong direction: I think primary carers should be paid a lot more than the children’s allowance and be free to choose to pay for childcare out of that or not.

If you could do any job, what would it be? Or would you prefer to stay at home regardless of any dream job with dream hours?

I plan to train as a hypnotist in the future and I think I’d love that. I will also return to my live-in training courses too. While my children are children I’ll be at home with them.

Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours which in turn limits their opportunities?

When I interviewed for my last office job I was asked why I wanted the job. I answered that I was planning on getting pregnant so I wanted to switch from self-employment  to PAYE status so I could avail of maternity benefit. The man who would soon be my employer offered me the job. I really don’t know if there’s a glass ceiling. I know so many women who have children and are working, many in high positions. Just through conversations I’ve had with my friends and peers I’ve come to a totally unscientific conclusion about this: I don’t think enough mothers actually look for the flexibility or part-time hours. They talk about it to me and their sisters and their mothers and their friends and the woman behind the counter in the corner shop but I don’t think enough of them (in fact none of the women I know who I have discussed this with) actually approach their employers. I suppose I’d have to say yes to the glass ceiling but that there are cases where working mothers haven’t asked for it to be removed.

Do you have any advice for expectant or new mothers thinking about leaving their jobs to stay-at-home, e.g. how to weigh up the decision, how to know it’s the right thing to do? 

When you bring a new member of the human race into the world remember you have changed the course of history and deserve credit. Give yourself time to think and don’t feel you have to tell everyone everything. I’d like to say you’ll know what the right thing to do is but I haven’t been sure of myself since the day my first child was born. “Leaving work”, “giving up work”, “not going back to work”? What? If you decide to stay at home with your children for a while or forever that doesn’t mean you won’t return to paid employment at some stage. I weighed it all up and I still didn’t know what I was letting myself in for, give your brain a rest and get box sets of ‘Call The Midwife’ and ‘Stella’!

Do you have any other comments?

Thanks for having me. I’ve enjoyed your series of interviews. Please feel free to give my e-mail address to the countless enquiries you will no doubt get from people who wish to offer me flexible, secure employment in Co. Waterford!

Ha! And yes, I’d like to pass on my e-mail address for all the flexible, secure jobs in Co. Dublin too! Thanks Joanna for taking part in the interview – it’s very interesting to hear your perspective. I love that you were given a job after you said you were planning to get pregnant – I don’t think that happens too often!

I agree with you that there are women who want part-time and are afraid to ask for it – I remember it took me months to pluck up the courage. But on the flip side, I know so many mothers who are looking for part-time or to work from home and can’t get it – one friend in particular has just resigned from a job she loves after fifteen years there because she couldn’t get a four-day-week. So maybe the moral of the story is that all of us should ask, and keep on asking, but if we’re turned down, we will resign and wait for those flexible, secure jobs in Waterford and Dublin 🙂

Thanks again Joanna and I wish you continued success with your beautiful cards which I can personally recommend having been the recipient of a lovely pack myself!


Next Monday, the interview series takes a break for the bank holiday, but it will be back the following week with broadcaster and author Sinead Crowley. Happy Easter!







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