“it is the simple things that I find the hardest – like my child being invited to a birthday party mid-week and I can’t bring them, so have to ask another parent to bring him so he doesn’t miss out”
The first interview for 2014 is with June Tinsley who is the National Policy Officer in Barnardos, Ireland’s largest children’s charity. She is a mother to two young boys (aged 4 and 6). The eldest boy is in 1st class and the youngest is in Montessori. She lives in Co.Meath and commutes everyday on the train into Dublin city for her job.
When I asked June if she feels working-mother guilt, her reply was one that many of us can relate to:
“I definitely suffer from mother guilt … hearing ‘why do you have to go to work again, my friend’s mammy stays at home – why can’t you stay with me?’, it is very hard”
“it is hard to not to feel guilty when you only see them for a two hours a day during the week”
Thank you June for taking part in this interview – 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 have been in my role in Barnardos for over eight years. My job is to try and influence change in legislation, policy and practice to improve the lives of all children but particularly those who are disadvantaged. Barnardos has over 40 projects throughout the country all in areas of deprivation. My job includes lobbying politicians for reform through presentations, submissions and direct meetings with Ministers and their advisors. It is to ensure that the voices and experiences of children are brought the fore when key decisions or changes are being made that will impact on their lives e.g. annual Budget decisions, changes in educational supports, cutbacks to health or social services. Public awareness is also crucial through doing media interviews or public campaigns. It is very rewarding when positive change occurs such as the passing of the children’s referendum in 2012 but also frustrating that national change can take a long time to occur and children’s lives are being adversely affected every day as a result of the inaction. Childhood is such a short time span that delays can really impact negatively on a child’s development or experience.
And do you work full-time? Do you have the possibility to work from home?
I work full-time but do a 9 day fortnight – meaning I accumulate all my hours over 9 days and have every 10th day off. It is a long day as I leave the house at 6.30am and am in the office at 7.45am and leave at 4.45pm to return to the crèche at 6.00pm. My husband does the drop off in the morning and I do the collecting in the evening. The benefit of this work arrangement is that I am off every second Friday which I really enjoy as I can do simple things like the school run and have the afternoon to do something with my kids. I am lucky that Barnardos is supportive of having a work/life balance and I did explore doing a 4 day week through taking parental leave but as it is unpaid it wasn’t feasible for me to do it financially. I do have the opportunity to work from home occasionally but it is not something that is encouraged on a regular basis.
Does your role involve much travel?
I occasionally have to visit some of the Barnardos projects across the country. It can be a hassle in terms of rearranging childcare and ensuring my husband is free to collect them but I do enjoy these visits too. It is great to see the work that staff do with families on a daily basis and to hear of the harsh realities facing families. It re-energises me as it is hearing these stories that I can relay to key policy makers and try to make a difference for children’s lives.
What kind of childcare arrangements do you have in place?
We are lucky in that the crèche we use is beside our house so there is no car journey needed in the morning. Both boys have been in the crèche since they were babies and I went back to work from maternity leave so they are well used to it. The crèche also runs the Montessori and the afterschool club so after breakfast my eldest is dropped off to school (3 min walk) and collected by them. It is very convenient that it is all on-site and the staff are excellent. I am also fortunate to have my parents and my parents-in-law nearby and they look after the boys regularly giving them a welcome break from the crèche and afterschool club. Having one child in school and the other in Montessori has not altered our childcare arrangements yet but I expect more difficulties as they get older and will not want to attend the afterschool club there. I’ll have to explore other options then.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
The daily struggle of working in the office, long commute, checking homework while doing evening dinner and doing some housework does take its toll. Often being too tired to enjoy the few hours I have with my children each day is the most frustrating, annoying and heart-breaking aspect of being a working mum. Also when the train is late adds to the pressure as I have to get back in time for collecting them and some evenings I have to rush even more to bring them swimming or to football. Thankfully I rarely need to work late in the office but when I do I usually know of it beforehand so can plan childcare around it. The school holidays can be a struggle though as I don’t want them in the crèche all the time – it’s not a holiday for them. I try to take 3 weeks off during the summer so that we all get a break from the ordinary routine and during that time we do day trips or long weekends away if we don’t have a proper holiday planned.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I definitely suffer from mother guilt often. It is something I think dads don’t suffer from in the same way as often they had to return to work shortly after the baby was born. I did find it hard going back to work feeling that I would be missing out on some of their key milestones like taking their first step etc. but it has got slightly easier. Still it is the simple things that I find the hardest – like my child being invited to a birthday party mid-week and I can’t bring them, so have to ask another parent to bring him so he doesn’t miss out. Thankfully my children have been sick very seldom but on occasion when either of them were sick and just wanted their mammy and I couldn’t stay as I had to attend a pre-arranged important meeting at work. Or occasionally hearing ‘why do you have to go to work again, my friend’s mammy stays at home – why can’t you stay with me?’, it is very hard. On one level I know I am being a good role model for them by working and doing something I enjoy but at another emotional level it is hard to not to feel guilty when you only see them for a two hours a day during the week. That is why weekends are so precious for me.
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 finding the perfect balance between work and home commitments is very individualistic. Every mother is different and their relationships with their children are different especially as their children grow older. For me, I would love to do a three-day week while they are still small and return to full-time work at a later point in time. However, I know that is not going to happen for financial reasons so if I can take some parental leave at some stage that will help me towards finding the perfect balance.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I love that I am trying to make a difference to children’s lives, sometimes succeeding and other times just continually chipping away hoping that the penny will drop and the decision makers will make the right choice in the interests of benefiting all children rather than their political careers. Any other job would also have to have that element of wanting to make a difference to people’s lives. Also if I could significantly reduce my commute I would be a happier mummy!
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?
I do think that it is shocking that there are so few women in places of power either in the DAIL or CEO’s, even very female dominated workforces such as teachers have more male principals than females. But I do think that it is mothers rather than fathers who make the choices about how to best juggle work / family commitments. I admire the mothers who do have thriving careers but think they have had to consciously sacrifice some elements of home-life to get that far. It is a very individualistic decision to leave your career, go part-time or remain full time. It also depends on how ambitious you are.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
The mother guilt does it easier.
You will always be your child’s mother regardless of the close bond they have with the childminder / crèche staff. They will always want and need you more.
Enjoy the time you do have with them in the evenings. I love reading bedtime stories to my children. We all jump into my bed and I enjoy the cuddles and closeness we feel when hearing the adventures of Fireman Sam, Ben 10 or Harry and the Dinosaurs.
If possible do bulk cooking so a dinner can be defrosted at a moment’s notice when you are too tired to peel a spud!!
June thank you so much for taking part in the interview series – I think that juggling work and home and dealing with guilt is always easier for mothers who enjoy their work, and particularly if it’s work that really makes a difference to people’s lives, as is the case for you. I particularly liked what you said about children always needing us more, regardless of the strong bond with crèche staff. I think that’s something that many of us worry about – we want that strong bond with the carer, for the child’s sake, but not at the cost of our own relationship – it’s a good reminder.