Andrea Mara

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Office Mum stories – Looking for Blue Sky

When asked aged 8 what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered ‘Prime Minister’!  I must have been insufferably precocious….

Back after a St. Patrick’s Day break, the weekly interview series resumes with the writer behind Looking for Blue Sky – she’s a Dublin-based lone parent of three children, two of whom have special needs.

Office Mum interview - photo of Looking for Blue SkyThank you so much for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – you are a very inspiring person and I think others will be really interested in your story. Can you tell me a little about your family?

I have three children: a 21 year old who is at College and lives at home, she works part-time as a gymnastics coach and is very independent.  Sadly my 17 year old daughter will never be independent as she has severe physical and intellectual disabilities: she can’t walk or talk and needs 24 hour care, but she has a lovely sunny personality.  I also have a 12 year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who has a quirky mind and a high IQ, but is going to need a lot of support to get him through the secondary school years

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’m the social media officer for a UK autism charity: it’s home-based and part-time, so I pop on and off the computer several times a day to keep Facebook, twitter and all the rest of it updated, while building a supportive community for families living with autism.  I also blog, develop ideas, strategies, promote fundraising initiatives, create pictures, posters, surveys, answer queries and emails…it’s very varied, exactly as I like it. 

What kind of hours do you work?

I’m paid for 40 hours a month, but I always end up working more than that – there’s always queries to be answered and great stories to share. 

Do you have to travel for work?

Only to the kitchen! 

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

The main problem is when the needs of work and the children collide – perhaps a heavy schedule of special needs appointments clashes with the major fund-raising event that needs lots of pushing on social media.  Luckily I have a 3G tablet, so I can work anywhere, in any waiting room!

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

Not really, but perhaps I would if I was full-time or worked longer hours.  I think it is good for them to see that I work hard to bring in extra money to the household and that I’ve used my interests to achieve that – my eldest daughter has done the same and trained to be a coach after 15 years of gymnastics classes. 

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? 

Every mother is different and wants or needs different arrangements.  I love my current job working from home in social media, and it works perfectly around the children’s needs.  But personally I miss the buzz of the office, and even dressing up in a suit and the me-time you get on the commute!

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

Probably something similar to my old job – a back office management public relations role, doing the writing, strategy, presentations, meetings, etc, but with the support team making the phone calls and attending the events, i.e. the stuff I didn’t enjoy…  School hours in the office, and on call on the mobile phone at other times, just the way it used to be in my old job!

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 think that some women make glass ceilings for themselves, they believe that it is not possible to reach the top and find reasons not to push themselves to get there.  But their beliefs are often shaped by the media and society – after all, if everyone tells you that there is a glass ceiling, not many women will have the self belief to say, stuff that, no glass ceiling is going to stop me!

One of the positive aspects of growing up with no TV is that I wasn’t really exposed to those messages, and my parents, and even my school to a certain extent, instilled in me the self belief that I was clever, capable and could achieve anything.  When asked aged 8 what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered ‘Prime Minister’!  I must have been insufferably precocious….

I continued to work full time after my first child was born, especially once I got my dream management job in a PR consultancy.  But there were limits.  I couldn’t bear to stay away overnight, and would drive home from wherever I was in the country, no matter how late at night, so that I could be there for my little girl when she woke in the morning.

For me the glass ceiling kicked in due to circumstances, and that reason is so often overlooked.

Having one, and then two children with special needs meant that my children had to take top priority.  How can you breach a glass ceiling if you have to miss an important meeting because your child has stopped breathing and you have to take them to A&E?

Finding affordable reliable and competent childminders for children with special needs is also impossible.

Then my marriage ended, so I was on my own trying to juggle everything.

Other women have non-supportive partners, long commutes, sick or needy elderly parents, ill-health – meaning they have to prioritize other areas of their life.

Then there are many mothers whose first loving look at their baby melts away all desire to break through glass ceilings, and that’s okay too, including one friend who downshifted after reaching the very top of the international telecoms industry.  She went from negotiating with governments to negotiating with a 2 year old.  And for her that was the right choice, especially as I firmly believe that raising the next generation is the most important and undervalued job in the world.

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

Hmm, these might not make me too popular, but please remember that I am an old-school parent…  Try and persuade your baby to sleep through the night, make sure your partner (if any) is on board and will give the extra help that will be needed with house and baby, stop ironing – I wore drip dry tops for years to the office…

Any other comments?

Thank you for letting me take part in this xx

Thank you so much for taking part and I’m glad we found a way to do this while retaining the anonymity that you have on your blog! I have been in awe of you since I first got to know you through Looking for Blue Sky – you really are inspirational.

I agree with what you said about women sometimes creating our own glass ceilings – sometimes it’s a lack of confidence, sometimes it’s because we no longer aspire to jobs that would keep us away from our families for fourteen hours a day. As you said, raising the next generation is the most important and undervalued job in the world.

Thank you again for taking part, and long may you continue to inspire.

*Since taking part in the series, my lovely friend made the decision to give up her job and care for her children full time. Through her writing and social media, she continues to fight for and advocate for better supports for carers in Ireland.





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