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Is it really possible to balance holding down a job with being a mum?

The BBC's Kate Silverton reignited the debate about juggling a career with having a family. Kerry McKittrick asks local women for their views on motherhood and the workplace.

Balancing a career and a family is almost impossible for women today, according to Kate Silverton.

The BBC newsreader recently gave birth to her second child at the age of 43 - but warned other women against waiting until their forties to start a family.

It seems that barely a day goes by without articles in the media decrying the demise of the modern family, or that woman are choosing careers over children.

Kate gave birth to her son, Wilbur, in June. She previously thought that she was unable to have children, but after several failed rounds of IVF she went on to conceive naturally. Her daughter, Clemency, is now three.

Since starting her family, the presenter and journalist has taken a freelance role in order to have more time at home.

In an age when the stay-at-home mum is becoming less and less common, many women juggle a career with a family.

Some manage to work their career and home life around each other, while others allow their career to play second fiddle to their children.

We speak to four local women about the choices they've made between home and the world of work.

'Grandparent support is such a huge help'

Joanne Harvey (44) is group  marketing manager for Hastings Hotels and lives in Jordanstown with her husband, Alistair, and their children - Ella (12) and Georgia (10). She says:

I've been working for Hastings for almost 16 years and I had been there for four years when Ella came along. When I went back to work, I had a lot of help from the grandparents. Then Georgia came along and again I had more help from family.

It was easier when they were both babies, because they could be looked after full-time, either in creches or by grandparents.

When I went back to work after Georgia, I cut my hours down to four days a week, but in those days I worked normal hours.

It was when Ella started school that childcare became a problem. That's the age when they start going to Brownies and birthday parties and piano lessons and need to be ferried around.

My parents help when they can, but they live in France for four months of the year. They're very good when they're here, but they do have their own lives to live.

Alistair's parents are also very good, but they live over an hour away, which is a long distance to ask someone to travel just to pick a child up from school and mind them for an hour and a half. Of course, Alistair is on hand if he's here, but he has a job that sees him travel a lot. Hastings have been very good and allowed me to change things around. Ella is in first year, so I'm now able to drop her at the train station before I go to work at 8am.

That hour is a golden hour, because there's no one else here and the phone doesn't ring, so I get more work done.

It's a full-on job, so I tend to spend the whole day at my desk and don't leave until after five on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On those days my parents look after them if my mum and dad are there. Ella now can get the train home by herself, but if my mum's not around then for Georgia I either need to pay for after-school clubs, or beg a favour off another mum.

Things are getting easier and certainly will once Georgia goes to big school. I'm used to the hours now, but you really do never stop running.

I constantly feel torn, as I'm very conscientious of my work, but then my family is important to me, too. I don't like coming home tired and then I have to write out Press releases when the girls want my attention.

I think if I hadn't had kids my career would be different. You dream about big jobs when you're at university, but as time goes on you start to change your priorities.

I realise that I'm very lucky that I'm in a job that I like and that's flexible and I'm balancing that with family life.

If I didn't work for such an understanding company, I would have to pay extra nursery hours, or move jobs to find somehow to manage it.

Grandparent support has been a huge help - sometimes my mother will even make the dinner for me.

Grandparents don't get paid for the work they do, which is terrible. Both sets are very hands-on and I don't know what I'd do without them."

'There are pros and cons to both sides'

Kat Cassidy (39) lives in Lisburn with her husband, Shaun, and their children, Dylan (7), Ella (5) and Ava (3). She says:

Working in PR in my 20s, doing mostly agency work, I was very career-minded. I got married when I was 28 and by then had moved away from agency work and went into magazine publishing for a few years before gaining a contract in the PSNI Press office. I loved that, even though it was only temporary.

Dylan came along as my contract ended, but they contacted me when he was four months old and asked me back to work a couple of days a week while my mum looked after Dylan.

After a while, I moved to BT to a full-time, but temporary, contract and then moved on to work for the Henderson Group.

Then Ella came along and when she was eight weeks old she got very sick with pneumonia and bronchiolitis, and was ill for about six months, but eventually she improved. At that point, I had to get back to work and Ella went to the same childcare facility that Dylan went to.

Every time Ella went to daycare, though, she would get sick within 24 hours. At that point, the doctor said Ella couldn't go to daycare - her immune system was so low that she would instantly pick up any bug or germ, so she just couldn't be around lots of children. My mum very kindly stepped in to take care of her so I could get back to work.

It was a couple of months later that I was diagnosed with type one diabetes - I had gone from a size 10 to a size six and had put it all down to stress.

I felt it wasn't fair on others, as I kept having to ask for time off, because my kids were sick and then I wasn't well, either.

I came to the decision in an instant and, after phoning Shaun, I walked straight into my manager's office and handed in my resignation. Now I just do 12 hours of digital marketing for one client a month and I can do it anywhere I happen to be.

I was very happy with Ella and Dylan, but then I got pregnant with Ava. If I had been working then, we probably wouldn't have had a third child, as we couldn't have afforded the childcare.

I have a lot of friends who work full-time and there are pros and cons to both sides. I get to take the kids to all sorts of activities, like swimming and gymnastics, which they wouldn't get to if they were in childcare.

I'm currently studying to become a crossfit instructor, as I'd like to take it into local schools for kids. It doesn't take up much of my time and I'll be able to do it as and when it suits, so I won't have to juggle anything. I don't have any plans to go back to full-time work. As long as I enjoy what I'm doing and it doesn't take away from the children's enjoyment, then I'm happy."

'I wanted to be hands-on with my boys'

Olivia Johnston (43) lives in Greenisland with her husband, Tommy, and children Patrick (14) and Ross (12). She works part-time at home as a freelance PR consultant. She says:

Before I had children, my whole career was based in in-house PR, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then the kids came along. It wasn't too bad when they were babies, as they were easily looked after.

Things started to change a bit when the two boys were old enough to want me around. I started being conscious that it wouldn't always be the case and started to think about going freelance. Other PR people were very positive about me taking that leap.

I realised the boys were approaching crucial times in school, and I wanted to be more hands-on with that. Patrick is in third year now and Ross is in first year, and they're both continuing to do well.

Once I left full-time work, I was contacted to work freelance with a firm. I now have clients with them and a couple on my own.

You do have to be very disciplined. Once the kids are off to school, I make sure I'm in the office and working a good few hours. That doesn't mean I won't load the washing machine or do bits and pieces, though.

There is still a bit of juggling. In an ideal world the laptop would be off at 3pm, but sometimes clients need things done urgently.

I don't have any regrets from an ambition point of view. My 15 years of experience has helped me get freelance work I wouldn't have got otherwise. I do miss out on the social aspect of working in an office, but I have friends who are in the same position and we all keep in touch. I've also kept friends from every job I've had.

I would consider going back to full-time work, but not for a few years time yet. I do agree with what Kate Silverton says. You have to be highly organised and have lots of help if you have a high-powered job.

I think, no matter what you do, there are trade-offs. But it also all depends on how you want to organise your life.

Our system works for us and I have no regrets about working from home."

'Being self-employed gives you flexibility'

Nikki McConnell (41) owns  Worthington Solicitors, with offices in Belfast and Newtownabbey. She lives in Holywood with her husband, Ciaran, and they have four children - Jonah (9), Betsy (6) and twins Annie and Archie (4). She says:

When I set up the law firm in 2003, it wasn't a decision made with a family life in mind, although I always intended to have children. I went out on my own for professional reasons.

I think being self-employed gives you flexibility to an extent. I have eight partners - of the nine of us, five are women, which is quite unusual for a law firm, so you have to allow for a certain amount of understanding.

I've always worked full-time. I work when I can and, when the babies were tiny, I would have worked more at nights and weekends.

Given what I do, I have to be there and I have to put the hours in. Legal services are changing and I have clients who require work outside of normal hours.

With iPads and wifi, though, we can have access to emails in the home. It's more demanding, but it's also easier to stay in touch when you're not at your desk. It also gets easier as the children get older, especially now as they're all at school.

We've always been very good about bed times and routines. Being organised is the key - having the packed lunches made and the uniforms and PE kits ready the night before.

We have grandmothers who each help out one afternoon a week and a nanny who does three days after school.

We're very lucky as the nanny we have at the moment is also a classroom assistant at the school my older two go to. It also means she has school holidays and can then look after them full-time during the summer and Easter.

If I was working for another firm, things would certainly be different. I know that we're a very unusual practice, because we are so family-friendly.

We work in an industry where clients demand a certain level of work that just isn't possible on a part-time basis.

When I think back to my thirties, all I seemed to do was have babies and work, but I wouldn't change the way things have worked out. We have four wonderful children who we're delighted with and I have a wonderful job that I wouldn't change, either."

The mums who have it all...

  • Gwen Stefani has managed to maintain her music career while juggling marriage to the Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale and their sons Kingston, Zuma and Apollo
  • Angelina Jolie manages to juggle being one of the most famous women in the world with her brood of six children. In her spare time, she is a special envoy to the United Nations
  • On her marriage to Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge announced she wouldn't be pursuing her own career. Instead, she decided to become a stay-at-home mum to the new heir to the throne, Prince George, and she is currently expecting her second child
  • Myleene Klass is clearly a devoted mother to her two children, Ava (7) and Hero (3), but she also models for both Marks & Spencer and Littlewoods
  • Jessica Alba turned motherhood into a business when she started The Honest Company after the birth of her first child, Honor (now 6). The firm makes environmentally-friendly, allergen-free products. Although only two years old, her business is expect to report a $140m turnover this year. She now has a second daughter, Haven (3)

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