Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

Mums who struggle to find family time

By Kerry McKittrick

It's a story that many working families here will recognise - the daily grind of demanding jobs, commutes and school runs, while the precious weekends are spent catching up on housework.

Parents often spend so much time on work and chores, there is little time left to enjoy together as a family.

A recent survey has revealed the average person in the UK is likely to spend just 4.9 hours of quality time with their family during the week - that's less than one hour a day.

The findings show increasingly hectic lifestyles are impacting on family life, with most adults admitting that as families they make time to eat a meal together four times a week.

We talk to three working women about juggling work and a family and when, if ever, they get to spend some quality time with their loved ones.

'Sunday is for family'

Claire Edgar (44) is a partner at Francis Hanna Solicitors. She lives in Belfast with her two daughters, Katie (13) and Niamh (12)

Ultimately there are sacrifices my family and I have to make in order for me to have this career - I don't pretend to have the balance right at all, and it's something we continuously have to evaluate. Working a 40-45 hour week, there are days when I come home and I'm stressed to the hilt - and that's bound to impact on my parenting.

But I love my job and my daughters know that. They know that I take pride in what I do and I think that's a really good example for them. I think the important thing is that as a mother you're a happy person.

It's part of who I am, so I hope that they see a mum who loves them, but is also an independent person who sets a good example for them. I want them to feel that you can be independent and have a passion that's worthwhile.

In order for us to achieve this balance, there does have to be a huge amount of flexibility. Thanks to laptops and mobiles I can work remotely and I'm contactable. There also needs to be flexibility of attitude on both sides - there are things I will plan, such as sports days, but a last minute meeting means I won't be able to go to that, so the girls need to be flexible about my work.

We always try to sit down together every week-night to have dinner, although it doesn't always work that way. One daughter might be out at football and the other might be out at drama. I try to prepare meals in advance and may make something such as a pie, lasagne or spaghetti bolognese and freeze them. That normally gets done at the weekends and sometimes during the week. Dinner will only last half an hour at the longest, but it's a good way for me to catch up with the girls and what they've been up to that day.

There are occasions when I can take my work home, but there are also times when I can't get out of the office. For example, if I'm in a meeting with a client or appearing at court.

My mum is very good at helping out during those times. She can be there for the girls when they get in from school or take them to something that I was supposed to go to. Because life is so busy, I am trying to get the girls to help out a little more around the house - they can do chores such as emptying the dishwasher or putting a wash on. It also instils in them the idea that we are all contributing to the household.

My only time off during the week is the couple of hours on Sunday morning when I go out rowing.

As the girls are getting older they tend to go out with their friends on Saturday, so later that evening we'll all sit down and have a nice dinner or get some treats in and watch the X Factor. Sunday is the real family day and we usually spend it going for a walk along the towpath or climb up Cavehill. We don't do it every weekend, but I like to try to get out for some fresh air.

That is the really enjoyable part of the week and I don't do it because it's good for them, I do it because I really enjoy my daughters' company.

As the girls are now in their teens, I don't have to get up and get them dressed as I did when they were little. I can also nip out to the shop now to get a pint of milk without having to bundle them into buggies.

There are challenges at this stage too, as this is quite a difficult time for them emotionally, so I try and make myself available to them - while trying to make sure they're not constantly on their iPhones or iPads. I find them much more enjoyable now, because they're good company.

They don't seem to mind that much when I can't make it to events. I can usually make it to the first 10 minutes of an event, so they remember I was there, even if I couldn't be there for the whole thing. If I can't make it, then my mum will be there."

Claire's typical day

7.30am: Get up and get everyone ready for work and school. Make lunches, give girls bus money, PE kit

8.45am: Head to work, leave girls to bus

4.00pm: Leave work, arrive home to help with homework. Have work home with me to finish

4.30-6pm: Lifts to their after school activities. Answer work emails on iPad

6pm: Family dinner

6.30pm: More clubs/classes drop-offs for the girls. Tidy the house

9pm: Girls' bedtime

9.30-10pm: My bedtime

'I'd love time for myself'

Orla McGoldrick (36) is a business development manager. She lives in Moneymore with husband Odhran, a technical officer manager, and children Leo (3) and Pia (17 months). She says:

I work up to 35 hours a week in total, with four days based at the office from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and other administrative work done from home. My days are run with military precision - we get up so early to enable Odhran and I to get ready before the kids get up. Odhran works the same hours I do, although it's over five days.

We have a fantastic childminder, so in the mornings we just scoop the children out of bed and deliver them to her. She will dress them and give them their breakfast.

I work for a small company, which offers health and safety training and consultancy to other businesses. As I am responsible for sales I constantly check my emails morning and night for new business.

Odhran and I are home at the same time, so we really only have about two hours to wash the kids and give them some snacks - they have their main meal with the childminder - and have a little play with them.

Odhran is the chief chef in our house and I think it's one of the reasons I don't do so much cooking - I can leave making meals to him.

After the kids have gone to bed and I've had another quick look at my emails, I will tidy up the house and pack bags for all of us for the next day.

Odhran and I try and sit down and have a cup of tea together during the evening, but when that happens I tend to just fall asleep. That's usually about 9.30pm-10pm, at which time I go to bed.

I don't work on Fridays, but instead of taking it easy I normally over-schedule myself - I tend to have far too much lined up to actually get done. Jobs such as getting workmen in to for repair or maintenance work to the house and housework are the main things which occupy me.

We visit my mum for lunch and then I'll leave the kids with her and go into town to buy the things I couldn't get with the weekly supermarket shop, such as fresh meat from the butcher and prescriptions from the chemist.

Saturdays are also spent doing errands, so I will pop into Cookstown to buy things, such as clothes for the kids or anything else we need.

Odhran goes to play golf with his dad on Saturday morning, so this is good time for me to sit down and read for a hour. My favourite times are at weekends, when we get to sit down together as a family and have dinner. It is usually the only time that Odhran and I aren't exhausted from work and we can properly spend time together as a family.

Sundays tend to be spent visiting our families, so we go to see grannies and sisters, as well as walks. It's nice, because we get fed and the kids get the chance to play with their cousins.

There are days when I think, that's it, I'm going into Cookstown for a couple of hours to buy myself something nice and have a break.

Then reality kicks in and I realise that they're only babies for a little while and in a couple of years it will be easier to look after them, so I'll be able to relax more. I do think sometimes I would love more time for myself, but I really can't complain - I have a great childminder and Odhran does all the cooking. At the moment the easiest thing for us to do is just be at home and we can enjoy each other the most when we're there."

Orla's typical day

6am: Get up

7.45am: Get the kids up and bring them to the childminder

5pm: Leave work so that the kids are picked up from the childminder before 6pm

6pm: Get home, Odhran prepares dinner. I tidy up and get the kids ready for bed

8pm: Kids go to bed. Check emails and get things ready for the next day

9.30-10pm: Bed

'It can be chaos at home'

Lorraine Marks (44) is a knowledge transfer partnership manager at Queen's University and lives in Ballymena with her husband Adrian, an engineer. They have four children; Luke (15), Emily (10), Olivia (8) and Alexandra (7). She says:

It's only when I stop to think about it that I realise just how busy I am. Adrian gets up at about 4am and drives to Lurgan so it's me on my own in the morning. I have three sets of hair to do because the girls aren't old enough to do their own yet. Thankfully Luke is old enough to sort himself out in the morning and he gets himself to school.

My job is based at Queen's University, where I work up to 45 hours a week, but it takes me all over the place. Sometimes it involves a flight to England and a night away in which case Adrian will make arrangements to go into work later so he can get the kids up.

The girls are picked up from school by the childminder, who feeds them and helps them with their homework - which is brilliant. There might be the odd homework question or query that I have to deal with, but otherwise they've been taken care of.

Dinner for Luke, Adrian and myself is usually something grabbed in front of the TV and even then sometimes I might just have a sandwich. Adrian gets home from work any time from 6pm to 8pm and we wait until the girls have gone to bed before we eat otherwise it can be chaos with them running around. Things are more efficient now as the girls are old enough to tell me what they want and are becoming more independent everyday.

Adrian tries to get to bed between 8.30pm and 9pm because he gets up so early, so we don't have a lot of quality time to spend together in the evenings. Sometimes on a Friday we might both get home early and then we'll go to the Galgorm Hotel for a glass of wine before the kids need to be picked up from the childminder.

Weekends are usually taken up with tidying, doing the laundry and doing the rest of the housework. The girls all have dancing on Saturday mornings and then Adrian and I might take Luke for a cup of tea or for a walk.

Six years ago Adrian spent 16 months working abroad so trying to run the house, work and manage the children felt like relentless effort. I had paperwork filled out so that I could work four days a week and I had even discussed it with my line manager. In the end, though, I decided not to do it. I wasn't sure if I cut my working week down to four days if I would ever be able to go back to five again. I feared I would just spend the fifth day checking emails and working anyway.

I do love my job which I have been doing for almost 20 years. I never imagined I would be doing this - it is so interesting in a way that I didn't expect. When I left school the careers on offer for girls were nursing, teaching or secretarial and very little else. Now that Luke is approaching the age that he has to think about careers there are so many options available to him and the girls can choose whatever they want to be too.

I think I set a good example to the girls in what I do. Of course, I try to make it to sports days and events but there are times I will have to explain to them that I won't be there. In those cases I try to have Adrian or a granny there. I think it's good for my children to see that work is important and you have to be committed to your job.

During our time off, around Christmas, we don't tend to go out very much. The kids don't actually get to spend that much time at home so we prefer to be there together as a family."

Lorraine's typical day

6am: Get up, shower and dress

6.45am-7am: Get the kids up, dressed and fed. Make sure school bags and PE kits are assembled, make lunches and pack a change of clothes for the girls after school

7.30am: Bring the girls to their childminder and get on the road to Belfast

8.30am-9.30am: Arrive at work, the journey length depends on traffic

6pm: Pick the girls up from the childminders

6.30pm-8pm: Drive girls to various children's groups and activities

7pm-7.30pm: Girls' bedtime. Cook dinner for Luke, Adrian and myself

7.30pm-8pm: Dinner

8pm: Help Luke with homework queries and catch up on any work I can bring home. Tidy up

10pm: Bed

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