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Home or office? The new mother's major dilemma

Tennis player Serena Williams has revealed her feelings of guilt about combining her busy training schedule with caring for baby daughter Olympia. Karen Ireland talks to two women about how they decided to go back to the world of work or stay with their children

Denise McMahon (38), a marketing manager, lives in Banbridge with husband Donal (38), a sales executive, and their two children, Rory (4) and two-year-old Holly. Denise says:

Deciding to go back to work is a very difficult and emotional decision for a mum, and every mum is different.

When I was pregnant with Holly, I was a senior manager at a bank and had a really good job, but when redundancies came up, I decided it would be a good time to take a career break and be at home with the children.

I stayed at home for two years after Holly was born. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t all rosy. Having a young toddler and a baby with you constantly is hard work, but I loved my time with them when they were so young.

I decided to use the time I had off to gain extra qualifications, and I did a diploma in digital marketing.

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Quality time: Denise McMahon with her children, Holly and Rory

However, I missed work. I have always loved working. I’d had a good career and I wanted to go back to work.

The decision was an emotional one because I had a lot of guilt about leaving the children, and I wondered if they’d be all right in childcare.

Donal was completely supportive of me — he knew it had to be my decision and I had to do what made me happy.

In the end, I went back to work. I missed having work colleagues and using my brain and skillset.

I was very fortunate to get a job in Zen Orthodontics and Rejuvenation Clinic in Newry, which was close to home.

When I started the job, my colleagues where all very supportive of me and helped me settle in.

Those first few months going back to work were a huge adjustment for everyone.

It took Holly a while to settle into nursery, so I worried about her and felt guilty.

My colleagues probably thought I was obsessed with the children because that was all I talked about, but after a few months, everyone settled down and we got into a good routine.

Rory is starting school now and I’m going to work mornings — I can be there to drop him off and pick him up, which is great. We have a good mix of childcare because my mum helps, the kids are in childcare and then I work part-time, so I’m at home the other days.

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The couple with Abbie

I chose a career change — something closer to home, more flexible hours and not as stressful as my job in the bank, but I love it.

I love being back at work and getting out and about and meeting and interacting with people. I think I’m a better mum because I work.

I make the best of the time I have with the children — it’s quality time.

I love coming home at the end of the day to loads of cuddles and smiles from the children. They miss me and I miss them.

I think when I was with them all the time I maybe didn’t appreciate them enough.

Now I make my days off and weekends count by spending special quality time with the children.

Every mum is different, and everyone has to do what is right for them. For me, it was about getting back into my career and being a working mum.

Yes, you still feel guilty, but this is 100% the right decision for me and my family.

I feel I have the right amount of balance between home and work life now, and everyone benefits from that.”

Sheena Dick (32), from Belfast, is married to Matthew, a brewer, and they have three children, Caleb (6), Micah (2) and eight-month-old Abbie. Sheena says:

Before I had my first child, I worked full-time as a fundraiser for a charity. I loved my work and went back full-time after Caleb was born.

I never saw myself as a stay-at-home mum, but after I had Caleb and our family grew, that became the  main goal for my husband and me.

I was surprised by my feelings because I loved work and having colleagues and adult time. When Micah was born, I went back to work part-time, but after I had Abbie, we decided it was just time to go for it and be at home with the children.

Matthew was very supportive of my decision. He did worry at the start about what our finances would look like with just one wage, but with three children all my salary was being eaten up by childcare, so it made sense for me to stay at home.

Matthew didn’t really have a preference as to what I did, but he runs his own business, Boundary Brewery, and if I was at home it would mean he could concentrate more on his growing business.

While I enjoyed work, I felt guilty all the time about what I was missing out on with the children — I wanted to be there for them.

Drop-offs and pick-ups were especially hard on them and me. I hated leaving them in the mornings and they had stored up all these feelings of missing me during the day.

In the end it wasn’t a huge decision — it was just one which felt right for our family. I never imagined I would give up work, but it didn’t really feel like it was my vocation at the time, so I decided it was the best decision for all of us.

Being a stay-at-home mum is one of the hardest jobs you can do. In fact, this summer I really struggled and I realised I was always mad and yelling at the children.

I thought that if I was at work, a supervisor would be telling me I needed to take some time out, but because I was at home round the clock with the children, this wasn’t an option.

I decided it was time to start taking better care of myself. Matthew travels a lot with his work, and now if I need help with the kids, I ask for it, especially if I’m on my own, for example at bedtime.

I will ask friends or family for help and support. I’ve realised there is no shame in admitting you can’t do it all on your own and that it’s okay to ask for help.

I’ve also rejigged my finances and I now go to a yoga class once a week. If I look after myself and I’m in a better frame of mind, I’m a better mum.

People who work full-time get time out and have a release, so it’s important for mums to do the same and take care of themselves. I have friends who work full-time, friends who work part-time and others who are at home. You must find the right balance for you, and mums need to be there for each other to help each other out.”

Serena Williams

The tennis player (36) and husband Alexis Ohanian (35), an internet entrepreneur, welcomed baby Olympia last year. Williams revealed that she nearly died during the birth — she suffered a pulmonary embolism, had an emergency caesarean section and then doctors found a large hematoma in her abdomen. She spent the first six weeks after the birth in bed.

In an Instagram post earlier this summer, she wrote: “Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mum... I read several articles that said postpartum emotions can last up to three years if not dealt with. I like communication best. Talking things through with my mum, my sisters, my friends, let me know that my feelings are totally normal. It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough for my baby.”

Talking about her busy schedule, Williams added: “We have all been there. I work a lot, I train, and I’m trying to be the best athlete I can be. However, that means although I have been with my daughter every day, I’m not around as much as I would like to be. Most of you mums deal with the same thing. Whether stay-at-home or working, finding that balance with kids is a true art. You are the true heroes.”

Holly Willoughby

TV presenter Holly Willoughby (37, below) hinted in January this year that she’s considering a career break to focus on raising on her children. She and her husband, Daniel Baldwin (43), have three children, Harry (9), Belle (7) and three-year-old Chester.

She said: “My biggest challenge over the next few years will be parenting my children as they get older. When they’re babies, you’re constantly thinking about making sure they’re feeding right, that they get to those milestones, that they get to school.

“Then suddenly, as they get older, it’s their characters that are starting to build, and I realise more than ever the weight of responsibility of making sure they turn out to be really good, kind human beings.

“My main focus over the next few years is churning out three grounded, normal, happy, content children, teenagers and adults, eventually. That’s the  greatest job I’ll ever do.”

That said, it was announced only last month that the This Morning host will present the forthcoming series of I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! alongside Declan Donnelly. She indicated, however, that she’d be taking the children out of school to Australia as she films the programme.

Jennifer Garner

Hollywood actresses may be well-paid, but they’re also in the privileged position of having uninterrupted time at home between films. Garner (46), who has three children with ex-husband Ben Affleck, Violet (12), Seraphina (9) and six-year-old Samuel, loves her time with the children:

“There’s an internal battle. I need to work, and I need to be home with my kids, and the kids win,” she said.

“It’s about getting the kids up and fed, getting one to school, getting the other down for a nap, going to the grocery store, picking one up from school, getting the other one down for another nap, cooking dinner... I live my life at these two extremes. I’m either a full-time stay-at-home mum or a full-time actress.”

Jacinda Ardern

The New Zealand Prime Minister returned to work after only six weeks’ maternity leave. Ardern (38) and partner Clarke Gayford (40) welcomed daughter Neve in June this year. As she prepared to get back to the office, she revealed that she’d continued to read cabinet papers from home as well as consult on any major issues during her maternity leave.

“I’m going to be focused on getting straight back into it,” she said.

And, responding to questions about whether she’d be able to handle her roles as a mother and head of state, she stressed: “I’m not the first woman to work and have a baby.”

How do celebs juggle work and motherhood?

Serena Williams

The tennis player (36) and husband Alexis Ohanian (35), an internet entrepreneur, welcomed baby Olympia last year. Williams revealed that she nearly died during the birth — she suffered a pulmonary embolism, had an emergency caesarean section and then doctors found a large hematoma in her abdomen. She spent the first six weeks after the birth in bed.

In an Instagram post earlier this summer, she wrote: “Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mum... I read several articles that said postpartum emotions can last up to three years if not dealt with. I like communication best. Talking things through with my mum, my sisters, my friends, let me know that my feelings are totally normal. It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough for my baby.”

Talking about her busy schedule, Williams added: “We have all been there. I work a lot, I train, and I’m trying to be the best athlete I can be. However, that means although I have been with my daughter every day, I’m not around as much as I would like to be. Most of you mums deal with the same thing. Whether stay-at-home or working, finding that balance with kids is a true art. You are the true heroes.”

Holly Willoughby

TV presenter Holly Willoughby (37) hinted in January this year that she’s considering a career break to focus on raising on her children. She and her husband, Daniel Baldwin (43), have three children, Harry (9), Belle (7) and three-year-old Chester.

She said: “My biggest challenge over the next few years will be parenting my children as they get older. When they’re babies, you’re constantly thinking about making sure they’re feeding right, that they get to those milestones, that they get to school.

“Then suddenly, as they get older, it’s their characters that are starting to build, and I realise more than ever the weight of responsibility of making sure they turn out to be really good, kind human beings.

“My main focus over the next few years is churning out three grounded, normal, happy, content children, teenagers and adults, eventually. That’s the  greatest job I’ll ever do.”

That said, it was announced only last month that the This Morning host will present the forthcoming series of I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! alongside Declan Donnelly. She indicated, however, that she’d be taking the children out of school to Australia as she films the programme.

Jennifer Garner

Hollywood actresses may be well-paid, but they’re also in the privileged position of having uninterrupted time at home between films. Garner (46), who has three children with ex-husband Ben Affleck, Violet (12), Seraphina (9) and six-year-old Samuel, loves her time with the children:

“There’s an internal battle. I need to work, and I need to be home with my kids, and the kids win,” she said.

“It’s about getting the kids up and fed, getting one to school, getting the other down for a nap, going to the grocery store, picking one up from school, getting the other one down for another nap, cooking dinner... I live my life at these two extremes. I’m either a full-time stay-at-home mum or a full-time actress.”

Jacinda Ardern

The New Zealand Prime Minister returned to work after only six weeks’ maternity leave. Ardern (38) and partner Clarke Gayford (40) welcomed daughter Neve in June this year. As she prepared to get back to the office, she revealed that she’d continued to read cabinet papers from home as well as consult on any major issues during her maternity leave.

“I’m going to be focused on getting straight back into it,” she said.

And, responding to questions about whether she’d be able to handle her roles as a mother and head of state, she stressed: “I’m not the first woman to work and have a baby.”

Samantha Cameron

The fashion designer (47) is married to David Cameron (51), Prime Minister from 2010 to 2016, and they have three children, Nancy (14), Arthur (12) and eight-year-old Florence. Their son, Ivan, died aged six in 2009. Cameron was creative director of Smythson of Bond Street, and launched her own fashion label, Cefinn, in February last year. On the brand’s website, it states that Cefinn is “the quintessential uniform for the busy urban woman”.

Cameron revealed last week, in an interview with podcast It’s a Grown Up Life, that husband David appeared “horrified” when she said she might give up work to raise their children.

“There were moments obviously when I first had children where I would go, ‘Oh darling, I think I might give up work’, and he looked very horrified because he thought I would become someone, not the person that he knew and was used to,” she said.

“I’m lucky that I have a husband who is very supportive of my career, and likes the fact that I work.”

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