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Balancing Work & Home - A Constant Juggling Act for Parents

01 Apr 2019

Emma Anglim

Intense multi-tasking, strict time management, superb organisational skills, working 18 hours days and the ability to prioritise……. This may sound like a job description and in a way it is. It’s a job description that working mothers all over Ireland will recognise!

While celebrating Mother’s Day yesterday, mothers would have enjoyed opening their cards and being treated to breakfast in bed but the reality is that they’ll still be juggling the meal planning for the week, the washing of school uniforms and the frantic diary management of children’s school and social activities as well as organising who’s doing the crèche pickups.

One of the main barriers for working mothers, is the astronomical cost of childcare. According to a report published in September 2018 by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Pobal, the UK and Ireland have two of the highest childcare costs globally, coming in second and third respectively behind the USA for net cost of full-time childcare for parents. With afterschool care, crèche or childminding bills, the costs can go up. While for many, staying at home isn’t a financially viable option, returning to work can mean that for some people, most of their salaries are going on childcare costs.  So what can be done to make working parent’ lives easier?

Before returning to work after having a baby, do your research first. Whether your childcare options are family members, a childminder, a crèche or indeed a mix of all of the above, sit down and have a realistic look at all the costs, hours and responsibilities involved. Is your current job going to suit the demands of a working parent? Are there some places you can make changes that will suit your new reality? Any working parent will say it’s a constant juggling routine no matter how demanding your job is.

First step

If you do decide that the rigours of your job will be too much to balance with the demands of a new baby, don’t be too hasty in looking for a new job or employer. These days, the focus for many organisations is not just recruitment but retention. Employers are very conscious of the need to be flexible with working arrangements in order to keep good staff. Have a chat with your boss first, you may be surprised as to their degree of flexibility. If you want to work part-time or job-share or benefit from a “working from home” arrangement, go in armed with the information to your employer as to how you can make it work. Don’t expect them to do all the work to accommodate you, be prepared with information, statistics and how it will be mutually beneficial for both you and them.

Setting boundaries

If your boss does agree to flexi-time, part-time, working from home or a condensed working week, agree the details with them first and get it in writing. This will help you down the line. Be mindful of your colleagues’ and team’s needs also. While there will always be parents who are sympathetic to your needs, others may not understand the pressure you’re under.  There may be a perception by your childless colleagues that you’re “getting to go home early” or “not pulling your weight” when the actuality is that you’re so hyper aware of your need to get the job done in a short space of time, that your productivity rockets. Being assertive with your colleagues and setting expectations as to work deadlines and agreeing times for meetings that suit both of you will go a long way to gaining their help, understanding and trust.

Be ruthless in your prioritisation of tasks. This can be done well in advance by making it clear to your colleagues and manager that you have a schedule that you need to stick to but that you will get as much done in that time as possible. That way, any last minute requests to stay on late or take on additional workloads / projects can be prevented. Always remember to be flexible in times of emergency though as they will be equally accommodating when you need them. However, be very clear as to what constitutes an actual emergency as working late may soon become a regular thing and you’ll find yourself slipping back.

Explore further afield

If your current employer isn’t able to offer you any of these changes, then don’t despair. There are still plenty of options.  Register with a recruitment consultancy and be very clear what you want from the start, be it flexi-time, a job where you can work from home 2 days a week or part-time. Set up alerts with job websites and do use your professional networks to talk to people who may be able to help or refer you to companies whose culture will fit your new requirements.  Look at other sectors, the majority of your skills will be transferable. There are always plenty of choices available for you!

Emma Anglim is Associate Director of Brightwater's Business Support division. She can be contacted on e.anglim@brightwater.ie or (01) 6621000