Friday 28 October 2016

Working mum hits back: 'Until you’ve walked in my well-worn shoes, you can’t possibly judge my life or the choices that I’ve had to make'

Melanie Finn reacts to Niamh Horan's recent comments on working mums who 'ride the system' when having children

Published 02/06/2016 | 14:24

Heated debate: Melanie Finn reacts to Niamh Horan's recent comments on working mums
Heated debate: Melanie Finn reacts to Niamh Horan's recent comments on working mums

Here’s an interesting anecdote after I had my first baby three years ago. Amid the deluge of well wishers and messages of congratulations, one question emerged consistently through the fog of post-natal euphoria.

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“So are you going back to work?” I laughed it off initially but as the months passed, the question became asked more frequently and it started to give me pause for thought and I found it a wearying suggestion. Do you know how many times my husband was asked that question after we had Rían? That’s right – none. Even though we do exactly the same job.

Although we may have felt like we had won the lottery after having our much-longed for baby, the reality was we were financially strapped. Like many couples of our generation, we had bought stupidly over-priced houses at the height of the Boom with equally daft variable mortgages. I took a full year off at the height of the Recession and going from living a relatively stress-free life financially to having to watch every single cent was a challenge.

For us, there was no choice. I had to go back to work to support our family. And much as I loved every single minute of my maternity leave, after ten months of Peppa Pigs and endless coffee mornings, I was more than ready to go back to work.

Don’t shoot me for being ambitious and a mum but the simple fact was, I wanted to resume the media career that I had spent that past 15 years building up, had gone to college for, had allowed me to build a secure and happy home for our family. I wanted to have the exact same choices as my husband was allowed, without anyone questioning him for it.

So there was the dilemma: crèche or childminder? We chose a morning crèche for Rian and then a childminder in the afternoon. He loved it and he still runs in every morning to see his pals. He gives his care workers hugs and kisses at the end and they in turn keep me updated about how he’s progressing.

Little Liam came along 19 months after his brother and he too is going to go to crèche in September, the same place that has nurtured and looked after Rian so well the past two years. It also guarantees him a place for his two free pre-school years, an absolute god-send for parents like us.

I’m not going to lie. It has been a struggle being a working mum. But I’m not going to martyr myself either. I feel lucky to have two beautiful, healthy children, a working husband and a job that interests and challenges me.

Concessions did have to be made. My company obligingly allowed me to go down to a four-day week and my hours are more or less fixed which means I’m always there to collect the kids in the evening, give them a bath, read them a story and put them down to bed. I’m also there every morning to spend a few hours with them getting ready before heading off to work.

Occasionally there’s a bout of the dreaded ‘mummy guilt’ when they hang onto your hand before you go out the door or you’re late back and they’ve gone to bed.

But those moments are few and fleeting. What’s best for me personally is to work, no matter how hard it is getting up at 6.30amto go to work when you’ve been up all night caring for a sick baby. I’m still happier as a person, more fulfilled and as a result, a better mum to them. Plus, it keeps a roof over all our heads.

There has been lots of talk recently about whether women really can “have it all”, tales of women “milking the system” by having maternity leaves back-to-back (hands up!) and then going off on a career break. Or about shoving their kids into a crèche all days long and how “sad” it is that their parents miss all these important milestones.

Well let’s look at the facts instead. A study of 11,000 children and their families done by the ERSI and published just last December found no difference overall in the cognitive development of a five-year-old child cared for by their parents than those in full-time childcare.

In fact, it found that those children who attended crèche may even have an edge over those who stayed at home in terms of vocabulary.

And also, I know in my gut that both boys are being wonderfully cared for in the days that we’re at work. In fact, you couldn’t meet two happier, well-adjusted little guys. They are our whole world and I won’t let anyone make me feel guilty for being a working mum.

Until you’ve walked in my well-worn shoes, you can’t possibly judge my life or the choices that I’ve had to make. So hearing judgements about how “children suffer when ambitious mothers chase success” isn’t helpful.

Or even remotely accurate. I ache at the thought of a pregnant woman reading something like that and second-guessing themselves about mooting a return to work. And what’s the alternative to working women “milking” the system by taking their legal entitlement to maternity leave? Not working and “milking” the social welfare system instead.

Children suffer when they’re not loved.

Or they have miserable parents who resent having to stay at home with them all the time. Or have sleepless nights about the next bill coming through the door as they haven’t worked in two years. That’s when children suffer.

Not when you’re putting them into a crèche that’s well-run and filled with other happy little souls who just love the thought of being able to wreck a playroom for the day. For me, it’s all about having equal access to choices and being supported as a woman in whatever decision you make – whether it’s to stay-at-home or return to work.

But like I say, until you’ve walked in my shoes, you wouldn’t know. So don’t judge me and I’ll return the favour.

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