Wednesday 13 December 2017

Orla Barry: I resent my career taking a back seat to my family

Millions of working mothers continue to struggle with juggling work and home
Millions of working mothers continue to struggle with juggling work and home

I'M A mother of two beautiful children and I work part-time at a prestigious company. Before I had my first child I know I was being seriously considered for a very senior position.

For me at the time, it was a no-brainer that I would have a child and take the full maternity leave before coming back to pursue my career full time. When I came back, I was determined to pick up where I left off and I did for a while although it nearly killed me.

As months went by there was talk again of a possible promotion when I discovered I was pregnant again. I'm ashamed to admit it but I was devastated. Before going on maternity leave again I had a long conversation with the bosses about my future with the company. They assured me it was secure and promotion was still on the cards on my return.

This time was different though. Our baby daughter was very ill when she was born and after months with her in hospital I took an extra six months off unpaid.

When I came back to work, I felt overwhelmed with guilt at leaving her with a stranger. After two weeks, I cut down to a three-day week. That was three years ago. The reality is I am almost doing the same amount of work as before, but I no longer attend never-ending meetings, have lunch out, or go on evenings with clients.

The work I am given is the equivalent in standard to what a junior employee would do.

It makes sense that these changes have happened because I pulled back from work, but I cannot overcome my feelings of frustration and disappointment.

I love my children dearly but I never got the wonderful sense of satisfaction that other full-time mothers say they have. I found myself bored by the routine.

Now in work, I'm also bored. All the men in the company have since had children and none of their jobs have been affected.

My husband's career has also gone from strength to strength and while I'm proud of him, I can't help feeling resentment. I feel like I have thrown my career and my dreams for myself away.

Orla replies:

Some day I'll receive an email like this from a man and I'll think – at last equality has arrived. Sadly those who conduct studies about such matters reckon I'll have long passed before genuine equality between the sexes will be a reality.

In the meantime, you and millions of working mothers like you will continue to juggle the guilt and frustration of a society that celebrates the career-minded and promotes the workaholic.

You say you have thrown your dreams away but let me remind you of what you have achieved. Two beautiful children and one who struggled when she was first born.

One of the toughest things any parent will go through is coping with a sick child. Work challenges fade to nothing when compared to this. Without recognising it, you are already stronger after coming through that.

The fact is there are some women who are better at the stay-at-home stuff than others. They may not be stimulated by all the activities they undertake, but work place tasks can be distinctly mundane too, no matter the job.

Other mothers know they are better parents, more well-adjusted and frankly happier, when they can work outside the home too.

A child can very quickly sense an unhappy and depressed parent and can absorb that feeling as something they are responsible for.

You were always driven by your career up until the birth of your first child. I suspect it was through your work you gained confidence and pride. It sounds like your job may have defined you.

The fact is, though, it's just a part of you. If you allow success at work be the determining factor for your confidence, then failure destroys that self-esteem.

It's depressing that promotion was never mentioned again but I wonder to what extent you queried the matter.

Bosses will rarely come seeking you out. It's up to you to remind them of your worth.

Generally men are better at this. They just seem to have a greater ability to tell bosses how good they are. Women are more likely to wait for someone to take notice.

If you do think you can take on the higher-profile cases again, then tell them.

Of course the men in your company have all moved ahead, no doubt many of their partners are suffering a guilty conscience trying to juggle motherhood and work too.

Have you discussed any of this with your husband? So far perhaps it has been you who has made the changes or sacrifices. This is often the case in the first couple of years of a child's life, but it doesn't have to be this way.

Could he take one day off work where he parents full time at home? Could you work from home one day a week?

Within another couple of years your children will be at school, granting you additional free time to do as you like.

Resenting those in your office for what they are achieving and not seeing what you have accomplished is exhausting.

No one is asking you to be the kind of parent you can't be, so concentrate on how to make all of your lives a little better.

If you think it may be another year, then there is no harm in telling them now.

When it seems you are being more proactive about your career, the frustration will naturally subside. Remember your harshest critic is always you.

Irish Independent

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