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Why our new careers are just the job for family life

FOR many generations of Irish women, motherhood spelled the end of a brief or even non-existent working life. Their place at the heart of the home was unquestioned by most and the very notion of finding a job was unheard of -- unless their situation was financially grave, it simply wasn't done.

But times have changed and although a quarter of Irish women stop working when they become mothers (compared to 10pc of Europeans), those who remain at the coalface enjoy some of the best benefits in the world.

However, despite the good news, for both financial and social reasons, many Irish women have had to give up their careers to look after their children. But some have decided to combine the two -- switching from stressful, full-time careers into something more family friendly.

For other women, family pressures don't even come into the equation as they decided to change the direction of their career in order to make ends meet financially or simply to follow a life-long ambition.

We spoke to four Irish women with different working backgrounds who took a leap of faith and gave up their jobs in order to strike out on their own.

These mums have changed their jobs to either fit in with family life or because they wanted to chase a dream.

Camelia Austin is a 39-year-old floral designer with two children Eliza (12) and Robin (10) who worked in catering before the pressures of juggling career and family became too great.

"I worked for our event catering business and absolutely loved the job -- the buzz, the adrenaline rush and the client satisfaction," she says. "But it was hard work and I would often start the day at 9am and not finish until 3am.

"It wasn't a family-friendly role as the long working day meant I was gone from the house before the kids woke up and sometimes didn't return until long after their bed-time."

So the Wicklow woman decided to slow the pace of her life and turn her hand to something greener.

"I have a background in horticulture and worked in plant nurseries in the past," she says. "I also have an innate love of plants and got the 'flower bug' when I saw a wedding florist delivering amazing floral displays and putting together the marquee floral installation.

"So I decided to create floral arrangements for the catering business and then enrolled on a crash course of floral arranging followed by five years of apprenticeship with several freelance designers and florist shops. Then I opened my own business, Austen Flowers Events & Flower School, specialising in event flowers and teaching floristry.

"There are still some busy, long days but not having to commute to Dublin and being self-employed means that I can work around the children. My husband (Tim) is also my business partner, so I get to spend a lot of time with my family now.

"It's all about quality not quantity. One can have both a good family life and a career and while we may sometimes feel a bit stretched, it is not impossible." www.austenflowersandevents.com

Edwina Hayes is 31. She and her husband Brian have three children (Molly 4, Danny, 2 and Shay, 1). She used to be a teacher but decided to throw caution to the wind and re-trained as a hairdresser.

"After graduating from the National College of Art and Design in 2003, I taught in Loreto College on the Crumlin Road," she says. "I loved working there, but didn't like the fact that I could be switching schools for years before I found a permanent job.

"I had always dreamt of being a hairdresser so after I graduated and started working, I did a few evening classes, studying make-up, nails and hair extensions. Then Brian and I moved to Kilkenny and I couldn't get a job, so I started doing hair extensions for friends from home."

Once Edwina got the taste for hairdressing, she knew this is where she wanted her career to go.

"My hair-extension service really took off, so I approached a salon in Kilkenny and asked if I could train with them," she recalls. "I didn't mind starting at the bottom, but trained up pretty quickly and after two years, got a job as a senior stylist in another salon, where I stayed for another two years until Molly was born."

With plenty of experience under her belt, the mother-of-three decided to go into partnership with another stylist and last year, they opened Salon 87 in Kilkenny High Street.

"I love running the salon, although the business side of it is testing at times, the rest is so enjoyable," she says. "I am definitely happier in my new role and am delighted I took the challenge."