Six parents discuss finding the perfect work/life balance

Did you realise over Christmas that you had to do something about work/life balance? Flexible working makes sense as childcare costs are reduced, but what are the pros and cons of the different options? Andrea Mara talks to six parents about the choices they’ve made

Adele Greene with husband Cian O'Morain and children Ronan, Neala, Riain and Darragh

TO PARAPHRASE someone who said if far better than I could: working 9 to 5 — it’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it. And indeed for many working parents, finding creative ways to spend more time with their children becomes a primary goal. Part-time, flexi-time, job-share — which type is best? Here we speak to six parents who work flexibly, to discover the pros and cons of each option.

Three-day-week

Working three days is an ideal balance for many parents, including mum-of-two Jill Jordan, who did so until recently.

Jill Jordan

PROS: “It allowed me keep a foot in both camps — I could get chores done when I was off with the kids, keeping weekends free for family activities,” says Jill, who also writes at Prodperfud.com. “And I could enjoy and really appreciate that most elusive thing for working mothers — time with my children.”

CONS: However, there were some downsides too, as Jill discovered. “Childcare is more than pro-rata when you’re paying for 60% of the time, so you’re always conscious you’re not getting as good a deal as when you work full-time — it’s really eating into more of your wages.

“And presenteeism is a huge issue in my industry [TV production] and that impacts negatively on parents over anyone else. Trying not to snap at people who say ‘Well for some’ was hard sometimes — as if I’m rocking in the door on a Wednesday from a long weekend in Paris. They know we don’t get paid for those days right?”

Five mornings

Working mornings sounds like the Holy Grail, especially for parents with children in school, and indeed Catherine Killaly has found there are many upsides.

Catherine Killaly

PROS: “It allows me to be home every day to collect the kids from school and crèche, I can be there for homework, after-school activities and playdates, and it also means I don’t have additional childcare costs for my two eldest children.”

CONS: It sounds perfect, but does it also mean you’re always “on”? “I work in Dublin city but I commute from outside Dublin so for me, it’s definitely harder commuting five days a week as opposed to say, three days. Typically I’m up at 6.20am, to get myself ready, then I get the kids up and fed. My mother-in-law comes to the house at 7.30am and I leave to get the bus. I’m in work for 9am and clock out at 12.45pm or thereabouts, to get a bus home at 1pm. Once I’m off the bus, it’s up to get my youngest from crèche and then to the school for the girls. Five mornings is almost like you have to fit two jobs into one day... your actual job, then your job at home!”

Four-day-week

Production coordinator Adele Greene uses parental leave to spend more time with her four children.

PROS: “I work a four-day week but over five days — I work two half-days, so I can collect the kids from school twice a week and I can do their homework with them.” She finds it works well. “I feel like I get the best of both worlds as I have my feet firmly in both the home and workplace.”

CONS: “Obviously I have taken a cut in pay as I’m using one parental day a week. I still work every weekday and don’t benefit from a break from the commute in the morning. And I don’t have much flexibility as to which role I can take on within my grade, as there are some positions that would require full-time hours.”

Helen O’Keeffe does something similar. “I work three half-days and two full days per week.

Helen O’Keeffe with daughter Maebh

PROS: We minimise childcare to school hours and either myself or my husband is home with the kids from early afternoon,” says the mum of three, who also blogs at TheBusyMama’s.ie. “On the work side, the big advantage is I’m in every day and get a lot done. From my employer’s point of view the main benefit is that it’s a good deal — I definitely get close to a full workload done in reduced time and at a reduced cost.”

CONS: Of course, it has its downsides too, as the planning consultant discovered. “On my half-days, I don’t get lunch and I’m constantly running between drop-offs, work, and pick-ups. It feels like I’m always late — which I often am — and I need to be very organised about juggling client demands for meetings and my schedule.”

Shift work

Éanna Gallagher and his wife Sinéad both work shifts, and therefore don’t need childcare at all for their daughter Siún. “I work a seven-day-fortnight in a shift pattern and my wife, who is a nurse, works the opposite shift,” explains Éanna, who works for RTÉ.

Éanna Gallagher and daughter Siún

PROS: “We spend zero on childcare, and we both get pretty much 50:50 time with the little one. We can do shopping on a weekday morning, it’s better for any appointments — I suppose there are lots of advantages — I feel very lucky to work this shift pattern.”

CONS: Inevitably, there are some disadvantages. “The downsides are not seeing the better half that often — only after a long day in work. It can be very hard work — neither of us really gets a day off. And it’s impossible to get anything done about the place, but I suppose that’s all parents’ lot!”

Job-share

Laura Kenny works as a special needs assistant on a job-share basis. “I work two days one week and three days the next. So I work every Monday and Tuesday and every second Wednesday,” says the mum of two, who runs allergy website DairyFreeKids.ie in her spare time.

Laura Kenny

PROS: “I can schedule afterschool activities for a day that I’m off, and I know I’ll be free to bring and collect them. It also helps for scheduling playdates or appointments. Working the same days each week is also a huge bonus as it’s easier to stay in some kind of routine.” Although working full-time would make the job itself easier to manage, Laura is happy with her set-up.

CONS: “Part of me would prefer to be in work for the full five days, completing my job every week, but I have a very reliable person who jobshares with me, which makes that easier.”

 

Present your request as a win-win arrangement

How to approach your employer about flexible working:


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