Why do people believe that mums who work from home aren’t really working at all, asks Andrea Mara

It’s back to school time, and with my youngest starting junior infants, I’m already anticipating the question, “You won’t know yourself now you’ve all that free time; what will you do all morning?’

It’s a perfectly understandable assumption — I drop the kids to school, and I’m there to pick them up. In between, I race home to pack as much freelance writing work as I can into my short window of time, but that’s not obvious, especially as I’m not in office wear. And of course, it shouldn’t really matter whether people know I work or not, yet somehow it does.

In my old job, I worked a 30-hour week, and now I work a 25-hour week — not so different on paper, but because I work mornings, nights, and weekends; because I don’t go to an office, and because I don’t use childcare, it doesn’t seem outwardly like a “proper” job.

Messy business

Aisling Scally (loveletterarts.com) works from home, and also finds that people assume she doesn’t work. “It can be messy working with glue sprays and paint so I’m often at the school in my trackie pants and hoodie, and people automatically assume I am not going to a work environment,” she says.

 Aisling Scally with her children. She says, ‘My partner is a musician and I’m a writer. People often say, “Oh that’s lovely and creative; but what are your real jobs?”
Aisling Scally with her children. She says, ‘My partner is a musician and I’m a writer. People often say, “Oh that’s lovely and creative; but what are your real jobs?”

Aisling has three children and runs her business without any childcare. “I work in the mornings when the kids are in school, at night when they’re in bed, and at weekends when they’re at parties. Basically any chance I get, I work. I started when my youngest was one and a bit. After my third child, I realised I couldn’t go back to work — my eldest has special needs and taking him to therapies and hospital appointments was near impossible when we were both working full time — so I knew I had to come up with a plan B.”

Looks can be deceiving

Cat Hogan, author of psychological thriller They All Fall Down knows exactly what it’s like to work around the clock but to look like you do nothing at all.

“My partner is a musician and I’m a writer. People often say, ‘Oh that’s lovely and creative; but what are your real jobs?’”

The mum of two says she sees why it’s a natural assumption. “I’m there at every school drop-off. I don’t wear a suit. People do assume I’m a stay-at-home mam and I have a great time in the mornings when I drop Joey off.”

Her younger son, Arthur, is not yet in school. “There are times when the TV babysits him. It’s a thin line balancing the mammy guilt and the pressure of work.”

 Author Cat Hogan.
Author Cat Hogan.

Ah the guilt — it never quite goes away, even when you find work that fits around the kids. Aisling knows all about it too — she feels guilty for not being more available to volunteer at school. “It took me years to stop feeling guilty about not putting my hand up for everything in my kids’ school, but I feel I have a healthy balance now. I think it’s typical mother’s guilt that you feel you’re not doing enough. I have it in every facet of my home life too.”

I also feel guilty for not volunteering at school, and even smartened up my school run wear a notch, to make it clear that I was going to work. And I talk about work when it comes up, but still, I’m regularly asked what it’s like to be free all morning.

Aisling went through this too, particularly with her family. “I think because I’m at home, they assume that I can drop everything and help out, but it’s hard. I have deadlines too. I have orders that need to be shipped by certain dates, so it’s pressurised. My sister — I love her really — did ask me a few times to mind her kids when they were home sick from school, but a gentle reminder that I was actually working did the trick. Now they’re a great support.”

Cat has also experienced this. “It can be really annoying when friends feel I can drop tools without a moment’s notice to do something or go somewhere. I would be the first person to help out in a crisis but I find it disheartening when people assume just because I write for a living and work from home that I don’t have a career.” And her biggest bugbear? “It’s when people say to me, ‘Ah you’re a writer — that’s nice, I’d love to have the time to write a book.’”

Setting clear goals

Dearbhalla Baviera is a career and lifecoach (Clearbird.ie) with good advice for work-at-home parents:

  • Own your choices — you have decided to set yourself up this way for a number of reasons; often linked to flexibility in working hours, being there for the kids, or doing something that you really enjoy doing;
  • Be clear about your parameters and make them known;
  • If people are asking you for coffee or volunteering don’t be afraid to say, ‘I have work to do this morning but I’d love to another day.’ Sometimes the battle can be in your own head. Maybe you are trying to do all that a stay-at-home mum does but also trying to be working mum;
  • Try to be clear about the hours you are dedicating to each role and hold those hours tight.



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