Hello Rachel, Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do, how old are your children and what happens with your kids when you are at work?
I’m a Research Scientist, specialising in breast cancer. I work in a lab environment, and my work attempts to understand how breast cancer cells spread to other organs and form secondary tumours. I can’t think of a better job and I feel very privileged to be able to do it.
My children are Sam, aged 3, and twins Jack and Meg who are 6 months old. Sam does 3 days a week at nursery and 2 days with grandparents (they do alternate weeks, we live near my in-laws but not my parents, so my mum gives up a lot of her time driving up and down the M6 for us). The twins are currently being looked after by my partner James, who is halfway through his 4 months of Shared Parental Leave. Things are going to get interesting when he goes back to work and we have to afford nursery for the twins. Still not quite sure how we’re going to manage that one!
1. One word to describe how being a WoMo makes you feel?
2. What’s the funniest experience you have had juggling kids and work?
I feel really boring because I can’t think of anything funny, maybe that means I keep work and the kids too separate! In seriousness, I’m very lucky to have a supportive boss, lovely colleagues, and a relaxed work environment, so I’d be highly unlikely to be embarrassed about anything child related at work. I’m sure I’ve been to plenty of meetings with baby sick on my clothes but no one has noticed (or they’ve been too polite to say anything!).
3. What is the one piece of advice you could offer another WoMo?
Take everything out of your hands that you possibly can, so all you have to focus on is work and enjoying time with the kids. If you can afford a cleaner, get a cleaner. If family members offer to help out, take them up on it. My mum and mother-in-law both make us lots of meals for our freezer and it makes it so much easier a couple of times a week not having to think about cooking. And get great childcare. We’ve both been 100% happy with Sam’s nursery from day 1 and it makes all the difference.
4. What’s the least amount of sleep you’ve gone to work on and how did you cope?
Luckily (touch wood, and please don’t hate me!) we seem to have produced 3 sleepers so generally I go to work pretty well rested. Which is a good job because when we have a bad night I’m useless the next day. I usually start by crying in the shower, then pull myself together enough to get to work where I spend the day moaning to everyone about how tired I am, and eating as much chocolate as I can lay my hands on. Like I say, it’s a good job it doesn’t happen often!
5. What have you learned about yourself as a WoMo?
I’m happier at work than I am at home full time. I felt guilty about this when I went back to work after Sam was born and I seemed like an anomaly amongst the friends I had made during maternity leave. But I’ve come to be OK with the fact that having children didn’t fundamentally change who I am and what I want to achieve. I love my children and they’re the best part of my life, but they’re not my whole life. I still need to work too.
6. If you had a working mother’s anthem or mantra, what would it be?
“What would Sheryl (Sandberg) do?” If any mums haven’t read Lean In, I suggest getting your hands on a copy immediately! Sheryl is my hero, she speaks so much sense about women in the workplace (and why men generally outperform us), and combining a successful career with being a mother.
7. What is your guilty pleasure to combat WoMo guilt the best?
I don’t feel guilty about working. I find it a bit of an odd concept, no one ever asks men if they feel guilty for going to work! But I still love a treat, so after a tough day my guilty pleasure is eating Nutella out of the jar with a spoon. Bread is just unnecessary.
8. Would you rather be dealing with a tantrum or presenting in a board meeting?
The meeting. Surely no one chooses the tantrum option?!
9. If you asked your children what your job is, what would they say?
Sam: “My mummy and daddy are scientists”. We’ve trained him well!
10. What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you became a WoMo?
How much it’s possible to achieve between the hours of 9am and 5pm if you put your mind to it.
11. To date, what has been your best WoMo achievement?
Sharing Parental Leave with James. It’s a relatively new idea in this country and the take up has been quite low so far, but it’s been a complete game changer for us. We’ve both taken 4 months off work so we’ve had equal time with the twins and an equal time away from work, and I think we’ve got a much better family dynamic and understanding of each other because of it.
12. What do you want to teach your kids about working mothers?
First I’d love it if they never hear the term “working mother” – I’ve never once heard James referred to as a “working father”, so I don’t see why there’s a special title for women! I’d like my kids to grow up knowing that some mums work and some mums stay at home, and some dads work and some dads stay at home. Every family is different but we’re all just parents doing our best.