Continuing my series on working mums, I now welcome our second mum, Marie-Ève. I really hope that we will all be able to learn something from reading each others stories and potentially find something which helps us individually in working out a better way of juggling going to work with having a family. It will also be interesting to see what themes, if any, run through the various answers, and what we can take from that, if anything.
Marie-Eve lives in Quebec and works as a freelance writer, blogger and community manager (social media). She has two children, LP (6) and F (3).
Q: How long have you worked in your field and why did you follow your chosen career path?
A: I’ve been a writer for 13 years, mostly technical though. I’ve previously worked for the software, pharmaceutical and telecom industries. Since last year I’ve been lucky enough to work within a context that’s a lot more meaningful to me : food, fashion and beauty, home design, family, etc.
As for my chosen career path, well, it chose me? I never imagined doing anything but writing. When I finished studying I was immensely grateful that I could earn a living while doing that, even if it was very technical and not at all literary, instead of you know, working at a bookstore or something. Over the years, it became less and less stimulating though, as I yearned to use my more creative side as well.
Q: How long did you take for maternity leave and what role did you return to?
A: I took 9 months off for my first one, and 12 months off for my second one. These leaves were paid, as part of the generous government program we have in Quebec.
I did not return to the same role, neither time. I loved the job I had before LP (writing a daily pharmaceutical newsletter), but it was hardly suitable with raising a young child, mostly because of the unpredictable schedule and the fact that my busiest time of day was usually between 4 and 6-7, sometimes 8 PM.
So, after my first leave I found a contractor job with a great organization, which offered some much needed flexibility. I stayed there for three years, right until I went on my second leave. I would have returned to that job, but since I was not a permanent employee, I had been replaced and there was no need for me. At that point, I really wanted to go freelance, but the timing wasn’t right. So I found a permanent job that really wasn’t working for me, and painstakingly went on with it for 9 months, which were very difficult on a personal and family level. All the while, I started taking freelancing job from one main client, and these became more and more frequent. After these nine months, I scored a second main client which guaranteed some income for at least the next year, and I decided to take the leap. So I quit my job (it was a jubilatory day) and started working from home. I’ve been 15 months. I never lacked work, and even got other clients. I am happier, the family is more relaxed, and contrary to what I expected, I made as much as money as I did before (or even a little more last year).
Q: Did you partner take any paternity leave? (In the UK, fathers can now take up to 6 months of the 12 months period of parental leave.)
A: My husband, who was my boyfriend back when we had LP, took 3 weeks paid the first time, and 5 weeks paid the second time.
Q: what factors influenced your choice?
A: I was never such an ambitious person, but my career became kind of secondary when I had children, it was more a means to an end, because it did not really engage me, except for the socialization aspect. Flexibility became the most important thing : the possibility to go home to a sick child, to leave earlier one day if I needed to, etc. I am loving my current situation, and do not imagine going back to working in an office in the near future at all. I am feeling more fulfilled career-wise, as well.
Q: If you breastfed, were you still doing this in some form when you returned to work and did you return date/timing either influence your decision or was your return to work date influenced by this issue?
A: My son was 9 months old when I returned to work, and I was still breastfeeding him, but I had cut back to a few times a day. So it wasn’t such a factor when I returned to work : it was only great to breastfeed him when we got back together at the end of the day. I stopped breastfeeding my daughter altogether a few days before returning to work. Since weaning had been done so gradually, it wasn’t really an issue both times.
Q: Is your boss male/female, and what kind of role model are they for balancing family with work? Are there other women in your place of employment, including other senior women, particularly those with children?
A: I don’t have a boss anymore, but I’ve seen it all. Two female bosses had a couple of children each, and were not very understanding. Another female boss had two small children, and she was the type of woman who made you wonder: “How can she do it all?” She was much more relaxed and open to compromises. Another female boss with no children seemed to make a point of not compromising on anything.
Q: Did your own mother work? And did she return to work?
A: My mom stayed at home. She did not seem very happy in that role.
Q: Do you think working as a mum is important? why?
A: It is very important to me. To be financially independent and to bring money into the family budget. To feel like I’m accomplishing something other than to bring up my kids (which is very important too!) For my identity. To provide a model for my daughter, for my kids?
Q: What kind of childcare do you have?
A: LP is in school now. School ends at 3, but he insists on staying at the after-school program (7$/day), because he loves it. So I usually pick him up at 4, which gives me an extra hour to work, but still feels like we have a good amount of family time every day.
F goes to a great government-subsidized daycare, which is also $7/day. The spots in these places are very coveted and somewhat rare, but we were very lucky in that we obtained one immediately when LP started daycare. F followed suit when I returned to work –as a sibling, she had priority. Both the school and daycare are fairly close to home, which is great.
Q: What would make your life easier, either in terms of childcare, or in terms of changes or improvements to employment/maternity leave etc?
A: Right now, I do have the balance I’ve always longed for. I am very grateful for that. But I remember that when I went to the office each day, the key thing, again, was flexibility! I also think that a lot of mothers would love to work part-time, but good part time jobs are quite hard to find.
Q: How do you balance the various roles in your life?
A: My roles are quite easy to balance now, since they all happen at home. I can take a break, do laundry, get ahead on dinner, put the kids to bed and do an extra hour sometimes, etc. My job is mostly digital though, and because of that I often have to check my email, phone, and such for work. Sometimes I have to live tweet during TV shows that fall right during the kids’ bedtimes… Since I became freelance, work doesn’t stop on Friday at 5. I’m kind of always in a work mindset, I check my social media morning and night, day in, day out. These are very minor annoyances, but even though I try to be aware of that, I don’t live how it prevents me from fully being in the moment with my family. I would hate the idea of my kids growing up to remember mommy “always checking Facebook on her phone” (which is part of my duties).
Q: (if appropriate) do you have a partner, what do they do for work and how does this affect your ability and decisions regarding your work/childcare arrangements?
A: My husband is the Web Marketing director for a telecom/media provider. He has a long commute, and sometimes goes to events/meetings/etc. outside of regular work hours. This did weigh in my decision to go freelance : with one parent at home and closer to the kids every day, it makes the family logistics so much easier. No more struggles to get back to daycare on time during a snowstorm, no mad dash when one kids suddenly develops a fever…
Q: do you think there is any stigma being a working mum? have you experienced any issues, either at work, or from other mums or family members?
A: There is no stigma to being a working mom here, quite the contrary. The rate of working moms is so high (I would guess over 90%?), that it’s probably the stay-at-home moms who feel stigmatized. I don’t judge SAHM at all, and try to stay away from these wars (we’re all moms, we all love our kids, we all try to do what’s best for our families). But it wasn’t for me. I need to work to stay balanced and happy. I need both, as simple as that.
Q: (I appreciate this is quite nosy, but I’m throwing it out there) Are you any better off financially from going out to work?
A: Of course I’m much better off financially! And that’s how I like it :).
Thank you Marie-Ève for your thoughts and for taking the time to tell your story.
Image by Cara of Bird & Bear