by Jen Murphy
There are many role-models in our world and my mammy, Katherine Murphy is one of them. She has instilled in me an ethic to be a compassionate person; continuously push myself to grow and learn; and to maintain my own individual identity when I became a mother. A good two-years into working motherdom, I realised I’d never asked her what it was like to balance work and raise three kids, angelic as we were (so not 😉). Here’s what she had to say…
After 38 years, it is difficult to remember life before children, but we had a good social life. We went out every weekend to dinner dances or football functions. We went to Harbour Bar in Rush regularly, The Fox Inn in Ashbourne. We had house parties. We both worked and Tony played soccer. I always attended some type of course one night a week. Whether it was a language course, dress design, art, dry-flower arranging. I was a committee member of the local Ladies Club. I brought my mother to the supermarket on Thursday evenings. We would have my mother and/or Tony’s parents for dinner on a Sunday.
Sometimes my younger sisters would come over with their friends for a meal. I would make a curry or something that was considered ‘exotic’ then. My friends and I would meet and go to the cinema, telephone each other via a landline – no mobiles! Go for a meal or just visit each other for a chat. That lasted for over 6 years – then it changed!
When we were adopting, we were ‘advised’ that it would be easier to have a baby placed in our home if I was prepared to give up work. The state adoption leave was three weeks (half of the maternity leave term). I worked in finance for an American company who were supportive of leave and returning to work. But, we didn’t want to take the risk. Tony had good job and we agreed that I would stay at home.
While we were waiting, we didn’t tell anyone except Tony’s Auntie Anne who was helping us with the process as she knew people in the Adoption Society. We were afraid that something might go askew and we would face disappointment. Anyway, we received a letter in May 1980 to advise that we had been approved for a baby following several interviews, a medical check-up and visits to our home by a social worker. We bought a pram and brought it into the house through the back-door in case anyone saw it.
The excitement when we got our baby boy was immeasurable. We were given a roster with his feeding times and I stuck to those times, even waking him to feed. My sisters who already had children told me I was mad that I should let the baby sleep through the night if he didn’t wake up. It was a major learning curve for both of us – there were no books, no Google. We were exhausted. Our next door neighbour was pure brilliant and my mother was of immense help too as she would stay the night. A couple of years later our daughter was born and six years after that, we had another daughter. I was at home for over 14 years.
When I returned to work, it was on a part-time basis and I only had to get my youngest minded for an hour. It was daunting going back into the workforce having been at home for so many years. I found it difficult to manage bringing the children to their various activities. Swimming for example – we had one child in learner classes, another in the B Group and the eldest in the A Group. All at different times, four or five times a week, including early mornings before school. There was also football, ballroom-dancing, tennis, scouts, piano lessons, life-saving classes. The list goes on…
I had to get up early and bring Tony to work if I wanted our car. Then in 1997, I got a new job and a car of my own, which helped immensely but I felt guilty because I wasn’t at home with dinners ready when the children came in from school.
I loved working – using my brain, interacting with colleagues. I returned to education and completed a number of diploma courses and a B.A. on a part-time basis. I grew more confident as my knowledge of each role developed. I went for promotions as opportunities arose. I also had wonderful colleagues. We met for coffee each morning and chatted about the latest news and of course, the internal grapevine.
I think it is difficult for working mammies now. Often due to financial pressures, they miss the early years with their children. The ideal would be a flexible working regime and financial support for longer maternity/paternity/or parental leave. It is good for a woman to work and interact with her colleagues, and to have options for career progression.
I learned at a young age (in the 1950’s) that it is vital for women to get out of the house and have their own time and money. My father gave my mother “pin money” each week so she could meet her friends or sisters and go to the cinema or a play if she wished. It is so important for working mammies to have their own time-out. To meet with friends or family, indulge in their interests, or further their education. Everyone needs an outlet! Mine is swimming, I belong to a club and as well as being exercise, it is therapy for the mind. We are able to chat or air things, as we are among friends.
Practicalities aside, it is a life-long process being a mammy and the in-depth love that a mother (and father) has for her children is inexplicable and boundless. Whether younger or older, working or retired, a mother always hopes to be there for her children even when they are adults. To be called upon to mind the grandchildren or if adult children need help or support in any way, we hope to live up to their expectations of us; and to the image of the Irish Mammy!
Why not ask your own mammy about her experience either in or outside the home. Or if she has sadly passed on, explore this side of her life through the stories of others. For me, there’s something special about capturing the lived experiences of working mammies in Ireland across generations. To think that you were encouraged (or forced) to give up work when you had a child only one generation ago leaves me dumbstruck. We’ve made good road but we’ve miles to go.