I was nervous. The secondary school I attended invited me back to give a talk about my life since graduating, twenty years ago.
I was surely expected to talk about my academic and professional achievements Something to motivate young ladies to strive for the best in life.
That’s what it was all about when I was at school. Aiming high. That meant high grades, good jobs and rewarding salaries. We were taught to compete and work hard to get ahead.
In 1970’s Ireland a woman could not sit on a jury. A woman could not buy contraceptives or collect children’s allowance. A woman could not get married and hold a job in the bank or civil service.
I was in the class of 1996. A generation of women who had more opportunities than our Mothers.
I think I exploited all the opportunities that education had to offer me. I went to University, got a decent degree. I went abroad to another University and got a pHd, I learnt to speak fluent French. When I came back to Ireland I landed a brilliant job in one of the oldest Universities in Europe. All good.
Until, the one thing that nobody prepared me for happened. Motherhood.
In all the lessons and advice that teachers, parents, aunts and career counsellors had given, parenthood was never mentioned. Motherhood was not worth mentioning. It was a thing that successful women did on the side.
I had it all planned out. The little ones would go to the local creche, all day. Thus liberating their educated and ambitious Mother to continue her career unhindered.
Looking back now it seems so predictable.
What could my Mother and school teachers have done any differently? An entire generation of stay-at-home Mothers were simply not equipped to guide and advise on the difficulties of balancing a career and a family.
My parents were so proud to see me educated and working in a prestigious third level institution. They wanted this for me from early on. A good job. A successful career. They had sent me to that school for a reason.
That’s why it was so hard.
They did everything they could to help me stay in work when my children were sick. I would regularly send midnight messages to my Mam. Trying to arrange last minute child-care for my child. A sudden fever at 1am means no creche tomorrow and the working Mum is high and dry.
The most difficult career choice I ever made was to stop working and stay at home with my children. They needed me.
The truth is I delayed giving up my career because I felt pressure to fulfil my professional ambitions. I didn’t think that being a stay at home mother was an option for someone like me. I felt I didn’t have that choice.
People regularly tell me “you’re wasted at home”.
This remark reveals a sad truth about what we value in our society. It’s a waste for an intelligent woman to dedicate herself to her children. Are my children not deserving of an educated experienced Mother?
The American poet Garrison Keillor said “nothing you do for children is ever wasted”. This quote rings true in my mind every single day.
The decision to be a full-time parent is one of the most empowering life choices I have ever made.
I was frazzled as a Mother with a career. I never had the time to get to know my children properly. I didn’t have the energy to really nurture them, or myself. I was too stressed and tired to give proper consideration to my parenting choices.
Parenting with confidence is a privilege I now enjoy and believe the benefits for my children will be life-long .
What’s my advice to the class of 2017?
Education will broaden your horizons and liberate you. A successful career path will open doors not close them.
Enjoy your opportunities, avail of your opportunities but don’t ever allow opportunity to restrict your choices.
Some things never change! The blue corridors of my old convent school will bring back memories for many past pupils.