This interview is part of my series Leaning In. My aim is to shine a spotlight on successful women who are ‘leaning in’ to their careers. By sharing the stories of other women, I hope to help change the focus from what we can’t do to what we can do and to show other women that it is possible to have it all.
If you would like to share your story, please contact me.
Hayley Saunt is a mum of three (a six year old boy and two year old twin girls) and works as a secondary school teacher. She is also a qualified mindfulness trainer and is passionate about teaching mindfulness to others. I ‘met’ Hayley late last year when I discovered her blog, Mission: Mindfulness, through which she aims to raise awareness of mindful living and how it can help people to be more resilient, creative and focused. Hayley’s posts are full of helpful advice and tips to encourage us to live in the present and to be more empathetic and self-compassionate.
I asked Hayley to share her thoughts about working motherhood with us in this series.
Tell us a little about yourself, your family and how you spend your spare time, if you have any!
Ha ha – my first thought in answer to this question was that I don’t really have any spare time being a Mum of 3 ! But I suppose that’s not actually true. I make sure I build in some nourishing activities to my days – running, pilates, short formal mindfulness practices, blogging and meeting up with friends as well as enjoying downtime with the kids.
What is your job? What does your work schedule look like?
I’ve been a secondary school teacher of History for 15 years and am also now beginning to teach Mindfulness to young people as well as adults too. I have struggled keeping a healthy work-life balance, even pre-kids. Teaching can be all-consuming.
However, over the years I’ve got better at being more disciplined about school work. I ‘officially’ work 3 days a week. One of the ways I have tried to make sure I don’t do too much extra at home is that I am only paid for 2 and a half days and then have a few extra ‘free periods’ in a week to try and fit in my marking and lesson planning so that I’m not bringing too much home. I realise that this is a luxury that not everyone can afford.
I’m in school Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and try and only do school work two or three more evenings a week when the kids have gone to bed. I also know that there is an ‘ebb and flow’ to the school work. It’s a hard slog at the moment but I know that all my exam classes will be on study leave from mid May and so my workload will diminish – meaning less work in the evenings until September.
Have your career goals changed since you had children?
Totally! Before I had kids I was Head of Humanities at a large mixed secondary school on the outskirts of London looking to be an Assistant Headteacher in the next year or two.
Now I am an ‘ordinary’ classroom teacher as I lost all my official responsibility when I decided to go part-time after having my eldest. However, I’m still passionate about making a difference and helping young people. It just may not be through the traditional route of promotion in schools. My heart is in promoting mindfulness now. I really want to teach this more as my own family get older. I still love teaching History but I am increasingly frustrated by the education system in the UK so I am exploring other ways, including teaching Mindfulness, to help ‘make a difference’.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when returning to work after having children?
1 – my son was poorly a lot in his first couple of years and I found it really hard juggling a poorly child and my timetable (and the guilt of leaving the poorly child with someone else or the guilt of leaving students with cover work because I was looking after my poorly child).
2 – Going from someone who had a lot of ‘say’ in our organisation, to feeling like I had very little ‘say’ at all (see above).
Have you faced discrimination in the workplace as a result of being a parent?
I think discrimination is too strong a word to use. However I have definitely struggled at times with how people view the stereotypical working mum and how this perception can affect interactions at work.
Do you agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s idea that women need to ‘sit at the table’ and ‘lean in’? If so, how do you implement her ideas yourself?
I have to admit to not having read the book yet, though it is on my reading list. From what I understand I agree with some of her points, but perhaps not her argument in its entirety. I do agree that women need to ‘sit at the table’ and that it is up to anyone, man or woman, to ‘push on’ if they want to excel in their career. However, sometimes the reality of life makes things a little more complicated. She writes about – I think – partners doing at least 50% of the care-giving. Now, my husband is an amazing father and husband and does A LOT, but let’s be brutally honest, it’s his wages that pay our mortgage, not mine (that may be because I chose teaching as a career though!) and therefore I am always VERY aware of this fact when decisions are being made about child-care etc.
Having said that….. I am ‘leaning in’ (I think anyway!) in the sense that since 2016 I am a member of the school’s extended senior leadership team and so aren’t really just a History teacher (I ‘sit at the table’ every week as it were). I’ve also self-funded my mindfulness teacher training and although this is because it is something I’m passionate about, it is also something that makes me stand out from my peers. Thus, I have recently run workshops on Mindfulness for other schools in south-east London at an SMSC conference and am presenting at a Headteacher’s conference on Mindfulness this week too.
Do you believe we can ‘have it all’?
In a word – ‘no’ – sorry if I’m not on message. There are always decisions to be made and a process of prioritisation to be engaged in. However, I don’t just think this is a woman thing.
How do you achieve balance between parenting and your career?
I’m not sure I have – but I do find that Mindfulness has really helped me stay in the moment when I’m with the kids and not be worrying about school like I used to. I’m also VERY disciplined about not checking my work emails when I’m at home and only doing marking when the kids are in bed.
What do you enjoy the most about being a working parent?
I LOVE the variety that my life has. I love that I value my time with my children all the more after a few days at work. I love that they have some other wonderful adults in their lives whom they learn lots from too.
What aspect of being a working parent do you find the most difficult?
When my children are poorly 🙁
What is one piece of advice you would give to mothers wanting to lean in?
I think I am HEAPS more assertive now then I was pre-kids and I think we could all harness this assertiveness in our working lives as well as as parents. I am quick to speak up for my own children and am finally learning to do this for myself too. Parenting has taught me that there isn’t time to pussy-foot around a topic – you’ve just got to go for it!
What book or blog would you recommend to working parents?
Apart from this one 😉 … As far a books go I do like Amy Cuddy’s ‘Presence’ and also Ruby Wax’s ‘Sane New World’.
Reese McMillan is a mum of two living in a small close-knit town outside…19 March, 2017