At 4:45 p.m. on a Tuesday, K1 Teacher Jackie Hewett prepares to leave school. She could keep working, but she leaves with her sons Ben (’17) and Joe (’22) to travel home. “I could stay until quite late working, but I have to be strict with myself and get that work-home balance right,” Hewett said.
That balance, which Hewett and other working mothers strive to maintain, challenged her the most when her kids were younger and her career as a full-time teacher just begun. “Initially, it felt like a lot. You feel like you are spread into so many different places that you’re not doing anything well,” she said. “You feel exhausted all the time.”
For Hewett, the greatest challenges of early motherhood arose when her sons stayed in Bedfordshire, where her family lives, while she traveled to work at ASL. “They were in childcare in our hometown and that was really hard because I was walking out the door early in the morning and coming back late at night. I did really feel that I was missing out on a lot, and missing their early stages of development and not being with them,” Hewett said.
Her sons studying at ASL where she worked at, reduced the struggle of the 6:20 a.m. wake-ups and hour-long commutes. “I love the fact that, as a working mum, I get that time with the boys travelling into school and travelling back again, so it’s not like I never see my children,” she said.
Ellen Brunsberg, an investment banker and parent of Sarah (’17) and Rebecca (’15), dealt with difficulties of being a rarity in her field: A woman, let alone a working mother. “I was one of the only women, typically the most senior woman involved in the organization and that’s where it’s more difficult because you’re just unusual and people can judge you,” Brunsberg said.
With an exhaustive work schedule, time to attend social events that ASL offers, such as parent coffees and guest speakers, often proves infeasible. “Especially with my job as an investment banker, it was almost impossible to maintain the social activities, the coffees and the class meetings. You just had to pick and choose the events,” Brunsberg said.
Juggling around ten hours of work per day and not returning home until 8 or 9 p.m., Janet Martin, parent of Jarred (’19) and Sydney (’16) and tax lawyer, manages many commitments. However, involvement with the school her children attend remains a pertinent one. “At any school the challenge is that it’s hard to find time to help the school in any way other than giving them money. It means you know fewer people and fewer women,” Martin said.
Unable to attend the same social events as other parents due to the logistics of her job, Martin felt some “resentment” from moms who didn’t have the same structured work schedule.
Brunsberg shares comparable experiences to Martin with the divide between mothers who work full-time and those who do not. “The parents are typically quite involved in the American School, so as a working parent it would be very difficult to be the class rep, involved on a day-to-day basis in the school, so you’re actually a little outside this whole community of parents who are quite involved,” Brunsberg said. “Socially, a lot of relationships come through the school and you’re not going to be necessarily aware of them because you’re working.”
When the economy crashed in 2008, Brunsberg stopped working briefly and offered to help with an ASL auction, which was not met as warmly as she anticipated. “I think a lot of the women were afraid that they’d become friends with me and then I’d go back to work. There is a little bit of tension about are you a working mom or not a working mom. They were going to invest time to become a friend of mine and then I wouldn’t be able to be a friend at 11 [a.m.] at lunch,” she said.
When Hewett first began working, she worried about the societal view of being a working mother. “Back in the day when I decided I needed to be a working mum, you wonder how you’ll be judged. Does that make me a bad mother that I’m not staying home with my child?” Hewett said. “When you see more and more of your colleagues and people in the world in general; that’s the trend that’s going [on] in this day and age – you think no that does not make me a bad person for being a working mum, that’s just the way of the world, people have choices to do that now,” Hewett said.
Despite the apparent challenges of balancing work and family, specifically in a school environment, the feeling Martin gets from working she fails to find elsewhere. “One thing that really inspires me that I get a lot of at work is being with a team, working as part of a team and in a very creative process,” she said.
Though working moms are uncommon at ASL and have faced societal pressures as recently as a decade ago, Brunsberg values the ability to work, even though rare at ASL. “I think it’s really important for women to be visible and committed to a workplace for the younger and next generation to try to improve it and also to show people it’s possible. It isn’t so ridiculously hard.”