Parenting is not the only factor affecting women’s engagement in architecture, but for many it is a big challenge. Samara Greenwood tells her story of negotiating architecture and motherhood so far – interspersed with thoughts from friends and colleagues.
I wish we could be more honest with ourselves and with each other. — Ellen, architect and mother of two.
My own motherhood + architecture adventure began six years ago – so far, it has been a pretty wild ride. There are times I have felt invincible, like I’ve found the magic key to a brilliant life. But more often than not life has felt out of whack, like something wasn’t quite right. Again and again, I’ve attempted to put my finger on the problem, to find the missing piece of the jigsaw. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don’t.
I don’t think I am alone.
Trying to combine running a business, being a hands-on architect, travelling and then have energy on weekends for my family was exhausting. I reduced my week to four days to enable me time and energy to spend with my son while he is little.
I think you have to try different things and be open to changing along the way. Constantly reassess and check in with yourself and your family to see what is working and what isn’t. — Jane, architect and mother of one.
For me, the challenges began right from the start. When I first fell pregnant I left my job as a project architect to do the sole practitioner thing. While at first I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility, I found once my daughter was born I became consumed with motherhood.
For a while, my world shrank to a circle of three and I was in heaven, well except for the crying, the lack of sleep and the poo.
Don’t make concrete plans for returning to work before you have the baby – you won’t know how you feel until bub is born. You might be ready to work when bub is 3 months old, or not ready until they go to kinder. — Talina, architect and mother of two.
As my ‘baby bubble’ passed, I began teaching design part-time at my old university. While my daughter was young I found the defined hours, the straightforward nature of the work and the energetic student interaction ideal.
However, project work soon called and I felt ready to go back, or so I thought. In reality I found the demands of working by myself on long term projects conflicted harshly with the needs of my fresh young family.
The biggest challenge is TIME. It’s very limited which generally means working nights, which is tiring and takes away from time with my husband. It also means there isn’t a lot of time consistency for getting your head into a project. — Isley, architect and mother of two (with another on the way).
As time went on, working from home lost appeal – I preferred the office where I was more productive, more focused and enjoyed being around colleagues. When I went home I could switch off and not think about work. — Talina.
While I was attempting to resume my practice, my husband was running his own IT consultancy and his hours and travel were intense. I found I was stretched finding time to work, arrange child care and keep the usual household gaff in order. The line between work and home became blurred and stressful.
Even with the best husband in the world, I felt lonely, useless and exhausted.
Eventually, a series of family tragedies found me at the brink of emotional collapse. I gave up all project work (well, except our house renovation) to focus on myself and my family. If you had asked at the time, I probably would have said I was leaving architecture for good. My husband also reduced his hours to spend more time at home during a very difficult period.
I’m pleased to report that, with the birth of our second daughter and the completion of our long term renovation, things are decidedly rosier. Now my youngest is turning one and I have made the unexpected decision to turn my ‘casual sole-practitioner thing’ into a true practice and this time I’m not trying to do it alone.
So far it feels great, but perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment.
It certainly helps that my husband and I are now able to be far more creative with our work/family arrangements. At the moment our routine has him working mornings while I take afternoons. While the details will need to change soon enough, I am thrilled with the ‘sweet spot’ we have found in this moment.
Having my husband at home has enabled the flexibility I need in my position as principal of a large practice to be able to travel, attend to my projects and business without the added juggling act of trying to schedule kindy and childcare pick-ups/drop-offs into my diary. — Jane.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have a brilliant boss and incredibly family-friendly work-place where I was able to do as many or as little hours as I could, either at home or in the office. — Talina.
Now my eldest is at primary school I can see there will be a day when this architecture + motherhood thing won’t be quite so complex. But for the moment keeping the work/family equation in happy balance is an ongoing project for us all.
Despite the immensity of the challenge I know it is worth it and in fact I feel a better person and architect because of it. I am more patient, I say no to things more often. I am learning to listen to my intuition and to work through issues rather than around them. Best of all I have developed an amazing confidence in my ability to tackle the future, whatever it may bring.
Architecture + motherhood may be a difficult beast, but I am finding it a beast worth taming.