Today I’m honoured to share the story of Annemiek Mensert, 43, who lives not far from me in The Hague, The Netherlands. We met via our daughters – they are best friends at school. Anne Sophie is 6 years old (as is my daughter, Isabella).
I already greatly liked and admired Annemiek and recently have had even more chance to see what a wonderfully strong woman she is as she has faced a huge challenge, which you can read more about below. This profile shares her experiences as a working parent at a large multinational company, Shell.
Annemiek is Dutch and has been an employee at Shell Upstream International for 11 years. Here is her interview.
Brief description of “Life Before Children”
Life before children consisted of working hard, travelling for the company, teaching courses on reservoir simulation an reservoir engineering. Spent some time living in Aberdeen, Scotland.
How does this compare to “Life After Children”
Life after my daughter has turned into a big adventure with some unexpected turns. After 5 months of maternity leave ( saved holidays over the years!!!) I went back to work for three days. This to try and achieve the perfect balance between work and homelife. Turned out to be a bit more tricky, since the amount of meetings, IT stuff etc stay the same I found I had too little time for actual work. After half a year I went to four days which suited me better. My partner Edwin continued to work 5 days, however, since Anne Sophie started school, he and I both share a 4 day week which turns out very nicely, having wednesday and friday afternoon off to play at home.
(Approximately) how many hours a week do you work?
I work approximately 35 hours a week.
Are there any particular laws/initiatives in your country/location that support working parents?
Shell is very supportive of working parents, by allowing flexible work hours, up to 4 years unpaid parental leave ( dutch law is far less) without loosing your fulltime contract. The daycare centre used to be next door, now a bit further away, it’s an international oriented daycare.
What are the main challenges in your country/location in terms of achieving balance?
A challenge I found are the mindset of dutch people, working too much whilst having children is frowned upon by the older generation (my mum). Good thing is that there is ample opportunity to work part time, it’s almost expected of mums, however dads get 2 days off for the delivery and that’s it!!!!
The downside of all this parttiming is clear, not many women choose to be in a career oriented environment and not many make it too the top, or feel the need/want to make it. This might be lack of ambition, or just making choices. For me personally, I never had a clear ambition to become top management, I wanted to be darn good at my job as an engineer and grow my technical ability, becoming a technical expert. This is what I still want, with or without my daughter. I don’t feel the need to constantly prove myself, yet I do feel the need to continue to grow intellectual and personal, which I would not be able to do from home.
How long have you worked for this organisation? Did you start before or after you had children?
I worked for Shell now for 11 years, so started before i had children
How family-friendly is your organisation?
It depends on the job, the amount of travelling involved, the amount of pressure, deadlines etc. since people change jobs about every three to four years, it differs how child friendly you feel the company is.
In terms of working from home, flexible work hours, taking time off emergency leave they are very good. In terms of internal pressure, deadlines, work pressure and pear pressure Shell can be tough, you need to learn when and how to say no, and how to balance your career, work/life balance.
In which ways have they supported you to find your family, work balance?
What are the main challenges you have faced?
Coming back to work after maternity leave was hard at first, but after a few weeks getting back I enjoyed the balancing act.
What would you like organisations to do in the future to help working parents?
Ask what people require, be flexible for both men and women. Equal opportunity for both!!!
Any professional qualifications/training you’d like to mention?
Master degree petroleum engineering Delft university
Do you find these qualifications/training still relevant now you’ve become a parent?
Yes, a degree is more than knowledge, it’s a way of thinking, it’s a way of problem solving which enhances every aspect of your life, also as a parent.
What was one of the most unexpected things about becoming a parent?
How much unconditional love you can feel for a child. How everything just naturally starts revolving around the kid.
What is one of the greatest wishes for your children?
One of my favorite quotes: children need to learn how to think, not what to think.
May she become an independent spirit, confident, and love herself for what she is, not for what society wants her to be.
One of the moments you are most proud of in the last few months?
This year has been very challenging for all of us. i was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer and have gone through serious surgery and am still doing chemo therapy. The way Anne Sophie has learned to cope with this is admirable, also thanks to Edwin who helped her to stick to normal routines and was able to take time of work to care for both of us.
She is able to talk about her feelings, or draw cartoons when she feels sad. She has accepted I was ill for every other week during chemo and loves it when I feel better and we do special stuff together. That makes me extremely proud of her.
She accept life as it comes and we learned to do the same.
I hope we will all become stronger people from this dreadful experience.
One of the biggest challenges in the last few months?
Do I need to say more?
Share one or two of your favourite resources for working parents (website/book etc.)
I loved the compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert on how to take care of yourself.
Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg.
What kind of work does your partner do?
He also is an engineer working for Shell headquarters in the Hague
What do you love about being a working parent?
Being able to be continue to live my own life, grow mentally whilst caring for Anne sophie and showing her a role model which would have helped me when I was young.
What do you think is a myth about being a working parent?
The sense of guilt is real, but shouldn’t need to be there. Children learn from how their parents act and live.
Do your children go to school/daycare/alternative child-minding? How often?
Used to be 3 days a week after school club, during my illness she stayed at home as we felt that was the best for the three of us to deal with the situation. She will start afterschool coub again in September.
Do you and how do you support other working parents?
Mostly by talking to other people, discussing openly my own difficulties and allow others to do the same.
Describe your office
Your top tip/s for Family Work Balance:
Work together as a team, bringing up children is a job for two people if you are lucky enough to be in a relationship, wether it’s making choices who manages the homefront and who brings in the money, or making sure tasks are equally divided, it should be an ongoing conversation.
Don’t go on the automatic pilot thinking, it will be better in a few years, when they are more grown up, but continue to make conscience decisions. Staying at home while the kids are small is equally valid as continue working.
Don’t make it into a contest with other mums. It’s not worth it and everyone think they make better choices than you do, which is true probably, for their situation is totally different from yours.
Make sure you have enough me time, life with kids can swallow you whole.
Enjoy life as it is now, believe me it can turn around overnight.
This post is part of a series of Professional Parents Profiles where working parents around the world share their stories and experiences of family work balance. Whether you own a business, would like to or work full or part time, you can share your story too! Together, we can all share ideas and inspiration to find better balance. Please contact me. Renee