International Women’s Day: Can we really have it all?

Explore Learning’s Carey Ann Dodah writes on the ups and downs of pursuing a career as a working mum.

Yes we can be career women and mothers - absolutely. But can we be the career woman and the mother that we want to be? That’s where things get a little more complicated.

I think it’s fair to say that Explore Learning was my first ‘baby’. As part of the founding team of this exciting start-up in 2001, I dedicated most of my time and thoughts to it with passion! Building a business and watching it grow is incredibly rewarding, especially when the outcome is thriving, happy children who are discovering a love of learning. 

Adding a baby of my own to the mix in 2007 and then another two years later definitely added challenge at a whole new level. I was incredibly motivated to keep growing in my career. As the business grew, I was determined to grow with it and take on more senior roles and new projects as they arose. However, I also wanted to be as present as possible for my children. Working part-time was something my CEO was open to and seemed like the best way for me to live in both my worlds.

Is part-time work really part-time?

I’ll be honest, for the first 10 years of my life as a working parent it felt like I had two full time jobs that I tried to squeeze into respective halves of the week. Whilst bathing my girls I’d be thinking about what I needed to say in my next meeting. In meetings I’d suddenly remember that the girls had dress-up day at school the next day and I hadn’t sorted out a costume. Both roles were equally dominant in my mind. On reflection, I don’t know how I managed it for as long as I did. Until I didn’t…

Trying to be superhuman

I am proud to live in a society where we champion women and believe strongly that we can and should play leadership roles in business. However, it’s still tricky to see where parenting fits into that piece. 

Leadership roles are just as demanding and unforgiving of your time as children are. If you’re required at a board meeting and your child is sick, which takes priority? Which do you delegate? Knowing that non-attendance will result in assumptions of ‘perhaps this role isn’t the right fit for you’ or cause challenges for your family as they try to change plans last minute and pick up the pieces.

Seeking balance 

The dilemma I found myself in, was not anyone’s doing but my own. There were opportunities to step out of the senior role I was in and still have a meaningful career at Explore. Equally, I could hand over more responsibility for my children to others. I just didn’t want to. I truly believed if I worked hard enough at it I would find the perfect balance and I could continue to do it all.

In 2016 my eldest daughter hit a rut at school. She was deeply unhappy and physically unwell. ‘Mum guilt’ reached an all time high as this coincided with some major transformation projects at work, long hours and travel abroad. 

It was the catalyst that forced me to make change and after some supportive conversations with my CEO and team at Explore we agreed that I would take a 6 month sabbatical and return to a different role with a lighter set of responsibilities.

Allowing myself to be Mum

My 6 month sabbatical was the best thing I did. I was able to nurture my children. I spent the whole summer holidays with them, we laughed, played, cooked and spent uninterrupted time together - guilt free, knowing that I had a career to go back to. I spent the autumn term with my eldest at school, volunteering and getting under the skin of what was making her unhappy and finding ways to make that better. It was a win-win situation and I hoped I could return to work and achieve this same level of impact at home and for the business.

Falling through the cracks

I still have a wry smile of irony at this event. I had been back at work for 5 months and I genuinely felt amazing - like I had finally achieved the elusive perfect balance in life and work! And then one evening, completely out of the blue everything stopped…

The neurologist would later describe it (after many tests) as though my brain had shut down. The perfect analogy being that of a computer that has so many tabs open that one day it reaches capacity and just can’t process any more. It was a very scary time. Just like a computer might, I wasn’t able to do all the things I previously could - memory capacity was low, data couldn’t be processed. I needed a complete reboot which is much more easily achieved with a computer than a human brain and so everything stopped for quite some time.

Feeling proud for International Women's Day

I don’t reflect on my choices with regret because I don’t think that’s a helpful way to move through life. I have so much to celebrate because I have been present for my daughters. I have experienced all the joys and tribulations of parenthood alongside supporting the growth of a successful business. What I wish I could have foreseen a little earlier is the toll trying to be a superhuman was taking on my health. Also to have had the confidence to let go of some responsibilities earlier that I was so desperate to hold on to. 

6 years on from my world going black, I am happy to say that I am in a very good place. I am a Brand Copywriter and Ambassador for Explore Learning two days a week. In those two days I can give my work 100% of my focus and dedication. I then have the time and headspace to support my growing teenagers for the rest of the week. I can no longer multi-task but I’ve come to realise this is not such a bad thing. I am forced to give every task my full attention and have to be disciplined about when I stop. 

I am proud to be a part of a new and flourishing Working Parents and Carers Group at Explore Learning. This supportive network, offering a sounding board and nonjudgmental care to employees, is a really positive addition. 

This journey that we embark on as working parents is full of challenges. The balance between what is right for your family, your employer and yourself is forever changing. I do believe that we can have it all but we must listen to our bodies, share our hopes and fears with our employers and be open to experiencing a different journey than perhaps we first intended.


Achieve real progress

and unlock the joy of learning.

Learn more

Cancel anytime

No joining fee

In centre or online

Memberships to suit you

Cancel anytime

No joining fee

In centre or online

Memberships to suit you

Cancel anytime

No joining fee

In centre or online

Memberships to suit you

mumsnet rated
Education Investor Awards 2019 Winner Private tutoring company
Sunday Times best big companies to work for 2019
Cyber Essentials Certified Plus
2019 Business Excellence Winner - Best After School Tuition Provider - UK - Explore learning

Your nearest centres

Sorry, we don't have any centres within {{distance}} miles

online tuition

Explore learning online tuition

We also offer online tuition to flexibly fit into your family’s life.

Results from outside {{distance}} miles

Please select a centre

Showing {{count}} closest to '{{postcode}}'




{{distance}} miles

Select this centre

Search again

Please enter a valid postcode or location