Fern & Rose meets: Emma Bottomore
Emma Bottomore is a British expat in Wellington and mum to seven-and-a-half year old Daniel. She talks about why staying in New Zealand made the most sense for her family and how contracting put her in a better position to negotiate flexible work opportunities.
Fern & Rose (F&R): Hi Emma! Tell me about your son, Daniel, and what you remember from the early days.
Emma Bottomore (EB): Daniel’s a very imaginative, kind and playful little boy. He spends a lot of time making up his own games, role playing, playing with Lego, just happy in his own little world. He’s a pretty easy child now but when he was a baby, he didn’t sleep. At one point, when he was seven months old, he was waking up 27 times a night. It was incredibly difficult.
My partner Alex and I are both from the UK so we didn’t have any parental support or anything like that. We deliberately didn’t invite family over for the first few weeks after he was born because I wanted to make sure we got our own routine sorted out. We had family come out after that and then we were on our own. I wasn’t working but my partner was, and he certainly found it quite hard with the sleepless nights. Somehow, we got through it and by the time he was 4, he started sleeping through.
I’ve never been particularly maternal, but I did want a child and when he came along it was perfect. We instantly bonded. He was an amazing communicator from a few days old. We taught him baby sign language when he was 10 or 11 months old; we took a course and learnt some of the basic signs – milk, eat, things in your routine. After a while, he started wanting to know the signs for different words. I remember pirate and parrot were quite confusing to say out loud because they’re so similar but were quite different when we signed them. When he started daycare, we showed the teachers a few signs so he could keep doing it there. We found one of his reports recently that said Daniel had taught all the other kids to do baby sign, too!
These days, he’s interested in biological sciences. He wants to be a marine biologist or a paleontologist. He just loves anything to do with any creatures; he knows everything about them.
F&R: What’s it like working as a contractor?
EB: When I migrated here, I took on a permanent product manager role at REANNZ and then I worked for NZ 2011, on a short-term contract for the Rugby World Cup. After that, I started working for Contact Energy on a contractor basis and then they converted me over time to a permanent role. I joined Engineering New Zealand in 2015, again as a contractor in a short-term role for four months – which was three years ago! I work on a fixed-term basis now; it’s a bit of a weird one but it does allow you to evaluate what you want to do every so often.
One of the things that I often say to new mums who are struggling to get a flexible working arrangement is starting off as a contractor can be good. You might not be able to get part-time work straight away, but if you’ve done well as a contractor and the organisation wants to take you on for a longer period of time, you’re in a stronger position to talk about changing terms, once you’ve already proven yourself.
When I took maternity leave, I still had contract left at NZ 2011 and I said I’d come back, because it was really exciting work. Ideally, they wanted me back in the office but that didn’t work for me. I was still breastfeeding, they didn’t have any facilities for breastfeeding and Daniel wouldn’t take a bottle. I returned to a slightly different role, but it meant I could do it from home. I worked from home 20 hours a week for about five months. I used to do that when Daniel napped and once he’d gone to bed; I’d do an hour and a half in the afternoon and then from about 7 to 11 at night, for those 20 hours a week.
After that contract ended, I worked four days a week at Contact Energy, and then three days a week when I joined Engineering New Zealand. I found, once Daniel started going to school, I couldn’t manage the same level of hours. When he was in daycare, which has longer hours than school, it was easier to do four long days. These days, I spread the three and a half days across the week, working mostly during school hours so I can take Daniel to his after-school activities.
F&R: Why did you decide to make Wellington your home permanently?
EB: We didn’t make our decision until Daniel was about four. We went back to the UK for four months. It was kind of open-ended; we put all of our stuff in storage, ready to ship, but when we went back we made our decision that, actually, we wanted to live here.We really like Wellington; we like its compactness. By contrast, when Alex was looking for work in the UK, he found that to keep doing IT project management work he’d probably have to work in London as there wasn’t much in the regional centres at the time. Alex would have left home early and got back late and wouldn’t have seen Daniel at all in the week. Whereas here, he’s got quite a flexible role as well. He works full time but he’s always been able to do drop offs and some pick-ups as well. He finishes early on a Wednesday to take Daniel swimming after school. He sees him every morning and he’s always home between 5 and 6. It’s a much better family environment. That’s why we decided to stay.
We had quite good support in those early years through a fantastic antenatal group. We lived in central Wellington and so saw people often. Then we moved to Khandallah when Daniel was four and a half, which took us a while to get used to. We’re city people and it felt quite suburban and we didn’t really know anybody up there. But when Daniel started school, we became part of an amazing community centred around the school. Everybody knows everybody; you just getting chatting to other parents waiting outside the school door and they introduce you to other people.
We’ve got a netball team going now and a running group. We’ve got a book club, which is really an excuse for wine-drinking club! It’s a very close-knit community. Plus, Daniel’s best friend happens to live next-door-but-one to us. They’ve got four kids and often need some help, as we do, so we’ve always got kind of a backstop there, which is really great. We don’t have family here, but when we got back to the UK we found that we wouldn’t have been able to live near our parents anyway. We find holidays provide better quality time. It’s the best of both worlds.
F&R: What advice would you give to expat parents?
EB: Networks can be tricky to establish when you first arrive as an expat but checking out Facebook groups like UK Parents in Wellington is great for finding like-minded people in the same situation.