‘I wanted to show other young parents that you can actually have it all’ – The Irish Times

Being a young parent can often result in looks of derision, rude questions and a genuine fear of not being good enough. For Rebecca Ryan, these confrontations became the driving force behind her decision to return to education following the birth of her first child.

Ms Ryan was studying English and Media at the University of Limerick (UL) when she became pregnant with her daughter Sadie at the age of 20.

She hadn’t been enjoying the course in the first instance and when she conceived, she decided she “wanted to focus on being a mother for a little while”.

“I was very military about how things went, and everything had to run like clockwork. I’ve always been like that, I’ve always been very organised. I decided from the get-go, I was going to make a routine and she was going to have to stick to it,” the now 24-year-old says of her shift to motherhood, laughing.

“It was a bit different, but sometimes change is good. I was very happy to be a stay-at-home mam for a little while but I couldn’t do it forever.”

Following the support of her partner and their families, she decided to return to education when Sadie was 1½.

“I was doing a bookkeeping and payroll course with Limerick college of further education. I came across the accounting technicians apprenticeship by chance, I just saw an Instagram post, and it looked really interesting. I realised I really liked accountancy and really enjoyed it,” she said.

Her new field is vastly different from her first course, she acknowledges, a purposeful decision due to the job opportunities.

“To be honest, finance was more secure. My father owns his own business, I had helped my mum with the accounts side and getting it ready for the accountant. I knew I liked the work, it’s either black or white,” she says.

“When I came across the bookkeeping and payroll course, I knew it was a secure industry. It’s recession-proof and I just thought it was the best bet to make, and I really enjoyed it.”

She adds: “I wasn’t a mathematical person in school, I did ordinary maths. I didn’t even entertain it when I was 18, it wasn’t until I had someone relying on me to provide that I thought I wanted to do something more stable and secure.”

Returning to education this time was different, but made easier by the fantastic support network she has, Ms Ryan says.

“I have so many people who have my back and help me to keep going. My partner was studying mechanical engineering at the same time, so she was able to go into the creche in UL. That was really handy,” she adds.

“There was a lot of help academically, they [their families] took Sadie for a few hours while I studied. It’s not the usual, I’m aware there are so many young parents who don’t have that support, I’ve just been very lucky.”

Despite the challenges it brought, Ms Ryan says it was worth it: “It was hard, but you have someone relying on you, it’s not just you, which kind of drives you more to be better and do better.”

Ms Ryan has now completed her bookkeeping and payroll course, and is currently undertaking the Accounting Technicians of Ireland apprenticeship.

Under the programme, participants attend college one day a week and work the other four days. Apprentices are given a training schedule of things they should learn at work, and are assigned a mentor, which is normally an accountant. It is a two-year programme, in which apprentices earn at least €21,060 a year.

Being able to earn while she learned was a particular bonus since she has a family to provide for, adding that she didn’t feel like she had to sacrifice anything, but instead just become good at time management.

“Last summer, I applied for the apprenticeship. I went through the application process, I interviewed at Clare County Council, I got the job and I’ve been here since. For me, I’m in the finance department. There are other sections, there’s the cash office, accounts payable, bank payroll,” she says.

“I’ve been put into all of those sections for a period of six months, so I got very large exposure to all of the mechanics of a finance department, as well as providing support to the accountants. It’s been a very wide experience.”

Long-term, Ms Ryan hopes to become a forensic accountant before the age of 30, though her medium-term ambition is to go into industry.

“There are three more years worth of exams to become an accountant without the apprenticeship. There are some exemptions given to accountancy bodies,” she said.

“So, for example, chartered accountants, I would have four exemptions. They’re spread over three years, and with each year the exams tend to get more substantially difficult. It’s a long road, but it is certainly worth it.”

And what is it about the challenge that makes it worth it? The job security and finance for one, but also the opportunity to prove to herself that she is capable of doing whatever she sets her mind to.

“While I was pregnant, you get thrown the dirty looks, you overhear the comments that people don’t think you hear, or you’re told, ‘Aren’t you so lucky that he stuck around, you better hold on to him now’. There is this image that we have of young parents, and especially young mothers, and that was kind of a driving force for me,” she says.

“There’s nothing wrong with [staying at home], that’s sometimes how the cookie crumbles, but I kind of wanted to prove it to me as a young parent. I wanted to show other young parents as well that you can actually have it all. It’s bloody hard, but you can. I didn’t want to just be someone on the Dole. I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”

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