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The life of a high-flying mum

by SFO Adelle Roberts BALPA member

I am a mother, a wife and a long-haul airline pilot. I say it in that order on purpose because I strongly believe that my family comes first. I have been flying for 20 years and have always been very career-focussed, but after the arrival of our son my priorities shifted.

My husband and I struggled for a long time to have our son, Edward, and now he is here, it’s changed me forever. I am better, I am stronger and I’m more resilient because of him. That didn’t happen immediately, I had to work really hard to get to this point and to find a work-life balance that works for us as a family.

Like most women, I struggled with the transition to motherhood. I felt I was failing at everything and put too much pressure on myself to be a perfect mother. Many of my friends expected me not to return to flying and I was prepared to change career to get a good work-life balance. But I love flying and wanted to try and find a way to make it work.

I did go back to flying, but I don’t think I had prepared myself fully, and at first I hated it. I felt isolated and guilty and I missed my little boy. Obviously being unhappy at work is not sustainable, and I knew that I had to make some positive steps to change or risk giving up my profession.

I got help, I got an amazing councillor who helped me change my mindset. To be kinder to myself, to be less controlling and to find things that make me happy other than my son. So, what do I do differently to make it work? I have ‘me’ time, I meditate, I go to yoga classes, I go sight-seeing down-route, I go to the hotel spa, I go to nice restaurants, I do all the things I don’t have time for when I am at home being a mummy and a wife.

My son is still very young, but he understands that when mummy goes to work she’s flying an aeroplane and she will be away for a few days. I applied for part-time after having Edward. The company was very supportive in this. I now have a 75% roster with the option to drop down to 66% if I felt I needed it from a family perspective. 75% is working fine for us so I will stick with that.

I spend around 10 days a month apart from my family. I get so excited coming home to see the reaction on his face when I walk in the door. And when I’m at home it’s all about spending quality time with my family. I can forget about everything else and just enjoy being with my boys.

I also appreciate the fact that my son and husband spend very good quality time together without me interfering and taking control. Support from my husband is important and we have both had to make sacrifices and changes for our family to thrive.

My husband works full-time too, so it was vital that we found the right childcare for our son when I am away. Finding someone we trust and who understands our family needs was a big part of me being able to enjoy work and stop worrying about being out of the country. My son is in an amazing, caring environment and I know he feels safe, secure and loved even when I am away.

Balancing work and a career is difficult for any parent and women often struggle to juggle the two, no matter what their career is. For women considering being a pilot and having to spend large amounts of time away from home, it can be difficult to see how it would be possible to achieve. But it is possible to be a pilot and a mum. I’m doing it and I can honestly say that in my entire career I’ve never had such an amazing work life balance.

I now really enjoy my job and can remember what it was that drew me to it in the first place. It’s fantastic being Senior First Officer Adelle Roberts, but I love being ‘mummy’ most.