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My journey to being a working mum

November 20, 2011
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Sometimes I can combine two parts of life - here I am at a fun run with the kids

I’ve been thinking on work-life balance lately. Only like, oh, the rest of Australia is – and probably most of the developed world, or rather, those of us who are privileged to have jobs.

In my teens, I never really gave a thought to whether I would be a stay-at-home mum or a working mum. I wasn’t going to have children. And after all, do most young men think about whether they are going to be a stay-at-home dad or a working dad, hmm?

I grew up with a mum who was a bit of a feminist and an activist. She had a career before having children, had children late in life – and then chose to have four of us and not return to paid work.

I unexpectedly fell pregnant with my first child when I was 19 years old. I was still at university, working casually in fast-food, and my partner had literally just finished uni and obtained his first-ever job. We made the choice to buy a house and get a mortgage when we were pregnant, and so when E1 was a few months old, I went back to working shifts, because I thought we needed the money (in hindsight we could probably have done without it by using cloth nappies, making breastfeeding work and not having prams or so many toys, however we were in the tricky position of Garry’s income being just above the limit for a low-income health care card, which meant we paid full-price for everything).

I went from working shifts, to working 4 days a week at a bank while studying externally, to eventually graduating and working a full-time 9-5 job. Then I got pregnant with my son, finished up late in pregnancy, did a little work from home for my old employer which didn’t work out very well due to my postnatal depression.

I had always planned to go back to work or further study when Alastair was about 18 months old, I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home mum forever; I just don’t have the patience. I picked a post-graduate course, got started and … got pregnant again. So in the end I was out of the workforce for five years. And by the end of it I felt I was going insane.

Yet I didn’t want to work full-time. Sometimes people who don’t have children, or who have forgotten, think being a mum gets easier when the kids go to school. In some ways it does. But in primary school they are still not that independent – I make lunches, wash uniforms, have uniforms ready each morning, help out in classrooms, attend obligatory assemblies and fundraisers, then there are the permission slips, book club, excursions, swimming lessons, appointments. Plus extra-curricular sports and activities – I limit these but we still have soccer in autumn/winter and Little Athletics in spring/summer. So somehow this stuff has to be fitted in around working, and doing things for me; a little socialising now that the kids are all old enough for me to be out at night, plus exercise and health priorities.

It took me a long time to find a job, because I’d had so long out of the workforce, and because I was fussy (I’m lucky – I could afford to be). I lucked out and found an awesome one that is quite autonomous, school hours four days a week, with an out-of-hours event about once a month.

I have been working outside the home for three months, and at home for a year (I do a writing/editing gig from home, monthly deadline), and, well, it’s still hard. I think I have it pretty good in terms of work-life-family balance, and then I look around me and see my messy house, or my three-year-old that sometimes still cries and wants to “stay home with you, mummy!” even though she loves daycare & granny’s house, or my neglected craft hobbies, and think, dammit, I’ve got a long way to go.

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