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Working Life

Quick drying trousers an essential wardrobe item for the organisationally challenged working mother.

As usual my disorganised approach to life has come back to bite me in the bum.

HUGE day yesterday with a 7.45am meeting with the Principal of the High School where Princess Child will be going next year. The child is a little anxious about the idea of going to high school so I reassure her with the usual platitudes of how great it will be to meet new friends, how the teachers won’t yell at her ’cause she’s a really good kid (even the Principal wasn’t able to back me up on that one “I can’t guarantee teachers won’t raise their voices if the class is getting a little noisy but it doesn’t happen every day”).

I was up at 5.00am because operating under the prevailing chaos theory which is the core of my existence I hadn’t finished the paperwork – dear Lord the forms you have to fill out just to get into a high school – I can’t find the birth certificate – I run out of time to complete two of the forms – I’m beginning to fear a detention. I also imagine the Principal having an aaahh moment when she recognises I’m the mother of the Hippie Child who has been known to wear quite a few detentions, all completely related to disorganisation – forgetting the homework, not having her hat, not remembering the sports uniform for PDHPE. As I stride into the school foyer paperwork flying, pen in hand madly scribbling, jacket hanging from one arm as I try to finish getting dressed I imagine the Principal thinking “now it all makes sense – the Hippie Child has no hope of ever getting on top of things with THIS as an example”. We survive the inquisition interview, I’m reasonably relaxed after all they took Hippie Child so it’s not like they can knock this one back.

I’m only 15 minutes late for work (yay) and the rest of  the day is fairly laid back until that moment when I realise I’m off to a meeting at 6.00pm tonight. Hippie Child is joining me at work at 4.00pm to go shopping for “horror” clothes for a birthday party this weekend.  We have half an hour until it’s time to pick up husband – there’s a mad dash around the shops – she keeps talking Emo (is that Elmo’s cousin or what)? We end up with ripped black jeans, black midriff top, interesting jacket – I think I’m leading her more towards Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan but she seems to think she can make it work.

I throw the family into the house at 5.30 and race around trying to find my one good pair of work pants – the one pair that don’t have the hem coming down or the top button missing – and realise in my rush to the Principal this morning I’ve left them in the washing machine. I run the iron over them in a pointless attempt at combating the damp and as the family calls time “it’s 5.49” I put them on anyway. Suddenly I have a flash forward to what an incontinent future may feel like. Polyester doesn’t take that long to dry does it?

I rev up the heater in the car, directing the heat to my legs, the car steams up and I can’t see where I’m going, I wind down the window and endure the blasts of cold air on my face as my legs broil.

Arriving in town, I walk really fast hoping the wind resistance will enable the last of the drying to take place.

Surprisingly, it seems to work and by the time I waltz into the presentation, almost on time,  über professional me has dry pants!

One day, one day I swear I am going to be on top of things. All responsibilities completed ahead of time and the bloody washing sorted.

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Work or Stay at Home An Old and Ugly Debate

The age-old debate of whether to work or stay at home has reared its ugly head again thanks to American politics. Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, commented that Anne Romney, wife of a  GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney,  was not in a position to give her husband economic advice on the plight of women because she had “never worked a day in her life” as a stay-at-home-mum raising their five boys. It happened last week and there has been a bucket load of interviews, opinion pieces, talkback, twitter conversation. Rosen has apologised and rephrased the point she was trying to make.

Leaving aside the politics, and the debate over privilege versus poverty, the issue obviously remains a highly emotional one for many mothers.

I have been a SAHM, a WAHM, a full-time employee and a part-time employee and I’m here to tell you EVERY option is TOUGH.

As a SAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and at times very lonely. I remember walking outside my house in Brisbane to a deathly quiet suburban street where the rest of the world was obviously at work and wondering if the world had ended and I didn’t know because it hadn’t been announced on Playschool. There were many times when I resented the working mums who got a break from their children.

As a WAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed and worried I wasn’t doing either “job” effectively. My children will tell you I was often distracted, always on the phone or computer. Yet they will also tell you funny stories of things we did – and I was always careful to get photographic evidence of the finger painting, mud pie making, play dough activities just to prove to them in later life that sometimes I did put work aside and create fun times. There were many times when I resented SAHMs who had enough income they didn’t need to generate more, there were times I resented working mums who got their pay cheques each week regardless of the amount of effort they put in.

As a full-time employee I was exhausted, overwhelmed and juggling like crazy.  My daughters saw me come home in tears as I tried to readjust to life in the workforce. They also saw me get through that period and figure out a way to make it work. There were times I resented SAHMs who didn’t have to ask permission from the boss to go to their kid’s athletics carnival.

As a part-time employee I am exhausted, overwhelmed and guilt-ridden a lot of the time. I feel guilty that I’m not as involved in my youngest daughter’s activities as I was in her sister. I feel guilty that I don’t work full-time to relieve a bit of the financial pressure. I feel guilty … well you get the picture. I have given up resenting others because there is just no point and what little energy I’ve got left is better directed elsewhere.

Women everywhere go through the process of trying to make it all work. Some options prove manageable, others crash and burn.  There is no stock standard right option that will work for everyone.

I know the times when I felt I was closest to getting the balance right felt good. However those moments were fleeting.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight I think I would do some things differently.

As a SAHM

I would just relax and enjoy it more. I would make more of an effort to connect with other mums. I would accept life is a series of chapters and this is just one in a series of stages of my life.

As a WAHM

I would set strict business hours and uninterrupted family time.  I would focus more on the money. Time manage and priority set to be more clearly focused on income-producing activities.

As a full-time employee

I would negotiate more, get more flexibility, ensure I had time off for the important events.

As a part-time employee

I will ditch the guilt and use my day off for activities that benefit both myself and my family.

One day my idealistic self imagines this issue becoming not a “women’s problem” but one which everybody has a stake. Dad’s benefiting from time out with their kids. Flexible work arrangements that allow for everyone to better manage their life – childless employees allowed shorter weeks to pursue hobbies or care for elderly relatives – mums and dads sharing the caring responsibilities by each working four days a week.

However, we won’t get there until we stop judging each other. At the end of the day the kids are all right. Whatever option you go for children who know they are loved and cared for will thrive. While we as human beings are valuable in a variety of guises, and that value is not necessarily measured just in the monetary value of paid employment.

What’s been your experience? Do you feel you have the balance right?

Dads at Home

It seems we’ve come a long way in a single generation. Dads now play a much bigger role in their children’s day-to-day lives than they did a few decades ago. Yet it is still unusual for men to accept the role of fulltime stay-at-home parent. Research carried out in 2010 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies identified only 7 per cent of families operated with the female as sole breadwinner.

Deborah Wilmore from the University of Western Sydney is conducting a study into the role of stay-at-home dads. Her preliminary research indicates the greatest critics to the idea of a man becoming the primary caregiver to his children is his own father – who often can’t understand why his son would want to take on the role.

Wilmore’s research also shows there is still a stigma attached to men who opt out of the workforce to care for their children and they often feel isolated without the traditional support of playgroups, mothers groups etc.

It is a fact of life that children need care – be it from a parent or in a formalised childcare arrangement – you simply can’t have a child and revert back to your old life. The notion of which parent takes on the majority of the caring responsibilities is a complex, emotional and difficult one.

Staying at home with my daughters was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Disassociated from the workforce I felt my sense of identity and self-worth wither. There where long stretches where I had absolutely no idea who I was or what I was trying to achieve in life. However, the process of being forced to forge a new identity and rediscover what was important to me proved to be a rewarding one. There is no doubt the process saw me develop new skills, adaptive abilities and gave me a confidence that paid work did not define me.

Giving dads the opportunity to spend more one-on-one time with their children could only be a good thing. If more dads took time out of work to raise children we may see the workforce adapting more to the idea that a break does not mean the end of working life. It could also see a more flexible framework to employment that would benefit everyone, even those without children. However, I can imagine it may not be so easy for women to hand over the child raising responsibilities, we do like to be in control.

What are your thoughts on stay-at-home dads?

Take The Kids To Work Day

Meeting Kate.

Once upon a time my children and I lived a completely intertwined life. I worked from home and they saw first hand exactly what “mummy’s job” involved. As they grew older and went off to school we still kept close, I was at the school doing maths groups and reading time. Our lives were glued together.

Then they got older. I went back to a mainstream job. There wasn’t any time to put in appearances at the school. Their sense of the work I did faded. They were busy with finding friends at lunchtime, surviving the battlefield of the school playground, keeping teachers happy and trying to understand the latest lesson.

When I worked from home they saw me interact with customers and team-members, they attended meetings and training sessions I ran, (in their PJ’s hiding in a cubby under a table because their Dad was a shiftworker and couldn’t always be home to look after them), they learnt how to put up and pull down promotional stands or set up a room for a workshop because the whole family had to come along to help me do those things.

When I went back to work they had no idea what I did for a living, “it’s some radio thing” I heard them tell friends once but details were sketchy. They didn’t meet the people I worked with for a very long time. Work and home were separate lives. Never the twain should meet.

I left “the radio thing” and went to an office job which was even less of a concept they could understand “she helps kids do work experience”.

Recently, I was helping organising an event for local students. A Building Aspirations – Get the Life You Love forum where guest speakers were brought in to help the 800 students attending find motivation and inspiration in planning their future goals.

I took the girls out of school for the day because I felt they would benefit from hearing what the speakers had to say. It was the first time in several years they had seen me at work. They were called in to help with blowing up the balloons, putting up posters and anything else that needed doing. They saw me handle a couple of challenges, they watched me silently freaking out when our two keynote speakers were still grounded in Sydney due to bad weather and the event had started, they overhead conversations with a variety of people, reassuring nervous local speakers, meeting and greeting politicians and chatting to the young musicians about to perform.

They were particularly thrilled to meet  an actress from Home and Away, Kate Ritchie. I was particularly relieved that Kate was a gracious, kind woman who gave each student she spoke to her undivided attention and respect.

I’m not sure what the girls took away from the day, but I know I felt good letting them have a glimpse into my working world (maybe not a typical day in the office but a day that utilised a lot of work skills nonetheless). I hope they see that when we are apart there’s a lot going in my life and I hope it allows them to understand a little bit more about the working world and how you function in it.

Do you think it’s important our children understand what we do? Can it help them gain skills for their own working life to spend some time witnessing yours?

I Don’t Meet Your Selection Criteria Because I’ve Been Busy Having A Life

Returning to the workforce after a ten year absence was an eye-opener. Technology had moved above and beyond anything a mere mortal could have imagined back in 1997.  The internet was in constant use in every office in the country, “I’ll google it” a common refrain. How did we ever create radio programs without the instant research tool at our fingertips?  Somehow we did.

Networking used to be drinks at the pub after work, now it was Twitter and Facebook – not on-line get with it!

Blogging – was that even a word in 1997? Media, marketing, public relations jobs all demanded to know how I would “blog” their brand to the demographic?

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