Ups and downs as a working parent

by 25 Jul 2007

It’s natural for women to worry about the balance of work and family needs – when is the right time to have a baby? Will I miss out on career advancement if I have a child now?

Actually, there is no right time to have a baby. I was driven by my biological clock, at 27, I just had to have a child. Today, it’s considered young. I returned to work (70 per cent) when my daughter was five months old, because I was offered a registrar training position. My mother strongly encouraged me to return to work, and even in hindsight, it was the right decision for me.

Good childcare is an important part of a successful return to work.

With the arrival of my third child, we had moved cities for my husband’s career and I had the first of 2.5 years at home full time – great years, but hard physically and emotionally. I was lonely and missed the stimulation of a workplace. I returned to work part-time, and juggled times and roles. About three days per week provided a reasonable balance of achieving meaningful work and allowing me time at home.

For women working part-time, the job will be a compromise or you end up working far more hours than you are paid and still people label you as ‘part-time’. That’s okay; own it –choose to be with your kids and when you are ready; a challenging full-time role will be there for you. You need to trust in yourself, and let your performance speak for itself.

When my children were three, six and nine, my husband left us. I needed to return to full-time employment and further study. Things changed in ways I did not expect; life rarely follows the grand plan. There is no doubt that being a single parent with three children is very challenging indeed, because at the end of the day, you alone are responsible for everything.

Single parenting and split families bring extra complexity, which adds to the stress of being a working parent.

The answer is that as parents, we need to own the fact that we have choices, we need to decide what is right for us and for our children. If you are happy, your children will be happy. There are no judges, no gold medals and no ‘right answers’. There is guilt and it remains a struggle to find enough time in the day. You have to let go of some domestic standards but be careful not to let go of ones that make you feel depressed. Be clear about your positive supports and use them for advice and encouragement. Share your problems and make sure you keep your sense of humour. Trust your instincts; own your priorities.

By Pip Hazel, national operations manager, Australian Red Cross Blood Service