My working and family life
I have a paid job. I went back to work when my son was nine months old, part time, and increased to full time when he turned one. I repeated this when my daughter was born (changing jobs in the process). After four more years, I reduced my hours slightly – four and a half days spread over four days – and over the past year, I’ve been fortunate to be able to drop back a little more still (so I essentially work a four day week). That one (school hours) day makes a huge difference, however the fact remains, I am not the one who is around as much during the week with my kids.
So how does it (sort of) work?
I am fortunate that:
- My husband works part time, and has the flexibility as a nurse to work hours which complement mine (mostly). It means a little less time together, but the kids are mostly with us – certainly through the early years (the kids went to family day care once a week, and then we were able to juggle kinder and school-hours since then).
- My parents have cared for both children one day a week since they were very little. Now both children are at school, it is less of a time commitment than it used to, but it is still a weekly commitment for which we are really grateful. Plus, as a result my kids and parents have a very close relationship forged over many years, which we all cherish.
- I have always worked for organisations that provided me some flexibility in my hours – allowing me to leave early to collect my kids one day a week, and make up the hours elsewhere. I found out, after a few years, I couldn’t maintain the pace of 10-12+ hour days. I still work four days a week, but am working in a less demanding job with hours closer to standard eight hour day (which doesn’t quite pay as well, or is as mentally challenging – but is ideal for the moment). Having flexibility – based around clearer performance outcomes – and an understanding management structure (recognising and rewarding in response when I went the extra mile for them), is not common, as far as I am aware, but has been really important for us.
I’m well aware that not everyone has these benefits, and for them, I am really grateful.
A very supportive partner
Our life is not perfect – it still feels like we are juggling a lot – however I know we have a much smoother life than many others.
A large part of this is due to my husband who is a home maker – on a number of levels. A cook, a self taught mechanic, builder and fix it man, someone very happy to restore furniture, including upholstery, and also willing to make costumes (thank goodness one of us is!). Even more significant, someone with an iron-cast stomach (the nursing training comes in so handy when there are stomach bugs going around).
Plus – he makes time for the kids. To play with them. To help (along with me) them learn to structure their time and habits, their contributions to being part of the family (such as chores and learning to give back to other family members)*. Another plus (a big one, I know). I am not going to say ‘how do single parents do it?’ (I suspect they get sick of the question) but I really don’t know how they do.
Our community – our support network
But even with all of that, I still don’t think we could do it if there wasn’t another factor at play. A factor that I suspect (hope) others also experience.
And that is the community we have around us. Friends, family members, colleagues who, from time to time, step in and help us out. With whom we have reciprocal arrangements for child care, or delivery to sporting activities. Who coach, or assist in coaching, team management, or the myriad of other roles than are needed to support all of our kids’ activities. Who help us with the preparations or running around for birthday parties. Who we can call on when the car breaks down, or we are required to stay back for a meeting (or who cover for us when we unexpectedly, but excitedly, ring to say we’ve been asked to go on ABC radio in the next hour – which is something I will write about soon!) and so can they collect the kids for us? Who provide advice, due to their experiences with their own slightly older children, about the best way to navigate a new emotional situation. And will help my husband (when he accept it) in any construction activity, and who, in turn, he is always willing to help out.
Together, we are almost like safety nets for each other, helping to smooth out the unexpected bumps in our lives. And that really adds to the friendships we’ve made, connection with our neighbours, and depth of relationship with our family.
I don’t often take the time to think about this, or to thank our network for how important they are, but just recently, I’ve realised it. To be able to have the flexibility to help out, however, takes a bit of conscious effort – not to fill their days so much that there is no scope to help, and to have a mindset that is open to helping. And it is that mindset that I am also so grateful for – the network of support wouldn’t work without it.
And so, for this network of support, I say ‘Thank you’
* Just so you don’t get the impression I’ve married some superhuman angel, let me say he is messy. Very messy. And when the projects take a long time, the mess remains. But he is learning (and if that’s the worst of the flaws, I’m pretty fortunate!)