A flexible working mum’s life

Picture of Melanie Dooner

Melanie Dooner

Melanie is a writer and mother of two boys

What constitutes the working life of a mother today? Do I have to leave home and travel to a workplace to be considered a working mother? Does having my own online business count, even if I haven’t sold many products or services yet? What if I only work a few hours a week? On the weekend? When the kids are asleep?

A typical measuring stick for me is talking about other mums’ experiences in the playground at school drop off and pick up. The playground is where I learnt about the diversity of work for other women. It’s the playground that I’ve had the privilege of talking to a range of mums who, prior to having children, were accountants, HR operations managers and senior marketing professionals, teachers of children of all ages, sound engineers, nurses, business analysts, sales assistants, editors, writers, and so on.


Women, whose priorities shifted to some extent once they had children, needed to reshape themselves into a new life. And now, with one or more children and a family to care for, aging parents, school volunteer work and the many other competing demands, they juggle all this amidst the need and desire to work and contribute to the family income.


Juggling multiple roles and sometimes even multiple jobs or sources of income, has become quite common for many working mothers. Anita, a mum of four children, was made redundant when she returned to work after having her first two children. After the redundancy, Anita became a full-time stay-at-home mum who dabbled in Tupperware sales before starting her own HR consultancy business, plus a couple of other online businesses.


“As a family we have zero help,” Anita said. “So, my work can only fit around my kids.” Her clients often call at difficult times, like 3pm school pick up, and she finds she has to balance picking up her children while managing her client’s expectations.


Personally, I’ve found having my own business has meant that my mind is stretched, my skills are put to good use, and I feel productive and in better shape to be a better parent. But juggling writing, editing and caring for my boys as a fulltime mum has meant numerous late nights trying to meet deadlines. Like all things though, there is a trade off. Work has been my means of maintaining sanity amidst what can be long days caring for demanding little ones.


It’s amazing how creative many mums and their respective workplaces can be when trying to offer work flexibility. Jennifer works as a part-time project manager for five hours a day, three days a week. She is aware of how lucky she is to be able to work around her two boys and to be able to pick them up from school each afternoon. So many women can’t find workplaces that will accommodate family life.


Tracey, a mum of a girl and a boy, returned to work part-time after the birth of her younger son, but found working part-time extremely difficult in the marketing industry. She tends to seek roles where there’s some flexibility but believes there’s not a lot on offer.  As a result, she has had to compromise and work in areas that wouldn’t normally be her first choice.


Some of the happiest working mothers I’ve met are those who’ve struck gold in terms of employers who are open and willing to accommodate their needs. When Louise and her partner lived in London with their baby girl, it was an endless routine of one working while the other cared for their daughter, then swapping over to do the night shift.

When they arrived in Australia, Louise found a three day a week job in childcare which her daughter also attended. Three years on and Louise is still happily working in the same childcare centre, as they are very supportive of her needs as a working mother.


After spending many years with her two children as a full-time stay-at-home mum, Mery returned to full-time work only to find it guilt-inducing and too demanding. She couldn’t spend as much time with her children, so she looked for another job with more flexibility.


“So far I’m very happy with my new job,” she said. “My manager is very understanding of my family situation and offers flexible working hours. It’s important to me to find a job that allows me to balance my career and family.”


The landscape of working mothers is obviously much broader and more complex than is detailed in this article. But regardless of what work is like for working mothers, the consensus among the women I’ve interviewed is that your life changes when you have kids.


Anita sums up her journey to motherhood as such: “Life for me has definitely changed. Before, I couldn’t really care less about kids and I had an amazing life of travel and socialising. Now I have four kids and I’m shop obsessed.”


And no doubt, like all of us, she wouldn’t swap it for anything.


This story appears in the third book of the Becoming Parents series, titled The Home Stretch. Details can be found at www.majellan.media or www.becomingparents.org.au

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