The working-mum conundrum


Clock (Photo credit: Earls37a)


I love being a mum. I miss my office job.

It’s the all too familiar conundrum facing mothers right across the globe; when is the right time to return to the workforce?

For some, it’s a matter of resuming their day-to-day job once their maternity leave is up, while others may take on the role of stay-at-home mum indefinitely.

Personally, I miss donning my corporate gear, grabbing an early morning coffee, scheduling interviews and writing to deadlines in the ever-busy publishing world.

I gave up my previous job due to an interstate move and have since put my career on hiatus while I tend to the needs of my oh-so-precious son.

At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that my movements over the past four months have not been so different to the lives of my working (and childless) peers.

I rise early (usually after an exhausting graveyard shift), put on my mandatory uniform (no whites, just to be on the safe side) and plan my day around important meetings involving industry heavyweights.

Okay, so by meetings I mean feeds, sleeps and nappy changes, and by industry heavyweights I mean AJ’s doctor, the local pharmacist and members of my mothers’ group.

That’s not to say I don’t undervalue the important job I’m doing, or take for granted the lovely people I meet along the way.

Nor do I think that being a stay-at-home mum is the ‘easy option’ or a cop-out – it’s downright hard, and I applaud those who do it full-time.

But for me, I’m now at the stage where returning to work is very front of mind and I’m beginning to weigh up my options.

According to figures* from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), more and more mums are returning to the workforce when their youngest child begins school.

Data released last year shows that for mums whose youngest child was of school-age (six to 14 years), 79 percent participated in the labour force in 2010-11, up from 77 percent in 2006-07.

For mums with school-aged children, 55 percent were working part-time in 2010-11, and 10 percent of those mums both wanted to and were available to work more.

Two-thirds of employed mums with children under six years of age were working part-time in 2010-11, and 9 percent of those mums both wanted to and were available to work more.

Returning to work part-time or on a casual basis is the most realistic choice for me, as it would still allow me to spend quality time with AJ.

While I don’t think grandparents should be relied upon to babysit, I must admit, it would be handy if my parents or the in-laws lived closer so I could have a trusted babysitter on call one or two days a week.

But as it stands, I don’t have family in the vicinity (or State for that matter), so would require the services of a babysitter or child care centre.

I understand that many people put their young ones in such care with very positive outcomes, but at just 16 weeks old, I feel AJ is too young.

Also, as my need for childcare would be more career rather than financially motivated, I’m willing to reassess our situation in a few months’ time before making any real decisions.

I want to pursue my calling within the field I studied, but for now, quality time with AJ – as opposed to monetary gain – is my priority.

Whether you want to become homemaker and raise your brood full-time or return to the corporate world post-labour, it all boils down to personal choice and circumstances.

Forget the biological clock; it seems the return-to-work timeframe is a very divisive issue among mothers.

Similar to the breastfeeding and immunisation debates, women can sometimes feel like it’s a lose-lose situation no matter which choice they make, or are forced to make, when it comes to their careers.

You return to work, you are considered a bad mum; you don’t return to work, you are a slacker – both unfortunate stereotypes that women can’t seem to shake.

I’d like to point out here that the definition of a stay-at-home mum and what defines a ‘job’ is also worth thinking about.

In 2006, mums of school-aged children on average spent five hours and nine minutes a day caring for their children, while mums of younger children spent 11 hours and 25 minutes.

As highlighted by the ABS, those mums employed part-time spent almost two hours more per day looking after their children (eight hours and 34 minutes) compared to mums who worked full-time (six hours and 39 minutes per day).

I’d reason that caring for children around-the-clock is somewhat harder than holding down a Monday to Friday office job, as there are no sick days or time out – something hidden in the fine print that I have only fully appreciated since becoming a mum.

On top of that, your boss (aka offspring) demands ridiculous overtime and requires constant supervision with zero fiscal reward.

On the plus side, they allow you to demonstrate your superior multitasking and conflict resolution skills.

No matter what occupation you may have previously held, your current financial position or desired lifestyle, the return-to-work dilemma is something all mothers will undoubtedly face.

As I said earlier, it all comes down to the individual family’s decision and what is the best option for them in their unique situation.

The general consensus among my acquaintances is that most mums want to return to work eventually, but don’t want to risk missing those important firsts.

I love being a mum, and absolutely cherish the time I spend with AJ – waking up to adoring smiles, witnessing his amazement at the world around him, and nursing him to sleep at night.

But I must admit that I did often ponder, usually at 2am while sitting bleary-eyed in the darkness of the nursery, just how three years of university lead me to this.

That’s until I realised that being a mother is not a role you can quantify with a salary or invested hours, and I don’t need a promotion or fancy desk plaque to prove myself.

All that being said, I think it’s just as valuable to have aspirations and dreams for my future career; it’s just taking a back seat for now while I tend to my number one client.

*Gender Indicators sourced from the ABS website


One thought on “The working-mum conundrum

  1. I remember those days well, and I too wondered what I was doing with my graduate degree while being home. But I don’t regret a moment of it. My daughter is now 2 and I teach part-time; it’s a nice balance and makes me feel like I am tending to “my number one client” while still maintaining some semblance of a career. Best of luck with your path!

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