It’s a gorgeous spring afternoon and I am at my long-time friend Anna Davies recently renovated, beautiful home in inner Melbourne. Anna and I have been the closest of friends for about thirteen years. We met through ex boyfriends and have shared so many wonderful times together over the years. Anna would have to be one of the most social people I know, pre motherhood and today. A fabulous cook, she has always loved to entertain. How she manages to keep up her social calendar, work four days a week and be the fabulous wife and mother that she is to husband and their two beautiful children never ceases to amaze me.
It’s Anna’s one day off from work. Her Mum is over helping with the children so Anna could attend a job interview this morning. A potential new chapter! It’s her Mum’s birthday so we all sing happy birthday and blow out the candles on a freshly made, homemade birthday cake. The kids are so excited! Harry can’t wait to show me his very impressive writing skills. He is already to start school next year.
Grace is down for a sleep, Harry is set up at the table with his Hairy Maclary books, the biggest collection of crayons I have ever seen and his trusty football card collection. Always multi-tasking, Anna and I chat away whilst she continues to entertain Harry, respond to work emails, answers my questions and gets organised to visit a friend later that afternoon. Here is Anna’s journey…
Tell me about your family
I have been married to my husband (Nick) for six years. We have two children, Harry who is nearly five and Grace who is two and half.
Your lifestyle and career before becoming a Mum looked like…..
Extremely social with friends and family. During the week and on weekends. I hosted dinner parties and entertained all the time.
I exercised regularly, trained for and competed in marathons. I would go to the gym and run two-three times a week. I loved to travel. I spent time living and working overseas.
In regards to my career, I was more ambitious. I worked five days per week and worked overtime when required. I have always worked in Marketing and Product across various industries.
Tell me about your job and what you do
At the moment I’m working in Broker Partnerships for a major bank, as a Strategic Partnership Initiatives Manager. Predominantly this involves, developing new white label home loans for strategic partners. I act as the Project Manager as well as deliver the marketing and product functions. I also work on a number of smaller customer focussed digital initiatives.
Have you returned to the same workplace?
Yes, I returned to the same employer.
Did you return to the same position or a new role?
Before I left for maternity leave with Harry, I was ready to move to the next level. I was looking for something more. I ended up coming back part-time, three days per week. My manager identified a job sharing opportunity with another lady who was also at the next level. The arrangement worked really well for both of us and the bank. We both worked three days, in a new position, that was a step up in our career.
Was your employer accommodating and understanding to your new situation?
Yes, absolutely! They identified a job sharing arrangement for me which allowed me still to progress in my career. I generally work 8am – 5pm but my hours are flexible, if need be. I also have access from home and can work from home when required.
Your biggest concerns and worries about going back to work were…..
Harry was 12 months when I went back to work. Realistically, I was ready when he was about 9 months old. I was craving the mental stimulation. I even started plotting business ideas.
Even though I was ready, I still had my concerns and worries about returning to work.
Initially it was around the hours. That I would be frowned upon for leaving at 5pm on the dot. I very quickly realised that this wasn’t an issue at all. Especially in this day and age where employees are encouraged to work flexibly.
I was really worried about how Harry was going to settle into childcare. He used to cry every day when I dropped him off, which broke my heart.
I was concerned about what I would do when Harry got sick and how I was going to manage the juggle between work and motherhood. Having such an understanding employer has been extremely helpful.
How do you juggle work and motherhood?
With a lot of support! I couldn’t work as much as I do without the support of my mother and my father in law. They both look after the kids one day a week at our place. My mum does most of our washing and all of our ironing.
My friends and my sister are amazing too. We all live within a five-kilometre radius of each other and they are more than happy to babysit.
My husband works six days a week and long hours. I therefore need to have a really strong support network to call upon to help me throughout the week, to make the juggle possible.
How long did it take you to get into the “groove” of your new routine?
Each time that I have gone back to work, I have started a new job so it has been hard. Daunting, definitely. A new position to get my head around and new team members to build relationships with. I would say at least three months.
Plus, worrying about the kids. Firstly, it was just Harry and then Harry and Grace. I moved Harry to a new centre so they could both be at the same childcare. Grace settled in really quickly. She is easy going and carefree. It took Harry a little longer. However, it was a new level of “juggle” for all of us to settle into.
What support structures do you have in place to help you throughout your week?
The kids are at childcare two days per week. My mum and my father in law look after the kids one day each. Mum is a huge help with all of the household domestics. We also have a cleaner who comes once a week.
What childcare arrangements do you have in place?
Harry and Grace go to childcare two days per week. They go to a local community based centre. I had heard across the grape vine that it had a really good reputation and I was lucky enough to get them both in. The community childcare centres tend to have a higher ratio of educators to children and like to involve the family as much as possible. We couldn’t be happier with the centre.
What do you do if your children are sick on one of your work days?
It depends on how sick they are. If they aren’t crying out for me, then my Mum or my father in law will look after them. If they are really sick, I will always come home from work or work from home.
There have been times when I have had crucial meetings that I have needed to attend. If this is this case, Nick will stay home from work for a half day. These are very rare circumstances.
I am really fortunate that my work is very accommodating and understanding. We have carers days built into our packages but I have only needed to take two a year.
How do you cope with sleepless nights when you have work the following day?
I just push through! It’s just a part of being a parent. I do try and go to bed a little earlier the next night if I can.
I try not to be too busy during the weeks. It’s hard though, as you still want to see your friends and the weekends go so quickly.
The biggest challenge of being a working Mum is…..
I find that I feel guilty about the welfare of my children. I constantly feel like I’m not doing a good enough job and due to time pressures I have to cut corners or outsource. For example, with the children’s dinner they generally have eggs on toast one night a week as it is quick and easy. I love cooking and if I wasn’t working I would be cooking really nice home cooked meals and offering the family more variety. We still maintain a healthy diet. It just consists of quick and easy meals.
I would like to have more quality time with the kids and to be able to do more fun activities. I find that when I’m not working I’m catching up on domestics and trying to squeeze as much as I can into the three days a week that I am away from the office. I don’t feel like I am able to give them the quality time that I want to. Family time is a challenge, especially as Nick works six days a week.
Coupled with this, your quality time with your partner suffers. It’s extremely rare to have one on one time together.
I still want to be career focussed and progress but I don’t want to do that at the expense of working every night when I get home. It’s challenging, as I want to show that I am ambitious but I also need the work, life, balance.
In general, what aspects of being a Mum do you find challenging?
When I am tired, I find that my patience levels are low and it’s easy to get upset with the kids.
What time management secrets do you have up your sleave?
You need to be extremely prepared for your upcoming week. I plan our meals for the week and do one big grocery shop so I don’t need to go back and forth to the supermarket.
I would be lost without my slow cooker! I pre-cook food on the weekends. I prepare healthy meals that can be frozen and reheated during the week.
I organise the kids bags and clothes for childcare the night before. I’m always multi-tasking. I make or return phone calls whilst I’m in transit. I set up direct debits for our bills so I don’t have to worry if they have been paid. Online shopping is my best friend. I shop for new clothes for the kids and I online.
What skills or behaviours has motherhood taught you that you have been able to utilise back in the workforce?
Definitely to be more efficient. I find that I am more efficient towards everything that I do. I structure my day more efficiently and as a result I now have better time management. This has improved my ability to prioritise tasks. I am also more assertive as I have less time to put up with office politics.
If you look back at your working self before you became a Mum and compare yourself to the person you are today, do you think you have changed? If so, how and why?
Yes, I think I am more confident. I have the confidence now to back my abilities. I am more direct. I also feel that I have a greater ability to connect with people on different levels. When working with Senior Managers, I now find that I pick my battles carefully as I know what I will be able to get over the line. Which resonates exactly with how I deal with my children!
What do you enjoy most about being a working Mum?
I like the balance. I enjoy having the mental stimulation at work but I still love nothing more than coming home and seeing the kids. They are so entertaining. They just love spending time with us. I can’t believe how quickly they grow and develop. I love being a mother.
How do you feel emotionally when you are work?
I feel quite calm. I feel like I am valued in different sense to being a Mum. I like the responsibility of having different accountabilities. However, if the kids are sick it’s a different story. Mother’s guilt is in full swing.
Night time in your household looks like…….
Two nights a week I pick up the kids from childcare at 5:30pm, otherwise they are at home with grandparents. We have dinner at 6pm. Sometimes I eat with them if Nick is going to be really late. If Nick is going to be home at a reasonable hour I make something different for us. Dinner is always relatively healthy but quick and easy. After dinner, it’s bath time and then the kids play for a bit whilst I get their bags organised for the next day. Grace has two stories and is then asleep by 7:15/7:30pm. Harry is in bed by 8pm. Grace is going through a challenging phase. It’s an ongoing battle to get her bed. She keeps getting out of bed and wanting to come into the family room. Once she is asleep, she is good sleeper. We’re very lucky, both Harry and Grace have always been great sleepers.
Nick is generally home around 7-7:30pm but late nights can also be frequent. We try and have some downtime together before the day starts again. I’m generally in bed by 10pm.
Mornings in your household look like…….
I’m up at 6:30am. Grace is up between 6:30-7am and Harry at 7am. I have my clothes laid out the night before. I shower and get ready by 7am. I get the kids dressed and organise a snack for the pram for the walk up to childcare. They have breakfast at childcare. We’re then out the door!
The best advice you have been given about motherhood is……..
I think to just enjoy it! It such a wonderful thinking. I feel extremely privileged to be a mother. A lot of people can’t or aren’t in the position to have children. I feel very fortunate.
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
To be a loving and caring mother, through the good and the bad.
All of my domestic duties, I have learnt from Mum.
How do you treat yourself?
By going to the osteopath and getting a neck adjustment. Getting a massage or my nails done.
Exercise to some degree as well. It’s really hard to the find the time during the week. I was getting up at 5:30am to go for a run to make sure that I was home by 6:30am for Nick to leave to work.
Anything I do outside of the home, without the kids, I consider as a treat.
What approach do you take to your own health and wellbeing…?
I try to exercise when I can. I aim to do one run a week at lunchtime and one on the weekend. I was doing one in the morning but that has dropped off. I will pick it up again. I maintain a healthy and balanced diet and enjoy a nightly glass of wine to help me unwind.
Harry and Grace have taught you…….
Definitely the ability to multitask more and unconditional love. A different love that I never knew was possible until I became a mother.
Life as a working mother is…….
What do you think being a working Mum teaches your children?
I think that it teaches them to be more independent. Harry is very creative at finding things for himself to do or to play with. I think they really value the time that we do have together. I’m not there all the time so the time when we are together, is really special.
What advice would you give to Mums who are about to start the return to work journey?
I think you need to give yourself some slack. It takes time to adjust. Allow yourself time to settle into your new routine. Your kids are more resilient than you think. They do adjust. I think the working Mum finds the transition more challenging than the children.
At work, set expectations right from the beginning. You don’t know yourself how things are going to unfold.
Surround yourself with a personal support network and always have back up plans up your sleave.
If you’re thinking about returning to work, do get in touch. I would love to help you return to work with confidence, to start achieving your career goals!