Shelley describes life as a working mum as “busy but fulfilling!”
Shelley Salzke is a primary teacher and the mother of two beautiful, six-year-old twin girls, Rebecca and Amy. Shelley and I are neighbours but despite living next door to one another, we only met when I commenced maternity leave. Both working women, our weekly schedules were jam packed and unfortunately our paths never crossed until this time. In between travelling back and forth to the hospital to care for my little man (who was born at 33 weeks), Shelley introduced herself over the fence. From this moment, we learnt that we shared an instant common ground, we had both given birth to premature babies. Shelley’s journey was another level deeper than ours, her girls arrived at 27 weeks. When they were born they were the size of your hand. Fighters from the beginning, they beat all the odds and came home after three months. They are Shelley and Jody’s little miracles.
Since our initial meeting, Shelley has been such an amazing support and friend to me. We have supported each other through the ups and downs of fertility, talked about every aspect of motherhood and watched our children form a beautiful friendship.
Here is Shelley’s journey…
Tell me a little bit about your family…
I am married (to Jody) with two children. Six year old twin girls. We have been married for 8.5 years.
Your lifestyle and career before becoming a Mum looked like…
I have been a school teacher for 10 years. I enjoyed going to work. I spent a lot of time at work and on weekends preparing for school. I found teaching to be really fulfilling. I also had a number of hobbies that I enjoyed, music theatre, dancing, singing and craft.
Tell me about your job and what you do
I am a primary school teacher. Before I went on a maternity leave I was working full time as a prep teacher in an independent school. I had been there for five years.
How old were your girls when you returned to work? How did you know that you were ready to go back to work?
The girls were 15 months when I returned to work. I went back part-time, two days per week. Looking back, I don’t think that I was ready. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much choice. At an independent school, you can only have 12 months off. If you then decide to take additional leave, you can potentially lose your job.
I accepted a position as a part-time music teacher. I was grateful for the opportunity. I knew it was good decision for me professionally but I found the transition and this time, very difficult. Fortunately, my Mum was able to look after the girls so we didn’t have to put them in childcare. I maintained this position for two years and then I went back to work full-time when the girls were three years old. I was able to return to full-time employment as the girls attended Kinder at the ELC where I taught.
Did you return to the same workplace? If yes, did you return to the same position or a new role?
Yes, I did. They were very accommodating. I returned two days per week to begin with and then two years later I accepted a full-time position. The decision to come back full-time was in hindsight, the best decision for me. I wasn’t getting the job satisfaction working part-time. I felt like I was always chasing my tail. Working full-time provided me with a better balance. I also, knew that the girls were getting a really good start to their education as well.
Your biggest concerns and worries about going back to work were…..
Missing out on time with the girls. I felt guilty for being away from them. I found it hard to enjoy being at work. Even though I liked what I was doing, the pull of wanting to get back home to them was always very strong.
It took me about 18 months to settle back into the workforce and to come to terms with my decision. I definitely think this also has to do with their start in life. They are our little miracles.
How do you juggle work and motherhood?
I couldn’t do it without the support of my husband. We work together at home to make everything possible. At times, it can be really hard. Jody’s job requires him to regularly travel interstate.
Sometimes we don’t always attain the balance between work and home life that we are striving to achieve, but… we do our best. Being a teacher certainly helps because I have the school holidays. The school terms are really busy. Then we have the holidays to relax and enjoy our time together.
The fact that my profession has such fantastic holidays was a key player in my decision making to return to work as teacher. If I was in a role that offered the standard 20 days’ annual leave, I don’t think that I would have been able to go back to work.
What support structures do you have in place to help you throughout your week?
My Mum picks up the girls one day a week which allows me to stay back and get work done. The school has also been really accommodating. They have allowed me to start a little later, finish earlier and permitted me to do more work from home. This has certainly helped our family. The girls started their first year at school and the flexibility ensured that I was able to keep working full-time and also be there for my girls.
My husband is great support. It’s very import that we communicate to each other what needs to happen and when. For instance, if I need to attend an extra meeting he will then organise his day so he can pick the girls up. We really support each other to make our week’s work.
In regards to the practicalities, we have a cleaner who comes and cleans the house once a week.
What childcare arrangements did you have in place before the girls started school?
My mum looked after the girls until they were three. They then started at in the ELC at my school, three days per week from 8:30am to 3:30pm. Mum continued to looked after them on the other two days. This arrangement worked really well for all of us.
What do you do if your child is sick on one of your work days?
Usually, my mum is available to look after the girls. Pending on what it is… sometimes they just need me and I’ll stay at home. Jo and I will try and alternate who takes time off so we both aren’t missing too many days of work.
Sometimes you feel guilty when your children are sick. You feel that you should be the one to look after them. I find those days at work really challenging. I know my girls need me and there are times when I can’t be there to look after them.
How did you cope with sleepless nights when you had work the following day?
Thankfully, we didn’t have too many of those but it can be tricky. I was fortunate that when they were younger and they were waking up overnight I was only working two days.
When the girls are sick and I haven’t had a lot of sleep, I need to remind myself to have extra patience with the children. It’s not the children’s fault that I am exhausted.
The biggest challenges of being a working Mum are…..
Time! The weekends go so quickly.
Not always being available to do the school pick-ups and to then not have the opportunity to develop the relationships with other parents in the class. I hope that the girls don’t miss out on too much by not having those impromptu stops at the park with other families, that we don’t get to do.
The girls have been doing activities on the weekend but we have just stopped. It’s nice to have the weekends back for family time.
In general, what aspects of being a Mum do you find challenging?
Sometimes having patience. Especially in the evenings when I am tired after a full day at work. There is no down time. As soon as I pick the girls up or walk in the door I start a whole new role again. Maybe my patience is also lower because I have a full day working with children!
Additionally, knowing that you are responsible for every aspect of your children’s growth (physical, mental, their values…). I find that I am constantly asking myself if I am doing the right thing.
What time management secrets do you have up your sleave?
I try to get things packed the night before. Try! It doesn’t always happen. I have all of their clothes laid out. Their school bags packed and their lunches made the night before.
I aim to get myself up and ready before I get the girls up. It doesn’t always work because they are light sleepers.
What skills or behaviours has motherhood taught you that you have been able to utilise back in the workforce?
Motherhood has made me grow. It has given me more confidence in my abilities. This has transitioned back into the workplace and my aspirations in the workplace. I’m now as a result, exploring leadership opportunities.
Knowing that you’re your child’s advocate makes you become more of an advocate for yourself. You become more confident in who you are. I attribute a lot of that to being a Mum.
I feel like am setting a good example for my children. That you can do both. You can have a career and be a great Mum and there is nothing wrong with that. At the start, when I first went back to work, I didn’t think that you could do both. Now I know that you can!
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 have. I have definitely become a lot more confident in myself and my abilities.
I am more confident in the workplace. I’m not afraid to tackle an issue head on. I’m more focussed and less distracted on my goals. Mainly because I don’t have time not to be!
What do you enjoy most about being a working Mum?
I love teaching. I have always been very lucky that I have a lot of job satisfaction. When I was teaching music for the two years part time, I did lose some of that satisfaction.
I like building the rapport with a class for a year. I find it the most rewarding part of being a teaching
How do you feel emotionally when you are work?
The first 18 months were really hard. I had a lot of guilt. I felt guilty if I was enjoying my working day. I didn’t believe that I should feel happy when I wasn’t around my children.
It then started to get much easier. I looked forward to going to work and then of course then coming home to be with my girls. I knew that the girls were always well looked after and happy.
Night time in your household looks like…….
We are generally home by 5:30pm. As soon as we get home it’s all about the girls. Dinner, bath, play and in bed by 7pm, with the view of being asleep by 7:30pm
Sometimes, I cook just for the girls. Other nights the girls and I eat together if my husband is going to be really late or if he is home at a reasonable hour we eat together.
On the weekends, we enjoy dinner together as a family.
Mornings in your household look like…….
They try to be a well-oiled machine but sometimes the wheels fall off!
The most challenging aspect is trying to give the girls a good breakfast and allowing them the time to eat it. I aim to do the mornings on my own but sometimes Jo will come down and help. Often, just to get the girls in the car.
The girls are pretty good when Jo is away. I say we have to work as a team and we do!
The best advice you have been given about motherhood is……..
To trust yourself! Mother’s instinct. I think it has taken me a couple of years to believe in this for myself and to trust my ability.
When my children were little I knew that I should trust my instincts but I still second guessed myself. The older they get; I have found that it gets a little easier. I just need to keep reminding myself that no one knows them like I do.
What has your own mother taught you about life and motherhood?
That you can really do anything if you put your mind to it. You don’t have to rely on anyone else for your achievements. If you want something, you just need to set your mind to the task, work hard and go and get it!
She has also taught me a lot about sacrifice for your children and I hope that I can teach my girls that too.
How do you treat yourself?
This is something that I really did struggle with early on. Up and till the girls were about four, I never took time out for myself.
I have now started to get back into my past times. Allowing myself to do my craft and my hobbies that I enjoy. I go to the hairdressers more often. I now savour this time. In contrast, I used to get really agitated when I was there as I wanted to be back with the girls.
Again, I think my feelings all relate back to their start in life and the journey that we accomplished together.
In the school holidays, my mum will have the girls for a day or two. I really look forward to the time to myself. I know that the girls are loving their time with their grandmother and my mum is enjoying every minute with the girls. We are all getting something that we love.
The girls have got such great bonds with all of their grandparents and we try to encourage this where we can.
What approach do you take to your own health and wellbeing…?
I try to get more sleep when I can. That’s one thing that I feel that I need. I am also trying to be more organised with my meals. I have recently committed to Lite n’ Easy and I have lost 7kg!!
When I started working full time, I began snacking a lot and put on more weight. Now I am beginning to take control again. It has been a good way to keep my own wellbeing in check. It’s really hard for me to exercise as I don’t have the time and I have had a hip injury. I would like to go back to doing some form of exercise but it’s time away from the girls and then mother’s guilt steps in. I always look forward to summer. More day time hours to enjoy time outdoors.
Your girls have taught you…….
They have given me an understanding or an experience of a love that has no bounds. Unconditional love. You love your partner, husband but the love but the love you have for your children is like no other.
They have given me an incredible sense of gratitude to be able to be a mother. We struggled with the highs and lows that come with a path of infertility. As much I thought motherhood was something that you choose, sometimes you don’t. It’s frightening to think that I nearly didn’t have this opportunity. It’s very humbling to know that I have been blessed to have children.
Life as a working mother is…….
Busy but fulfilling.
What do you think being a working Mum teaches your children?
Having daughters, I think that it sends a message that just because you’re a woman, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a career and be a mother as well. There is nothing wrong in wanting that. It sets a good example of work ethic and that both parents work to provide for their family.
What advice would you give to Mums who are about to start the return to work journey?
Even though you feel guilty, don’t. Whatever decision you have made it will always be the right decision for you and your family at the time. Trust your instincts. As long as you keep loving your children you will never fail.
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!
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