The parenting trap

It’s becoming clear to me that there isn’t anything near an ideal life scenario for modern parents.

The stay-at-home parents go stir-crazy and envy the ones working and earning incomes. The full-time workers envy the stay-at-home parents and wish they could have more time with their kids. The part-time workers face the constant juggle of dashing from school drop-off to work to school-pick-up to after school activities to dinner without ever feeling like they have a moment to themselves.

I’ve been working full-time since July and doing it as a single parent has been quite the rollercoaster. If I didn’t have kind school mums to help me I’d be totally stuffed.

I’ve barely seen my kids this week because of coparenting and work. They leave me every Sunday morning to spend the day and Monday with their dad. Normally I would get them back on a Tuesday afternoon through to Wednesday morning, but not this week because I was at the Wine Communicator of The Year Awards for work.

Then I jumped on a plane on Wednesday afternoon for a work trip to Melbourne. My plane was delayed coming back to Sydney, so things got VERY hairy. I landed at Sydney Airport at 5pm, had to get to Chatswood to collect my car, then get the dogs and the youngest by 6pm.

THAT got the adrenaline pumping.

Then I had to scramble around getting the kids dinner while still feeling deliriously tired in the wake of the flu.

It reminded me of a blog I wrote way back in November 2011 called “My working mum’s utopia” which went like this …

We had a mums’ morning tea earlier this week to farewell one of the fold. She’s returning to full-time employment after four and a half years at home. I’ve only been at home four and a half months. If I stay at home for four and a half years, I’ll be 48. I’m not sure how exciting I’ll be to employers at 48 without a university degree.

She’s only 38, much sexier. She’s approaching her life change with excitement and trepidation. Leaving her six-year-old and three-year-old is a big step. Especially when her new boss reckons the kids “better get used to not seeing much of mummy”. Nice.

She requested a part-time role, or to work from home one day a week. Resounding no. Her line in the sand was being late to the office twice a week, so she can drop the kids at school. Her boss grudgingly agreed. She’s hired a nanny to do the rest.

While the challenge of the role was a major drawcard, so was the chance to chip away at her mortgage and afford holidays again. Some of the mums were envious of her escaping to the workplace. Earning money. Others despaired about ever working again. All too hard.

It’s made me wonder what my workplace utopia would look like.

I’ve decided it would be filled with understanding, supportive mums. Hours would be flexible: early starts with school-pick-up finishes; job shares; school-hours roles; no dirty looks when you leave at 5pm or 5.30. I reckon it would go gangbusters.

Working mums work hard – they get the job done (right) and get out. No mucking about, no time for faffing. They’ve got places to go, kids to pick up, dinners to cook. And if they think they can do the job part-time, I say give ’em a chance. Since I’ve stopped work, I don’t see the two-full-time-working-parents scenario as being truly viable. It means outsourcing vast swathes of your parenting to nannies, daycare centres and OOSH.

But parents (and kids) need more than that. Our kids should be able to leave school some days with their mum or dad, kick about in their own backyard, do their homework before dark, have playdates. Not be constantly rushed from pillar to post by overstressed adults weighed down by too many responsibilities and expectations.

I want to work. I want to be a mum. I want to do both well (and still have time for me). It should be possible. I’m dreaming, aren’t I?

I know now that I WAS dreaming and part-time isn’t really the answer either, it’s just as fraught and stressful as the other scenarios.

I hear from many women who are – as Richard Sauerman noted earlier this week – battling with have-to-do lists that are far, far longer than their want-to-do lists.

Stress and niggling resentment are to be found in that scenario, rather than joy and contentment.

But I don’t have any ideas on a solution, do you?  I SO wish I did, because so many people are struggling.

Song of the day: Kate Bush “This woman’s work”

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