Why working mums should not feel guilty. By Heather Mollins
Today feels like the start of a new era. My husband is now the stay-at-home daddy to our smiley six-month-old baby and our “threenager”. Meanwhile, I’m zipping off in my mummy station wagon to the office, complete with real adults and endless hot beverage options. Our new routine is so 2018—even the New Zealand Prime Minister is doing it.
I’m not sure what to do with myself in this silent 30-minute drive to the office. It’s rare to have such a moment of peace, but I’m also struggling with the guilt all working mums have: not being at home with our children. So I decided to reflect on what motherhood has meant for my career—the many challenges, learnings and the opportunities it has created.
I really know my audience
Mums are considered the key decision makers in the household by most marketers. This is arguably outdated as my husband will now be more concerned with which washing powder we purchase (no love lost here), but in any case, I’ve worked in agencies where a bunch of young hipsters are jammed into a meeting room brainstorming ideas for Aussie mums. The truth is, until you walk in these shoes, it’s hard to get the perfect audience insights. I now have a stronger gauge of what resonates and what keeps mums up at night.
Our current system is messed up
Why should parents face a decision on whether to return to work and pay up to $180 a day (yes, per day) for childcare? It doesn’t seem worth it to work to pay for someone else to raise your children. And that’s if your child actually gets into daycare or after-school care. Waiting lists in Sydney are up to two years for daycare and Brisbane families are facing the same wait for after-school care.
The frustrating thing is there are solutions: pay parity, flexible working arrangements, “use it or lose it” leave for dads like they do in Norway (those Scandinavian countries seem to have their stuff together, don’t they?). I would love to get together with other leaders to consider how to pave the way for mums to return to work.
Forget the village, it takes a densely-populated city
It’s true, it takes a village to raise a child. For me, that village extends beyond family and into my business and workplace—think of it more like a densely-populated city. I would not have survived the past six months, including returning to work when Mr Smiley was only 10 weeks old, had it not been for the support of my amazing family, business partner and colleagues.
We need more business leaders who have empathy and compassion. But I will add that getting all the compassion in the world should be on the proviso employees still deliver. Working in a client-focused business, it shouldn’t be their problem if I’ve been up every two hours through the night with a teething infant.
Who killed our creativity?
There is no better way to shake off your stresses and spark creative ideas than playing with Lego, finger-painting, hide-and-seek or building a train track for Thomas to puff and hoot around. Playing like a toddler, with a toddler, opens your eyes to how we are all born creative and imaginative. When does it get beaten out of us? When do we start to colour within the lines?
I’ve started using my almost three-year-old as a testing ground for ideas. If he can grasp a concept or get excited about it, we’re usually on to a winner. My business partner thinks we should put him on the payroll.
“But we’re having fun here, Mum”
I’m a naturally speedy individual who moves at a million miles an hour, always doing four things at once and working with adrenaline to the next deadline. I guess that’s why I like public relations. My toddler, however, is a constant reminder to stay in the moment a bit longer and enjoy the ride (rather than always focusing on the destination).
He constantly stops to investigate his surroundings, picking up twigs and sticks, or pointing to cranes and buildings. When I try to hurry him out of the swing park so I can go home and get to the myriad of things I need to do, he looks at me confused and asks, “Why do we need to go home when we’re having fun here, Mum?” Fair point.
Reflecting on all of this as I arrive at the office, I decide to leave my parental guilt in the station wagon and focus on what a privilege it is to be a working mum. Ask me again at 5 pm, but for now I’m going to enjoy unaccompanied toilet breaks and a cuppa that remains hot when I get to the end.
Heather Mollins is the managing director of Seven Communications, a communications agency based in Sydney.