"I absolutely love my kids and I adore my time with them. But I don’t want to look after them full time. And that was the choice – give up your career and be the rock of the house or leave."
Last weekend I was presenting on an all women panel at a conference. On the Monday, I was directing and producing a film shoot with an upcoming food writer. On Tuesday I flew to Melbourne to direct an ad with a female AFL star. I’m about to start the second draft of my novel. I’m having one of those career kick arse moments, where you have to stop and pinch yourself.
But this is all new. Just 18 months ago I was wondering what had happened to my career. Did I even care about my profession anymore? What did burning ambition even feel like?
I was a mum of two young kids and they had certainly drained a fair bit of drive out of me, but really, when I had a good look at it all, it was my whole home situation. And that includes my husband.
And it wasn’t his fault. Not completely, anyway.
He ran a business and it made more money than my freelance creative stuff. So, my stuff was less important. He had the freedom to leave early, get home late and work weekends when necessary. He went to networking events and made good contacts. I didn’t get to do these things. It wasn’t an option. Who would make the lunches? Who would cook dinner? Who would put the kids in the bath and generally run the house?
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Occasionally I would have an away job or an early shoot where I had to leave before the kids woke up. I absolutely loved the freedom of it, but it came with a price. It meant that I would be up until midnight the night before, getting things ready, or else the house would start to fall apart and as a result, I would feel guilty and stressed and then resentful.
Do Mums need to be more 'savvy' returning to work?
And when I think about time running out, I certainly do have a nagging feeling that I should spend more time with the people I really care about, deal with my social media habit, get focused, knuckle down, finally decide what I want to do with what remains of my life and then do it with ruthless efficiency before it is too late.
Do Mums need to be more 'savvy' returning to work?
It became too hard
But that little voice in my head still encouraged me, pushed me, dared me. And it was very quiet at first, but it was there. I am no stay-at-home mum. Not only is it the hardest job in the world, but it just isn’t me. I love working and being around people. Adult people. I enjoy deadlines and pitches and meetings and all that goes with it.
I absolutely love my kids and I adore my time with them. But I don’t want to look after them full time. And that was the choice – give up your career and be the rock of the house or leave.
Protect that smile. Encouraging your kid to brush twice a day with a dab of fluoride toothpaste will guard against cavities.
I didn’t leave because of my career. The career, I suppose, was a symptom of a much bigger problem. I didn’t even think about work, only that I would need to get a lot of work (as a contractor) to function as a single parent.
No more staying up late to prep for an early start. Image: iStock.
"It was exhilarating"
The more I worked, the more I remembered that not only do I love what I do, I’m also good at it. It was a surprise, being good at it. I had forgotten. And people liked what I was doing and asked me to do more and take on new and interesting projects I never thought I would be capable of. The freedom of having days where I didn’t have my kids meant I could focus on work more. It enabled me to travel if I needed to, and work later if it was required.
I was asked to speak at a conference, I did a writing course, I flew interstate with only a day’s notice to shoot a big TV drama campaign. It was exhilarating.
I know, absolutely, that not all men in families stifle their partners' career dreams.
And I know so many women who wouldn’t let that happen.
But in my family, it happened slowly. My husband’s business sucked all of our spare time and head space. Making time for my career to grow felt impossible.
I just plodded along, taking the safe jobs where I knew I could leave on time, the jobs that wouldn’t be too challenging when I was sleep deprived or dealing with the mental load of running four people’s lives. And I lost my confidence and passion.
Always tell the truth. It's how you want your child to behave, right?
I know now that having a job I love has made me happier and a better parent. And I’m so lucky to have a job I love. This rolls on to teaching my kids, especially my daughter, not to compromise, to always push for more, to follow her passions.
I’ve also learnt not to allow life to wash over me and blame others for it. Listen to that little voice. It gets louder. This is such an exciting time and I’m going to go for it.