The secret to a happy life as a working mum

Kinderling News & Features

Deciding how and when you're going to head back to work can be a daunting time for mums. No matter how you felt about work before you had your kids, something is bound to have changed in terms of the way you look at it now you've got a family to consider. 

Possibly for the first time in your life, you might also be contemplating part-time work; but trying to figure out the pros and cons of working like this can be challenging when you don't know what to expect.

Prue Gilbert understands the motherhood-work dilemma, and the myriad of decisions we have to make once we return, better than most.

Mother to three kids, aged 8, 7 and 4,  Prue's also the Founder and CEO of Grace Papers, a network of programs seeking to empower working parents as they navigate their careers.

Prue told Kinderling how she balances her own work and family life, and also shares some really practical tips for other women navigating their way back to work after having a child. 

What are the pros of cons of full-time and part-time work for mums?

"The way you return to work is such a personal decision, and there are many different factors that can influence you – finances, childcare availability, values and career engagement. For a majority of Australian women, part-time is the preferred model because it allows them to integrate their family and career priorities," says Prue.

"But part-time work is not without its challenges, especially if the role you return to has not been appropriately redesigned to reflect that it's  part-time. 

"Beware the motherhood penalty of not being seen as ambitious now that you have a child! I’ve had experience using both. And as my children get older, my new variation is to take more holidays, and focus my time on quality connection, a core part of my parenting legacy, but which also enables me to invest in my professional vision."

 What’s your advice for women managing home and work life in both scenarios?

Be really clear about your professional vision and use it as the basis of your job redesign if you are choosing to work part-time.

Prue suggests the following:

  • Have a weekly meeting with your partner, and work through all the domestic and childcare responsibilities on the agenda for that week and then split them.
  • Play to your strengths, but make sure it’s an even split, as one of the biggest barriers to women’s participation and advancement in the workplace is the mental load.
  •  Ruthlessly prioritise.

"None of us  can do everything, so use your priority values as a guide to where and how you will invest your time," says Prue. "This will also enable you to achieve balance; for balance is not about time, it's about fulfilment of the heart."

 What insight can you offer women trying to decide between the two options?

"Personally, I’ve done both, and made both work successfully. When my children were really little, I worked part-time: two days, three days, four days, and this year, for the first time in nine years, I’m back at work full-time. I think what’s most important to remember is that no decision needs to be forever, so reassess as you need to, and take time to put the right structure in place. 

"This year, for example, I’ve been feeling a little sad that my baby goes to school next year, and that I’m not having a day a week with him like I did with the other children. But the reality is, I’d be selling him short because I know that he’d end up in front of the TV for several hours while I “just logged on to do a few things”, when he could be happily playing with his mates at childcare. So instead, I’m taking five weeks off at Christmas time, and I’m going to prioritise his school transition period," says Prue. 

What's your best tip for a working mum in each scenario, starting back after her first baby?

"For full-timers, my best tip is to think through the childcare structure. I’ve found a mix of quality early learning with a nanny means the domestic load is more manageable for my partner and me.  A nanny means we have more flexibility around care and work, and when we get home in the evening, we can invest our time in connecting with our children, rather than the frantic rush to get them bathed, fed and in bed," says Prue. 

"For part-timers, its super important to know that career progression in a part-time capacity in Australia is still a battle. Just six percent of all managers work part-time, indicating that there is still a career penalty. So, make sure you invest in your professional vision, engage some good sponsors to support you, and speak up. Also make sure that your job is not just five days crammed into three, that it is properly redesigned to reflect your new arrangement, and that you are paid appropriately with ongoing raises."

How has motherhood affected your experience of work? Did you choose part-time or full-time and how did you make that decision?