Working as a mum: Here's how I chose what works best for my family

Kinderling News & Features

I’ve been a mum for five years and in that time have worked full-time, part-time and as a freelancer.

What was the better choice? Hmmm … a little from column A and a little from column B!

If I have learnt anything on my work and motherhood journey it’s that nothing stays the same for too long and achieving what you think you want can sometimes be less of a blessing than you’ve imagined.

Helpful? Let me explain.

Here's what happened to me

As a full-time working mum after my first baby, I had a terrific job that helped me ease back into the workforce, find myself and make decent money. But the fact my little boy was without me every day of the week was a real challenge. Hand on heart, I missed him most days, felt guilty about it and knew that should I ever be lucky enough to have another child, I’d do things differently.

Three years later, I was lucky enough to have another baby boy. I worked freelance while on maternity leave and loved the one day I devoted to working a week, but (no surprises here) that one day a week was hardly going to pay the mortgage or cover the daycare.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation: Are working mums primed for anxiety?

How I got my own balance right

 It took another job opportunity – three days a week to help me find my feet.  In all honesty, when my youngest was a baby and still not sleeping through the night, two days a week would have been ideal. But again, tough financially.

And that’s part of the struggle when you’re a working mum because your day job is literally only just part of your day. You don’t stop working after work, because you have a bigger, better and more demanding job waiting for you at home, looking after everything else.

So how do you make the best choice for you?

What are the pros and cons when it comes to all the ways we can work and parent?

Four mums shared their stories with Kinderling.

The part-time mum

Sally has two children and works three days a week

"I just stick to my own routine - just like the kids! So Monday is reserved for house stuff (washing, ironing etc) and any activities squeezed in too. And Friday my other day off is for any play dates, shopping, relaxing. My days at work are strict work days and when I am home it’s log-off time. I sometimes use my Monday to get ahead for work on Tuesday so things aren’t frantic and tend to respond to urgent emails on my days off - annoying but doesn’t take long and saves me grief during my three days in the office.

"It’s important for me to give my kids the time on my days off just like I give work the time when I’m in the office. They don’t ever complain that I work because they don’t see me working! Also ... I have started to do ironing (yes, I iron!) on my Sunday nights now so Monday is a little more free. It’s worked well! If there’s too much housework I just skip a few things so it doesn’t get frantic. So washing towels can wait till tomorrow, etc. I also like to do a cook-up on the weekend that includes some frozen meals for midweek dinner. So lasagne, soup, etc, AND sometimes eggs or sandwiches for dinner is OK! Everyone is still fed."

 The job-share mum

Sarah Parker co-founded Puffling, a job-share agency for parents after facing the work/life/balance dilemma has a working parent. She has two children and job-shares. 

"As a mum of two toddlers, working part-time didn't work for me and neither did full-time. It felt like a lose-lose situation! I had the choice to work full-time and progress my career but it meant sacrificing time with the kids. Full-time work meant I would only see them at dinner time when they would be exhausted after a long day at daycare which I wasn't prepared to do,” says Sarah.

“Working part-time meant, while I had time with the kids, I took a step back in my career and took a lower level role as my employer at the time didn't believe my previous senior role could be done part-time. I got paid less and unfortunately like many women, ended up working the equivalent of full-time hours to prove my worth and because I felt grateful to have a part-time job. 

“This is the exact reason why we started Puffling, where we match two women together to job-share - it means you work part time but without compromising your role, your time with your family or your career progression. You know the work will continue without you in the office by someone you trust and you get the benefit or bouncing ideas off your work partner. Businesses get the benefit of two heads for the price of one and the unique opportunity for more tasks to be completed. More and more women are seeking flexibility but don't want it to mean they trade down. There's a huge exodus of senior, talented women from the corporate world after they have children because the right kind of part-time work doesn't exist. It's time for it to change!"

The part-time mum who switched to full-time by choice

Jem has two children and went from working four days to five days a week

“Going back to work - four days - saved me! After my first daughter was born, I was lonely, depressed and lost. I loved her but hated the monotony of motherhood. I didn't know how to make things better. I was scared to go back to work. Piling that responsibility onto the burden of motherhood, still waking four times a night, still breastfeeding, how was I going to manage all of that? But it was amazing. I found myself again. I re-engaged my brain. I love my work, and it is a huge part of who I am. So I was more fulfilled and more confident. And the depression lifted. And I found the balance of working motherhood was right for me. I loved the work, I loved my child and I got enough me time to love myself again.

“But part-time work is hard. You're still doing a full-time job in many cases. Add in sick children and the requisite days off to care for them and ... things snowball very fast. I'm now working full time - for money and also because it makes everything easier. There's an extra day to fit in all the work that needs doing. And the kids are happy and thriving in school and daycare. If it didn't work for them, I wouldn't do it. But it does, so I do.”

The always-worked full-time mum

Rachel has two children and works five days a week

“I’ve accepted I can’t cook during the week. My toddler wants to stick her hand in the gas stove, and it’s not safe to let her help, especially when you have to get them fed quickly after work. If you can, adjust your hours, and have one partner drop off the kids at daycare and the other pick up. I’m conscious of trying to pick them up by 4pm if I can.

"Because they’re in full-time care, I find having some play time with them every day really helps us find that work/life balance. I do leave the house before 6am to get to work though, I’m lucky to have my husband dropping the kids off in the morning. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. I try and get dinner on the table by 5pm, kids in the bath by 6pm and them both in bed by 7pm.  Then I can go and clean up, do a load of washing and pack my own lunch for the next day.”