Women at work, beyond the 9 to 5: The untold realities of working mothers’ lives.
Cathy* has two kids aged 12 and 14, and works full time. She has a really positive outlook on life, and I think that has a bit to do with what she says no to – and where she says yes!
The moment everything changed
Cathy did not always have a good work life balance. When her children were young, she was working long hours and had no space in her life at all.
“I was managing a team and I was so robotic, working really late hours all the time. My husband was saying, ‘where’s my wife, I don’t have a wife anymore’. There was no work life balance at all.”
Then, her husband had a serious health scare. Cathy found him, and he had to be revived using defibrillators in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
The next morning, she had meetings booked in for work – and she went to them. Her husband rang her from hospital to ask if she was coming to see him, but she was on her way from school drop off to work.
“It all hit me. I had no idea what my priorities were. My manager called and asked what I was doing, and said he was cutting me off; I wasn’t allowed to work.”
“It wasn’t until then that I questioned what I was doing. I was so conditioned to prioritise work that I didn’t even pay attention to a family crisis going on in front of me. That put everything into perspective.”
“I took four weeks carers leave and spent that time with my husband and kids. It strengthened our relationship and made me take a better work life balance. I don’t want to make work my life. My family is my life.”
That support from her workplace meant a lot to Cathy. She’s been there now for 10 years and explains that as the loyalty she’s given back for supporting her then (and since then as well).
But the juggle doesn’t end
That moment changed everything for Cathy, but it’s still a juggle to fit everything into life. Her kids are growing up, and she says they’re at a great age where they have a bit more independence, but there’s still a time shortage!
“[My biggest challenge is] trying to fit everything in the limited hours I have in a day.”
She gets up before 5am to do back-to-back gym classes, then is home to shower and get the kids off to school. She jokes she’s often ready only 5 minutes before the first meeting of the day starts!
“On the days I have to go into the office I really struggle.”
“I’m always working outside the contracted hours of 9-5, but there’s that understanding that if I have personal commitments during work time then I make that up later.”
She hasn’t forgotten where her priorities lie after that terrible incident with her husband, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
Mother guilt and the daily grind
More than half the women interviewed for Beyond the 9 to 5 have shared that they feel like they’re not doing a good enough job at home or at work. And for Cathy, it’s no different.
“There is that inner guilt you feel. I would always pick up and drop off the children, so every afternoon I would need to leave. If we were booking in meetings, I would have to say I couldn’t make it. There were limitations that I felt about myself.”
She doesn’t need to do that now, as the kids are old enough to make their own way home, but now she works hard and takes on a lot of the home responsibilities.
“I’m in that habit of work, work, work, work, work.”
“Being the mother and working from home, I do a lot of the responsibilities like cooking dinner, tending to the children, washing the clothes and housework. I’m always at home, so I do stuff in the house in between work, getting the house stuff done.”
“But how do I fit it all in? It’s very structured.”
The positive impact of shared care
Cathy took three years out of the workforce when she had her children, and then her husband took a career break while she returned to work.
“Going through that was a great experience for both of us – I was able to reconnect and say I was loving going back to work, and he got to connect with the kids.”
It’s been proven that when fathers are involved with their children while they’re young, the kids have better school and social outcomes, and women have higher workforce participation and earnings. Both of these things are true for Cathy and her family, but there was an initial transition period.
“He absolutely didn’t know what to do the first day. I was working from home, so he knocked on my door and said, ‘I need your help, I’ve got one that’s hungry and one that needs a nappy change’. I said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you. I don’t come knocking on your door at work.’”
“I took a stand, and he didn’t talk to me for a day and a half, but he ended up finding his groove and was able to cope. It was a real eye opener for him, he didn’t think it would be that hard.”
As Cathy said, she’d been dealing with both challenges for over a year, and she wanted him to work it out so parenting success and the family dynamic weren’t dependent on her being involved all the time.
“I am striving for equality. We need to be equal because I can’t do everything!”
When Cathy first had her babies, she and her husband defaulted into a 1950’s model where he came home to a clean house and a cooked dinner at the end of the day. The transition away from that has made their relationship so much better.
Finding joy and fulfillment
Cathy comes across as happy, energetic and interested in life, and I think it’s partly driven by her commitment to the things she loves that make her come alive.
She gets a lot of satisfaction from community work. She’s on the Committee for her local Scouts group where her son participates and participated in two industry bodies related to her work.
She works in an industry where women are underrepresented, so part of her volunteer work is creating events and networking opportunities for other women in the industry. They also build important relationship with allies, to support women progressing and improving.
She also finds time for herself – not just the 5am gym starts!
“I love playing in my garden. I find it really therapeutic to put my headphones in and sing. I absolutely love going to concerts. I love heavy metal music and love going out to dance the night away, rock it out and let loose. I think it’s really important to make that time.”
She protects her Sunday family day.
“We always do something, like go to the blue mountains for a bushwalk, or to the beach, or to the hobby shop to buy a model. I’ve always made a conscious effort to spend time with the family.”fine.”
And Cathy and her husband make sure they go away for the school holidays each year.
“I’m all about experiences. We do a lot of travelling; we’ve taken the kids to a lot of places. I love creating memories, so I try and live every day to the fullest, and I surround myself with amazing people. I choose to surround myself with people who add value and make me feel good, and we have a laugh and enjoy each other’s company.”
“I said to my husband the other day, we have a pretty good life. I feel fulfilled within me.”
You can say yes too
If you want to feel like your life is fulfilling and joyful as well, you can. I help wmen create careers and lives that make them fulfilled and joyful, so get in touch!
*Not her real name. Because of the stigma faced by working mothers, the motherhood penalty, and the fact that the state of women’s relationships directly affects the state of their lives and careers, the women in this series have chosen to remain anonymous.
If you would like to share your story, please send me a message!