Women at work, beyond the 9 to 5: The untold realities of working mothers’ lives.
Cynthia* has a son in his first year of school, and she works part time for two separate organisations – two days each. Her unusual setup means she’s had to put very clear boundaries in place to make it all work!
Multiple part time roles
While a number of women featured in Beyond the 9 to 5 work part time, Cynthia is the only one to work two part time jobs at the same time. Working two days each in two organisations increases the complexity, but she makes it work for herself and her family.
One of the things that help make it work for Cynthia is her water-tight boundaries. Whereas numerous women have spoken about working more than their contracted hours, Cynthia does not.
“I don’t work more than paid. I flat out refuse. I don’t feel guilty about it. I understand how it can be awkward, but I refuse to [work above my paid hours].”
Cynthia is candid about the fact that climbing the corporate ladder isn’t one of her aspirations, which makes holding the boundaries easier.
“The good thing is, I don’t want to progress into any high levels in those organisations, so I’m ok if it’s career limiting. I’m comfortable learning and moving to new areas.”
How do we decide what success looks like
Cynthia raises an important piece for women to consider, which is how we choose what we value, and what success looks like.
Researcher Mary Blair Low said, “Work-family balance hinges on the cultural definition of what makes a meaningful and worthwhile life”. That is, what we value, and what our culture values, will determine how happy we are with our balance between work and family. Cultures that have a strong lean towards career progression as the definition of success are more likely to struggle with family balance.
Cynthia was able to redefine that value for herself and has a lot of moments in her life that she truly values.
“I’ve got all the things! I love the fact I get to spend time with my son in the morning and get to hang out. That means a lot to me, and I definitely don’t want to miss out on that. [I enjoy] sitting next to him and reading while he’s reading and drawing. I know he’s going to get bigger and he won’t want to hang out with me at all!”
“I do yoga in the morning and evenings, and I go for a lot of walks. It’s mostly me-time stuff. It’s not very ecxiting but that’s the stuff that I like to do. It makes me happy.”
And when I asked Cynthia how she manages to protect that time, she shares;
“Part of it is privilege, part of it is mindset. Everyone’s situation is really different, and it has work for you and your family. That’s hard! I do think if workplaces are more schooled in things like remote work it would be better.”
Valuing ourselves first
Cynthia’s experiences and thoughts are aligned with other women featured in Beyond the 9 to 5 on the topic of valuing ourselves.
Emily shared, ‘Don’t kill yourself working for people that don’t value you’. She’s incredibly career driven but wants to be valued for the work she does, and derives meaning from her impact.
For Cynthia, she knows she’s not seen as indispensable.
“I wasn’t going to put in the hard yards for an organisation that didn’t appreciate what I was doing. I don’t see myself as indispensable; I think the organisation will manage if I’m there or not. So, I’m not going to kill myself for a job when I’m just a little cog in a machine.”
This realisation came to Cynthia because of a huge loss in her own life.
“Part of the reason I have that mentality is that mum died about a decade ago and it was a big wake up call. She used to say, ‘I’m going to do all these things when I retire’, and she didn’t get to retire.”
Cynthia herself did a lot of travel before she had her son, and maintains that work is not the be-all and end-all for her.
“I’m not going to kill myself for someone who’s not even going to recognise me on my gravestone. It’s not going to say, ‘she was a good worker’.”
The gender parenting gap
“Most workplaces are filled with working parents nowadays. I think it’s hard, but in a lot of ways there’s a lot more understanding and options now for working parents to be able to juggle the unjugglable.”
And for Cynthia, her value comes from beyond her job.
“Working mums in particular, you get flattened down to ‘I’m a working mum’ and that’s it. But we all have our complexities. It’s a very different situation if you’re a male. Everything seems to be better and rosier when you have kids, whereas for women it gets harder.”
Cynthis is referring here to a combination of the Superwoman myth and the maternal wall – where women feel like they have to be and do it all in order to be successful but face specific barriers once they have children – and the fatherhood bonus, which sees men earn more when they have children.
“Girls are leap years ahead of the boys throughout school. Uni is not dissimilar. But then suddenly in the ‘real world’ it seems to flip. I don’t understand why it is that we have women performing and performing, and then we don’t have all female cabinets, or all female executive suites.”
Resetting your values and living with boundaries
As she already pointed out, being well-supported in her workplace and her family environment allows Cynthia some freedom to have the boundaries she does.
“Not everyone is able to be as boundaried, I’ve got enough working history and networks in different areas that I have options. You can’t be boundaried if you’ve got insane family constraints and you don’t have any support, and you’ve got a mortgage.”
But her mindset and decisions also support her. She refers to mothers struggling with school holidays and seeing ‘the stress roll off them’. She’s also looking to the future when her son has left home, and where she will derive meaning from.
“It’s a similar challenge parallel with work and raising kids, it can be all encompassing. We want everyone to see that you’re putting all this work in.”
If you feel like Amanda, you want to have a life outside work, and you don’t want to look around when your kids are all grown up and can’t remember who you even are, get in touch.
*not her real name. Because of the stigma faced by working mothers, the motherhood penalty, and the challenges of the juggle, the women in this series have chosen to remain anonymous.
If you would like to share your story, please send me a message!