- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 07 August 2012 08:16, Updated 08 August 2012 07:48
There are almost as many angles to the dilemma of combining a career with a family as there are people trying. Some measures to improve the plight of those balancing both sit reasonably within the realm of government and business to address. Ensuring access to affordable and quality childcare, offering parental leave and providing flexible working hours are among the significant pieces of public infrastructure that facilitate parents’ participation in the workforce. But some of the trials facing working parents are far more personal and far less amenable to public policy.
One such angle, which makes the ever-elusive balance slightly more difficult to achieve, has been brought to my attention twice in recent days. Guilt. Not the variety that working parents quietly carry around but the kind their children vocally impress upon them. “There’s a lot of discussion around maternity leave and babies but the reality is the balance becomes much harder as the kids grow older,” Microsoft Australia’s managing director and mother of two, Pip Marlow, says. Logistics certainly contribute to this. School hours are less accommodating of a standard working day than daycare is and school holidays present another regular obstacle that parents of younger children avoid altogether.
Even so, logistics pale into insignificance when compared with dealing with children’s emotional expectations. “Once your kids are talking, then they do start asking questions and they can be difficult conversations,” Marlow says. As the working mother of a toddler whose sentences are yet to extend beyond four words, it is unfamiliar territory. Because I haven’t heard my daughter ask why I go to work while other children’s parents don’t, I am free to navigate any guilt largely by ignoring it. I understand that becomes much harder to do when someone is demanding an explanation at the breakfast table.
Last Wednesday afternoon a work colleague discovered, via a text message from another parent, that her daughter had won a prize at a school presentation. Her reaction, shortly after the inevitable rush of parental pride, was to dread the evening that lay ahead. At breakfast her kids had already expressed their dismay, in no uncertain terms, that she would not be in the audience that afternoon. This would be compounded that night. It wasn’t just a school presentation she had missed but a school presentation in which her daughter was awarded a prize. Most of the time, this colleague says, her kids are fine with her working. But when it impedes on their schedules or a particular event pops us, they start asking questions.
Marlow agrees. One way she attempts to handle her daughters’ reactions to her work is by exposing them to her job to instil in them some understanding and respect for what she does. She admits it doesn’t always work but says it helps her manage one of the trickier elements of being both the parent and executive she wants to be. These personal skirmishes that working parents encounter in the privacy of their own homes cannot be overcome by company or government policy. But they underscore precisely why adequate policies and effective management practices that do overcome the manageable obstacles are vital. Even with the best infrastructure in place, working parents are likely to face tough resistance. Without that support, the balance itself might prove too easy to resist altogether.