My mother gave up her thesis when my brother and I were born. She found she just couldn’t do it. She never got back to it.
Fellow PhD student
A few years after I became a mother, I realised that I don’t have a career any more. I just have a job.
Senior HR professional
That break we took in Fiji was so good. It have me a chance to reconnect with my children again.
Senior public servant
People want me to come and talk about work life balance because they think I have solved it. But I haven’t. All that has happened is that my husband has taken on the stay-at-home role.
Senior public servant
I really didn’t get a chance to do anything until my children were in their teens, and by then it was almost too late. I’m glad I had my children early, even though it was hard going at the time.
I haven’t been able to do any research since my children were born, even though my husband is the person who is working a part time job.
I don’t think I’m looking for a career anymore. Interesting work with interesting people will do.
Senior public servant
I think I might see if I can go part time in a few years, down to 80%. I know I will still have to work full time, but at least I won’t have to work weekends too.
These are all conversations I have had, over the past few years. I can’t guarantee that the words are strictly accurate, but they are more-or-less right. I’ve certainly remembered the spirit of what people have said to me, because the particular sentiments have stuck in my mind. I can remember exactly who it was who said each of those things: there’s a real name of a real live woman to go with each of those quotes.
I’ve been engaged in an on-going conversation about work-life balance, with so many people. I virtually always talk to mothers in paid employment about their childcare arrangements, trying to work out what it is that makes paid work viable for them. Some of them have nannies, even when their children are all at school, but then, they feel that they don’t really know their children at all. Others have pre-schoolers, so although they regret the lost hours, they haven’t yet struck the after-school and school holiday juggle, which is another whole nightmare. Others have found that if they want to parent their children, then they must abandon their careers, or at least, put them on hold. Some women work a shortened year, but not as short as would suit me.
My own chequered employment career is testament to an on-going struggle with work-life balance. I’ve worked in business, in the academy, and in the public service, and nowhere have I been able to find balance. Business bored me, at least at the low level I was working at. The academy was poisonous, for reasons, some to do with me, some to do with the particular institution at the particular time I was working there, some to do with the nature of academic work in general, some to do with my discipline. The public service was rather better, at least in my unit, where my single, childless, male boss (go figure!) made a big effort to create an environment where parents could work part time, and flexibly. Nevertheless, that is the environment where I heard one woman talking about reconnecting with her kids, and where Mr Strange Land and I became convinced that we needed a wife. The fact is, I have been able to find no solution to the problem of ensuring that my children are cared for, and loved, and parented, and nurturing my own career, and me. If I pursue a career, my children suffer; if I leave paid employment, then not only do I go quietly mad (‘tho Mr Strange Land likes to point out that it ain’t so quiet), but in the longer term, I may lose out, and so too may our daughters.
Of all the childcare/parenting/working possibilities, the shortened year is the one that would work best for me. I’m starting to think that my ideal job (NB: job, not career), is 20 hours per week, in school term time. But that means there’s no management track for me. (And yes, I really would like to run something, some day.)
Even then, the shortened year only works for some people because other people continue to work full time. Someone is there to answer the phones, clear the e-mail, clean the kitchens, resupply the photocopier, talk to clients, just do what needs to be done to keep the organisation ticking over. The fact is that our societies and our work structures are organised around 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, and the shortened week is an exception to that. As long as we continue to organise work around that 9 to 5 structure, some people will have to work far longer than they want in order to make flexi-hours possible for the rest of us.
I see no solutions other than a total re-imagining of the way we work.
More to come, in a few days – it’s taking me a while to pull my thoughts on this into coherent form.