On Budget night women’s groups applauded the Rudd Government’s decision to introduce a paid parental leave scheme. It was an historic victory thirty years in the making and yet, the announcement barely registered with an electorate more concerned about the government’s decision to increase the retirement age to 67 years in order to pay for it. So what does this tell us about the current workplace? It’s obvious most of us are not happy – we are working longer hours and in the absence of more flexibility in how we structure our working lives, the best we can hope for is to retire at an age where we are still fit and healthy enough to enjoy it.
New Zealand journalist and author of the new book, Because We’re Worth It: A ‘where to from here’ for today’s working mother, Gill South (pictured), says in the current economic climate, nobody wants to be seen as a ‘problem worker’, especially those who have families to support.
When researching for her book, she interviewed dozens of working mothers in Australia and New Zealand, including yours truly. Gill South told Australian Women Online, “A hundred percent of the women I interviewed really enjoyed their work. There were times when it’s really hard getting it all to work, but they enjoyed the work enough to keep trying. A lot of us enjoyed our careers before kids, so why on earth should we stop them after having children?”
According to Gill South, the demands of the current generation of working parents are being squeezed out by those of the Baby Boomers and Generation Y. “The baby boomers have already paid off their mortgages and are looking for a more flexible lifestyle and Generation Y are generally more assertive and they don’t have all these responsibilities.”
“The difficulty for working mothers is they have more to lose if they are seen as a ‘problem worker’ whose always demanding and asking for change – wanting more money and less hours,” she said. “I’d love to see women being more confident in the workplace – having more confidence when negotiating about how they want their work-life to function. But a lot of women are still fearful about asking for more flexibility.”
We want to be good wives and mothers, we also want fulfilling careers, but is it really possible to have both at the same time? With the ever-increasing work day and our reluctance to ask for help when we need it, the current generation of working mothers are utterly exhausted.
“I would also like to see women not trying to martyr themselves and do everything for their family – to get more help. And this might be just having a teenager come and help clean the house, or for women to actually be a bit selfish and actually do some things just for themselves,” said Gill.
Of course for many women, working outside the home has become more of a necessity, than a matter of personal choice. Most families find it difficult to survive on just one wage and with half of all marriages ending in divorce, more women are finding themselves in the position of having to work to provide for their children.
But as Gill South demonstrates in her book, when times get tough, working mothers are coming up with some surprisingly creative solutions to these challenges.
It is also important for working mums to remember that no-one succeeds alone. If you look at the lives of successful people, you’ll find a number of supporters who have helped these individuals to realise their dreams.
“There is your partner, the grandparents, friends of the family and neighbours who can all help out with the children. My kids love having other people in the house. There’s a seventeen year old boy up the road who plays cricket with them during the holidays and they absolutely adore him,” said Gill.
One of my favourite discussions in the book focuses on ‘the late bloomers’ – women who have delayed climbing the career ladder until after they have finished raising their children. One of the advantages of living longer is women today don’t necessarily have to do it all at once.
Gill also spoke to the partners and the children of mothers who work. My two sons were amongst the children interviewed for her book. Gill said, “When I was talking to Cameron he was talking about how you had more child friendly jobs when they were younger and he seemed to recognise that you had made sacrifices so you could be around for them.”
“Remember we’ll be working into our seventies so there’s plenty of time.”