Elizabeth Meryment is a food writer and restaurant critic for Sydney's Sunday Telegraph. She contributes to publications around Australia and is the author of the Foodies' Guide to Sydney 2012. She has two children, Juliet, seven, and Matilda, four. She is married to Neil and lives in Sydney.
|Everyday Mum in Profile
C4K: What sort of schedule do you have on a daily basis?
EM: My husband, Neil, and I both work unusual hours, which we have chosen to do, so that between us the children can spend as little time in care as possible. I work two days a week in the office, usually Monday and Friday, and I work a lot from home or at night, going out to restaurants to do reviews. I write a lot at night, too, once the children are in bed. Neil works Tuesday to Saturday and has always taken care of the children on a Monday. This has saved us a lot of money in childcare and also helped distribute the work/childcare balance a bit.
C4K: How do you juggle work, children, home and sanity?
EM: Once I had the children, I had to make a decision about whether to work keep working a lot, or to work less to fit everything into life – and I chose to work less. I still work quite a lot but I often do it in my own time – when the children are in bed, mostly. It's a juggle, sure, but I try to fit everything in. What I have missed since having the children is leisure time. Time to go to the movies or to exercise, that sort of thing. It has been stressful at times, but I think part-time work has allowed me to have a little bit of the working life and a little bit of the family life. Actually the thing that has suffered the most has been the house – it is sometimes unfit for human habitation. But you get that!
C4K: What sort of child care do you use?
EM: Juliet went to a long daycare centre two days a week for four years – it nearly bankrupted me, but she was in a great centre and I loved the hours. Matilda went there too for three years, then went to kindy for the year before school. Now that Matilda has started school, either Neil or I pick the girls up from school ourselves, except for Fridays when I use after-school care. We also have babysitters who help us out a lot. When we are having very busy or difficult times, my mum flies down from Queensland to lend a hand. This has often been a huge help.
C4K: Was it difficult to come by and are you happy with your arrangements?
EM: When I put Juliet's name down at childcare I was told that there were 550 names on the list ahead of hers. I wrote them a letter saying that we were not from Sydney and had no family in Sydney to support us, which was very stressful and difficult. I told them I had to return to work as my section head at the newspaper I was working for then had told me she would offer my role to somebody else if I didn't get quickly back to work (which she did the second time around). I was also finishing my degree at the time. I had tried a nanny but she was expensive and unreliable. I think the centre took pity on me because they gave me a place. I was very lucky. I was happy with long day care, although Matilda much preferred kindy for some reason.
C4K: Do you think that there's enough support out there for working mums from employers, government and society in general?
EM: I think it is very hard to be a working mother. Employers are very demanding, especially in the media, they don't really care about your personal life. As mentioned, my previous job was given away, while I was on maternity leave, to another woman who was very vocal about her choice to be childless and therefore could work full time. Nobody even said 'sorry' about my position, they just said, 'oh well, too bad, go and work at another section'.
This is the shameful reality of the workplace and I had to put up with it – although, in fact, I left for a new job, at another newspaper within the company. In terms of government support, the 50 per cent rebate on long daycare has been a godsend. I hope very much that this government doesn't means test this because that would be a disaster for working mothers and punish women with careers. But I would kill for a subsidy on nannies for working families. I know nannies are seen as a luxury and a rebate would be called 'middle-class welfare', but is it really 'welfare' to enable women back into the workforce? No, it's sound economic sense and would help women of all classes. Even a 25 per cent subsidy would help. They should most definitely be deemed "approved care" to allow parents to claim some sort of benefit or subsidy if required.
C4K: Can mums "have it all"? What do you think that is anyway?!
EM: No I actually don't think they can have it all. Part-time work is a great option as it helps you earn money and keep your hand in with your job but you do not get the professional opportunities that you would if you were full time. I have had to make professional sacrifices for my family – but do I regret it? No. I'd rather work part time in a lesser job and have the joy of my lovely children, who I care for myself, than work full time and have none, or feel guilty for barely seeing them. I'm glad I haven't wasted my life in a thankless job and ended up childless like many women – and men – that I know. And as for women who work full-time and have children, they either have exceptionally good help, exceptional partners or are frazzled. Or all three. Usually their mother is around to help. And, I'm sorry, but life isn't all about having everything anyway.
C4K: What's Neil like at sharing the load when it comes to child care and the daily juggle?
EM: He's good. He has a ridiculously busy job, but always gets up in the morning to do the "early shift" (make breakfast and so on) and comes home to read the girls a story at night. As he likes to say, "I don't do much but go to work and look after the children". It's pretty true.
C4K: How do you think Australia rates in terms of child care support, maternity leave and flexibility of workplace arrangements and what would you like to see change?
EM: My friend who lives in France loves to rub it in that French mothers are given significantly better help when it comes to schooling and child care than we do. I would actually like pre-school to be institutionalised so every child can get good preschooling from three to five (as they do in France), and for nannies to be subsidised.
C4K: What 3 things could you not do without as a working mum?
EM: My husband, my mum, and my friends with children (who can, and do, get the girls from school in case of emergency). I was going to say wine for the third one, but thought better of it!
C4K: That's OK. We're with you on the wine front!
Elizabeth Meryment is on Twitter @LizzieMeryment
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