opinion

'Before I had kids, I was a senior journalist. Now I clean toilets for a living.'

While Cassandra Thorburn spoke up this week about stay-at-home-mums vs working mums, I was really hoping she would answer the question everyone really wants to know:

Now she’s split from husband Karl Stefanovic, is she pissed off that she chucked her career in for his?

If she is, she didn’t say so. It sounds like she is happy at home with the kids and content with her choice to give up her job (albeit bitter about judgy working mothers, but that’s another story).

I made a similar decision a few years ago and although I don’t regret the time I got to spend with my children while they were so little, I am now starting to feel the full weight of my choice.

Cassandra Thorburn and Karl Stefanovic during happier times. Image via Getty.

I too was doing OK for myself, climbing the career ladder and achieving everything that my university degree promised it would. But I wanted children too, so I took maternity leave that turned into a resignation – child care is expensive and I didn’t want to leave my babies with a stranger while they were so young. 'I'll take a few years out and get back into it when they’re at school,' I reasoned.

My husband and I briefly discussed the idea of him staying home so that I could continue working. I was making twice as much money as him at the time. But I wanted to be there for them when they were so little. And I felt I was the lucky one – yes it is hard work but I got all the baby cuddles, got to see the first steps, first words, got to experience all that is so good about having little kids. But that role starts to expire eventually when they grow up and don't need you as much anymore. So then what? If you're like me, you look around and realise your options are suddenly mega limited.

Before- and after-school care costs, the need to work out of normal hours with no child care options, and the fear of sick kids and school holiday hassles has meant the chances of me returning to a career I was good at and loved, are non-existent.

"I wanted to be there for them when they were so little." Image via iStock.
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So I now clean other people's toilets for a living.

I am not dissing anyone who cleans toilets for a living, but as I am down there on my hands and knees washing and scrubbing (I also mop floors and make beds) I often think about the irony of my multi-thousand dollar education and the time spent planning, choosing and training for a job that I will probably never do again.

Yes, I can start again and work my way back up maybe when my kids have left home in, say, 15 or so years from now. But what do I do in the meantime? That's if anyone would take me on after a 20-year career break.

Like Cassandra, I have had to watch my husband's career take off while mine sank further and further away from me. I am not resentful about his success. Ultimately it was my choice to stay home with the children, but honestly I did not know what the long term consequences of that decision would be. And now I'm really sad about it.

"Ultimately it was my choice to stay home with the children, but honestly I did not know what the long term consequences of that decision would be."

I tell myself a job is a job and I should be thankful for that, but when my little boy says things like 'girls can't do that' and I remind him, again, that girls can do everything boys do, I start to wonder if that is true. Or when my daughter tells me what she wants to do when she grows up and I tell her she can be whatever she wants, I wonder if I should add the caveat: 'but only if it's within school hours, comes with plenty of holiday time, an understanding boss and pays well enough to cover child care or it really wont be worth doing!'

But ultimately this is not a gender issue; this is a who-decides-to-stay-home-and-look-after-the-kids issue.

Women have for decades wanted to 'have it all' and this is an exact example of that. I want it all and I am not ashamed to admit that. I want to be there for my children and still have something for myself. Something more than cleaning anyway. Something outside of the home that I can be proud about. When I find it I'll let you know.

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