By SENATOR LARISSA WATERS
There are some text messages that strike fear into the hearts of parents, especially when they’ve been typed from hundreds of kilometres away.
When the words “Lana has high temp taking her to doc update u at 2” flashed across my Blackberry while I was in the middle of a hectic Parliamentary sitting week in Canberra, I instantly feared the worst.
And then I felt a familiar flood of guilt wash over me.
Lana, my four-year-old daughter, was at home with her dad in Brisbane and I was a million miles away, trapped by a job that I love.
Lana had been with me in Canberra just the day before, happily showing me the “treasures” (leaves) she’d collected at the park.
But now she was sick and needed a cuddle, which I just couldn’t give her from other end of the country.
Sometimes I think I’m failing at motherhood. Since becoming a mother and a Senator my life has become infinitely more rewarding and also a hell of a lot more complicated.
I feel like I’m performing a constant juggling act and with my hand-eye coordination I’m bound to drop a ball from time to time.
When one does come crashing down, I’m so grateful to have little Lana there to remind me how special she is and to make me realise that I must be doing something right.
She has come a long way from frowning, shaking her blonde pigtails and declaring, “Don’t like Parly!”
Now she loves running up and down the halls of the Senate cheerfully asking complete strangers how old they are. I love to see the smiles she gets in return in a world full of grown-up worries and pressing deadlines.
Lana’s developing into a happy, independent, caring and feisty child.
She’s credit to all of the wonderful people that help me – her doting father, the wonderful carers at the not-for-profit childcare centre up the road, and all of her relatives, who indulge her with relish.
And then there is my mum.
My mum showers Lana with love, care, attention, guidance, gentle discipline and unrivalled steadfastness.
She looks after Lana on average about 20 hours a week and brings her to Canberra to visit me while I’m working from Parliament House, which works out to be about a quarter of the year in total.
Their visits to my office in Parliament House for stolen time in between press conferences, meetings and Senate debates are what keep me sane during those crazy days.
I am so incredibly blessed to have my mother’s unfaltering support. It means that I can live by the beliefs she has instilled in me and fight for what I’m passionate about every day.
Mum raised me as a single parent while putting herself through university and is now backing me so resolutely that her own retirement has been given over to being my part-time nanny.
In all honesty, I could not do my job without her.
Mothers everywhere have developed ingenious ways and means to juggle full-time work, inflexible hours, the constant intrusion of work through emails at all hours of the night and travel demands.
My own survival tactic relies on the wonderful support network that I am so lucky to have.
My mother obviously deserves a medal and I am blessed that Lana has such a caring father.
We’ve recently separated so we will soon have a few extra challenges to throw in the mix, including transporting Lana and our dog Titus (who she is inseparable from) from house to house on a weekly basis.
But I know with Brendan’s kindness, forbearance and friendship, we’ll manage.
Even with all that support, some days are still pretty tough. I think the hardest moments are when I know Lana needs me but I can’t even be in the same state.
It’s harder still when I berate myself for not being better at it all, at my job, my relationships, at everything.
So this year I’m going to try to ease up on the self-criticism and stop expecting myself to be Superwoman.
I’m going to try to accept that all I can do is my best, and that sometimes I will fail, or disappoint Lana, or fall short at work.
I’m going to try to stop feeling guilty all the time for not being able to keep everyone happy.
Instead, I’m simply going to try to focus on the task at hand – whether that be drafting amendments to strengthen our environmental laws or trying not to overcook Lana’s vegetables.
And I’m going to try to encourage every other parent I know to give Superwoman/man the flick too.
Larissa Waters is an Australian Greens Senator for Queensland.