parent opinion

'I was a stay-at-home-mum when my kids were little, but I hope my daughter isn't.'

Growing up, my mum was always there. She drove us around. She was at home after school and before school and on weekends. She made us costumes and dishes for International Food Day. She took us to playgroup when we were little and to university when we were older (until we could drive).

She often described herself as a ‘stay-at-home-mum’, and so did I. She did work though, on and off, throughout our childhood. But she always worked around us in part-time or casual roles; around my dad’s work. He was the breadwinner. And when a particular role stopped fitting in, she’d stop working until she found something else that did fit in — with everything and everyone else.

This never seemed unusual or wrong to me. Our family functioned well. We were happy. My parents were a team. Their marriage was strong. It still is. But what if it wasn’t?

Watch: Full year of paid parental leave recommended. Post continues after the video.

Video via ABC.

Marriage breakdowns aren’t something that occur to you until they happen — to your parents, your friends, or to yourself. It wasn’t something I thought about. In fact, it wasn’t until my mum pursued a career in real estate — and thrived — when I was in my teens, that it occurred to me just how much my mum had given up. But even then, I didn't consider her decision risky or unwise, just selfless.


When I fell pregnant for the first time I was 27, and my baby was much wanted. We’d gone through the arduous and emotional process of IVF to have him. I was working as an on-air journalist with Channel Nine. I loved my job. But I knew instinctively that it would not be compatible with parenthood. There were no part-time or casual options available to me, so I resigned.

I too, would be a stay-at-home-mum, and raise my children as my mum raised us. And so I became the primary carer. And to be honest, I loved it (for the most part). We watched Play School in the morning and did puzzles and learning games. We went to playgroup and music group and swimming lessons.

I also took on the mental load and the domestic load, the life admin load and the financial planning load. It was a lot. But we were a team! And I wanted to be there for my kids. I thought I was doing what was best for everyone.

I got restless though, and being in an industry that didn’t require an office, I was fortunate enough to pick up some freelance work. In that context I could continue my career, to a degree, when my children were young, even though I handled everything else. I’d work when the kids took naps. And when they stopped taking naps, I’d work at night. When they went to school I worked during school hours and then again at night.


But being able to forge somewhat of a career, while being a stay-at-home-mum (and carrying the varying of ‘loads’ that came with it), was a by-product of the industry I was in, which meant I could work flexibly. Yet so many women can’t, and had I not been able to, I would have opted for the stay-at-home-mum option too.

And then, I got divorced. And the ‘teamwork’ approach to life I once took for granted, was simply gone. I was still the primary carer, but now I was my breadwinner too. And it wasn't just me who needed bread, the kids did as well.

Thankfully, because of my experience as a journalist, and an ability to write during my spare time, I could do this - just. But the reality of the alternative, of the position I’d have been in (not to mention my kids), had I opted completely out of work, hit me like a tonne of bricks. It was the first time I registered just how risky it is for women to choose to be a stay-at-home-mum. Just how much my own mum had risked.

I understand why women choose this option. I chose it. And while I missed my job, and often wondered where my broadcast career may have gone, I relished being at home with the kids, and the privilege of spending so much time with them.

The ripple effect.

Despite this, I’ll be advising my daughter against it. With the benefit of hindsight, and the reality that not all marriages survive — despite your best intentions (let’s face it, no one plans to get divorced) — I will strongly encourage my daughter to always have the ability to provide for herself financially.


Not just because she may have dependents to care for, but to ensure her own financial and emotional future.

On average, women aged between 60 and 64 have around a quarter less superannuation than men of the same age, many women have little to no Super at all. According to Carers Australia, the superannuation balance of a 67-year-old primary carer is reduced by almost $18,000 for every year they are in that caring role. Unsurprisingly, around 70 per cent of carers are women. 

Women who do get back into work after an extended break, are often subjected to what’s known as 'the motherhood tax', meaning they’re several steps behind in terms of career progression. They’re less likely to be promoted too. 

All of this has a ripple effect. The number of women over 55 experiencing homelessness on the rise, with the 2021 Census reported an increase of 6.6 per cent to 7,325, thanks to systemic issues including lack of superannuation, working part time or casually for extended periods, taking time out of the workforce to care for family, lower wages, and age discrimination. 

As well as the financial cost, there’s also a potential emotional cost too. For many women, whose role is primary carer, the domestic and mental load often comes with it. And if the time comes to return to work — whether because of necessity or desire — shifting the balance of those loads can be difficult, with many women left to juggle the lot.


Listen to No Filter where one mum shares to Mia Freedman why she wants to stay home with her kids instead of doing paid work and is sick of being judged for it. Post continues after podcast.

What we need instead.

While I won’t encourage my daughter to give up her independence by opting out of the workforce, I also understand how fulfilling it is to be available to your children. It’s a dilemma faced by so many women. Which is why we need more part-time options and flexibility so women can be present for their children while protecting their own futures.

I’m in the extremely fortunate position of being able to pursue a successful career in a way that enables me to be available for my school-aged children, but the reality is the opposite for many.

While 30 per cent of women work part-time (far more than the 11 per cent of men), often as a means to balance work and childcare, research shows doing so can put your career progression on hold, meaning those women will be earning less pro rata than they would be if they worked continuously full time.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) annual employee census, only seven per cent of management roles are held by part-time employees, with the data also pointing to what the WGEA calls the ‘part-time promotion cliff’.

That means the further you progress in your career, the less likely you are to find part-time work. Of the most senior part-time roles, of which there are few, most are held by men. The result is high numbers of women working in more junior roles than they are capable of, which, again, has a ripple effect, reducing the overall number of positions for women seeking reduced hours.


An increase in flexible and part-time roles would play a significant part in protecting the financial and emotional futures of women, by allowing them to play a hands-on role in their children’s care while maintaining their career progression.

But we need more than that. We also need societal and attitudinal change that encourages partners to equally share the domestic and mental load to reduce the overwhelm and burnout felt by women trying to manage both financial and caring roles. 

So as the school holidays play out (with my time off now over), and I’m threatened by the mum-guilt of working from home while my children entertainment themselves, I fight the feeling by reminding myself that I’m teaching my daughter how to be financially independent, and my boys that there won’t be — and shouldn’t be — a woman at their beck and call.

Would you want your daughter to be a stay-at-home-mum? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Feature image: Supplied.

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