kids

‘12 years ago I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mum. It’s the best thing I've ever done.’

Mia Freedman started a conversation this week about our broken school holiday system that I believe has resonated with every parent in Australia in some way, myself included.

There is no denying the moment you discover you’re pregnant, your work-life changes. Whether we like to admit it or not, the moment employers are aware that you have a child on the way, you are perceived differently and if you have children already you’re lucky if you can stay employed or be re-employed at all after maternity leave.

Mia Freedman on why our school holiday system is broken. Post continues below.

Video via Mia Freedman

After a good 10 years in the workforce, I was finally in a challenging government job I really enjoyed when I fell pregnant and had my first child. Ignorantly, my plan was to return to work after six months. From day one I was completely besotted and more in love with being a mum than I ever thought I would be, so I asked for a further six months unpaid maternity leave with the intention of going back to work three days per week afterwards.

My mum happily volunteered to look after her first grandchild when I did go back to work which would alleviate any childcare costs. Let’s face it, if you don’t have grandparent help, the reality is that for most families, it is hardly worth working.

However, as if to give me the hard lesson of ‘you really can’t plan anything in life’ my mum collapsed suddenly, two weeks before I was to return to work. She had emergency surgery on her back which left her paralysed waist down.

Seeing my own mother almost die and suffer in such a cruel way made me realise that life is fragile. The last thing I was thinking about was work or child care and at that time the vacancies were limited (I knew, I had rung around). Plus, there was the financial issue with my husband having only just established his small business.

It got to the point where I was stressing: stressing about my mum, stressing about work, stressing about child care, stressing about our new business, stressing that we’d just bought our first house together. I rang my employer and they kindly gave me a further two weeks off so I could make appropriate child care arrangements.

At that time my husband had been contemplating hiring someone to manage his office and I distinctly remember him coming home from work on one of those hugely stressful days saying, “What about if you stay at home, work for the business and look after (our daughter)?”

Lidija's children. Image: Supplied.
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It was only then that I even began to think about that possibility and I knew it was the right decision for our situation when the stress began to dissolve.

I knew it was a huge financial risk to give up a good public service job which would definitely be more accommodating to me having a child than private employers (especially with regard to flexible workdays and holidays) and I was sad, too, because I actually enjoyed my job. However, I also wanted to be available to my baby daughter and my mum when I needed to be. I realised then I simply couldn’t do or have it all.

As things have turned out, 12 years later I’m still a stay-at-home/work-from-home mum (working both for our family business and as a freelance writer) and we couldn’t be happier with our humble family arrangement.

We may not have luxury cars, a big house or go on frequent family holidays and you’ll often find my husband and I working on invoices at night, weekends and public holidays, but we do have so much we are thankful for.

We have a roof over our heads and we live close enough to the beach and utilise it so much we actually feel like we’re on holidays in our downtime. When my kids are sick, I’m always there for them. I get to take them to and from school every day.

Listen to Mamamia's parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. Co-hosts Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo chat twice-weekly about all things parenting. Post continues below.

I get to spend every school holidays with them, too, (even though I’m driven slightly crazy by the end of it!). I honestly don’t feel like I’ve missed a beat in their lives and to me, that is the best feeling in the world. One that I wouldn’t trade for anything, especially not more money or status.

So yes, the school holiday system is still broken, I wholly agree with that. I know this because my own mum worked while I was growing up, having to rely on my older sister, friends and relatives to look after me during school holidays, as paid child care barely existed.

It's hard to witness so many working family and friends, especially single parents, struggling to juggle their time and finances as the reality is very few of us can afford to do or have everything in life.

Even though we’ve had to relinquish a few things, change some attitudes and make many adjustments over the years, as a family we have found that there really are ways to make the work/school/holiday hours work for you.

Lidija Zmisa is a mum of three girls, wife and freelance writer. She is currently writing a book for middle-grade readers. You can follow her on Instagram @lidijazmisa

Feature image: Supplied.

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