couples

No matter what age your family, women always work with one eye on the phone.

I’ve gone back to work. I have a job as a writer in an ad agency, like I used to have before kids. Not freelance, not project-based, not work-from-home. I’m in the office five days a week, and I even travel a little.

I work a shorter day than my colleagues (my pay is adjusted accordingly), but I have a work email address, a desk and four weeks annual leave. I fully expect to be invited to the office Christmas party, my first in 15 years.

I like the ad agency and I love the work. Advertising is in my bones.

When I left school, it came as naturally to me as breathing. And though the media landscape is unrecognisable from the way it looked in 1985, people are the same. Deliver a message with heart and humour and they may very well listen.

Kate Hunter.

One person who’s different though, is me. I’m 47, not 20, and I have three children, a boy aged 14, and girls aged 12 and nearly 9.

The commonly held belief is that once your kids are of school age, and certainly when they’re in high school, your working life can come off the back-burner (of course, many women never took it off the front burner, but I did).

What came as a surprise was that in many ways, small children are easier to manage than older ones. Physically, there’s little more demanding than caring for babies and toddlers, and being in those trenches is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but this period is doing my head in. I have two in high school, and there’s no aftercare in high school.

I’m comfortable leaving them home without an adult for short periods, but I’m not leaving an eight year old in care of her big brother all day every day for eight weeks of Summer holidays. I can pay someone to come and hang with them, but I need someone who can drive so I’m looking at $20-$25 an hour – ouch.

Related: “In that moment, I transformed from mother and ex-wife, to woman again.”

Even term time is tricky and I’m in awe of those who’ve done it for years. I want to know HOW.

Because my experience is when you’re at work and your kids’ school’s name flashes on your phone, it’s never good news. They aren’t calling to say, ‘Look Mrs Hunter, the principal just wanted me to call to let you know how marvellous your daughter is.’

No, it’s always, she’s vomited, he’s sprained an ankle, her braces are hurting.

He’s got a nasty bump on his head … can you arrange for him to be picked up?

Sarah Jessica Parker in 'I Don't Know How She Does It'. Image via Tumblr.
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I always have one eye on the phone. Always.

My dream is to throw myself into my work, to completely lose myself in the mad joy of creating a campaign. I want to look up from my desk and say, ‘Bloody hell, is it midnight? How did that happen?’

Technically I can do it. My husband has changed his working hours to start later so he can do drop-offs and he can often re-jig things when I need to stay late, as I will for him, and I wouldn’t leave the kids with someone I didn’t trust. But it’s invariably me who makes gets the ducks in a row.

I never have the luxury of simply being late. I feel like I’m driving the family bus and no one else knows how to get it back on the road, fast, when something comes loose. Certainly someone else can learn, but it would take time – I’ve been handling this thing 14 years.

Try this: “50 things I will tell my daughter”.

I hold so much in my head, and I’m not by nature an organised person. I not only know the after-school schedules of my kids but also those of their friends (no point in asking Janine if she can drop my boy home from swimming. Her son has soccer trials – but only on the last two Thursdays of term). Kids’ friendships can be fluid too, and it’s a job keeping up. I try to know who’s playing with whom. Not essential information, but often useful.

I wonder if it’s a gender thing? Are women hard-wired in a gatherer-type way to keep tabs on everybody? So we know where everyone is, who they’re with, and if they’re happy (this is another surprise with older kids, they’re no easier to read than little ones - just because they have words doesn’t guarantee they’ll use them).

When men leave for work, does the hunter instinct kick in? Do they leave the tribe behind mentally as well as physically so they can kill the metaphorical wildebeest, without giving a thought to whether anyone at home has done their Mathletics?

I don’t believe women are more loving towards their children (I would never ask my kids who’s their more engaged parent, because I pretty much know their answer and frankly, I don’t want to hear it) but every woman I speak to about keeping, ‘one eye on the phone’ knows exactly what I mean. The men (some, not all) I speak with are a bit surprised or suggest it’s my fault – I’m too controlling, too fussy, just let go, it’ll be all right.

They could have a point. And I’m optimistic - it will be all right. Just as long as my phone stays charged.