This week was my last ever day of maternity leave, for my last ever baby.
And I could not have been happier.
I appreciate this may be a little difficult for some people to hear or understand. However, I suspect there may be more than a few other parents out there who feel a little like me.
I realise I am extremely fortunate to have four healthy, happy children aged six and under, however let’s cut to the chase. It is the most relentless, bone-achingly exhausting, thankless, filthy, job you could ever do — for absolutely no pay at all.
The conditions are appalling — 24/7 rolling shifts, no holidays, no sick leave, no toilet or meal breaks.
The treatment by your clients is abysmal — they will scream at you, subject you to sleep deprivation, torture, demand you deal with their faecal substances and still expect dinner.
Sometimes people ask me what it is like having four children so small and by ‘sometimes’ I mean constantly, everywhere I go.
I say, “Imagine you’re so busy you never get to go to the toilet so you end up hospitalised because you haven’t been weeing enough.”
That about sums it up. Cue look of “shock and horror.”
The term “maternity leave” is completely misleading in itself. This is no leave of absence. This is going to be the hardest you have ever worked in your whole life and likely with extreme fatigue and very little recognition for what you do. There ain’t no bonus structure.
Check out some incredible Australian women who balance working and home life. (Post continues after gallery.)
Therefore, returning to the paid workforce where you can log on and off, eat and drink alone and generally communicate with other clever adults and be paid both financially and in gratitude for what you do is very appealing.
But I believe there is even more to it than that.
Returning to the workforce is critical for the equality of women in the household — and without equality at home we are light years away from reaching equality in the workplace and society.
It was recently when my four-year-old daughter scrunched up her little face and asked me, “Mummy what do you want to be when you grow up?” that this reality came crushingly home for me.
I later asked my six-year-old son if he knew what I did? “You look after us Mummy and Daddy goes to work.”
And then I nearly had a full nervous breakdown right there and then.
But, instead I set up my computer, wrote a CV, worked on getting my baby to sleep through the night and to take a bottle now and then so she was not as reliant on me.
It was time to go back to paid work.
I realise this is not the right choice for everyone and I respect that deeply.
However, for me, I wanted to set the example for my three daughters and importantly my son that working and earning financially is what creates not just independence, but also equality, between parents at home.
Without us even realising, my family had slipped into a situation where as the mother I was doing almost 100 per cent of the children’s care and my partner was doing almost one hundred per cent of the paid work. I feared it was right now when my children would start to pick up these stereotypes that could stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Staying at home with children is in my view the hardest job you will ever do. I have enormous respect for stay-at-home parents. I personally found my last 12 months of maternity leave extremely hard at times and non-stop full-on work.
The decision not to return to paid work can unfold very naturally for a mother… it just seems to makes sense. It can seem like a hundred small things all add together to make it a really easy decision.
Watch Robin Bailey, Bec Sparrow and other amazing women share the best advice their mums gave them. (Post continues after video.)
But there is an inequality that slowly creeps into the home between two parents once you have multiple children — and then never leaves.
In many situations — not all — this inequality is between a man and a woman — where mum only returns to work part-time and always takes the “flexible jobs” so she can still primarily look after the kids.
There is not a single solution — it is about better child care, paid parental leave, more flexible working arrangements for parents — and women are setting the example in very small incremental steps.
When I told people of my intention to return to work, it was met with extreme caution and some negativity.
“You are insane” coupled with “that is going to be a logistical nightmare” and “are you sure that is what you really want?” “how will the kids cope?”. Did I mention that most of the people who responded this way were women?
And of course they were right. They were just trying to look out for me.
But I would ask people to question the alternative before they perhaps try to carelessly talk someone out of returning to work with small children.
The alternative is that a mum’s skill base in their professional field decreases as time passes and it becomes increasingly difficult to return to work year on year.
The harsh yet true reality is this means more and more women end up staying at home not always by choice, lowering female workplace productivity and hurting our economy.
It means women continue to be the primary caregivers and men continue to be the financial earners — as well as the board members, the CEO’s and the politicians.
It means our children continue to see a household and society where women work in the home for free and men work out of the home for money, as completely accepted and the status quo.
It is not really a small consequence… the alternative.
That is why I will tell my daughters to try their best to never stop working.
As hard as it logistically may be, as dark as some of those days can be, it is an important consequence and it is worth it.
Would you give your daughters the same advice? Are you a working mum?