Breaking news: nearly half of Australian mums back at work before their youngest turns one

A report in The Australian today says that almost half of all mums in two-parent families are back at work before their youngest child turns one.

Is this true for you?

Is this why it is impossible to find a child care place for kids aged 0-2?

The story, written by George Megalogenis and Sophie Gosper, also says almost all the mothers who went back to work in this period took part-time jobs with fewer than 25 working hours a week.

You can read the full piece here but you need a subscription to The Australian to read it in full, so here are the key points:

  • The trend for mothers returning to work has accelerated in line with higher rates of female education and rising property prices.
  • This generation of women have jobs worth going back to and the typical mortgage requires two incomes to service.
  • In the mid 1980s, the majority of mothers in two-parent families waited until their youngest child was three before returning to work.
  • In the mid 1990s, the benchmark had fallen to two years.
  • About two-thirds of mothers with jobs are employed part-time while their children are in preschool.
  • By age three, though, more than half the working mothers are in full-time work. Sole parents are the exception to this pattern.
  • Most are still at home when the youngest child is aged 4-5.

Do these figures represent your family, and your choices?

If your family part of an Australian trend?

If you are new to Working Mums Australia and interested in more about part-time work, you may be interested in the personal stories of Juliet, Tamara and Kellie, who featured in our series on part time work a while ago.

They shared their stories, choices and influences to help us all work out a way to muddle through this challenging set of decisions  🙂

Five ways working mums can take better care of their mental health

Guest post from Leilah Nelson.

Following the birth of my first child my greatest fear was suffering from depression. And being a psychologist I was always quick to self- diagnose!

My family and friends were my lifeline and since then I have never taken my mental health for granted and neither should you.  Yet statistics show that many of us might be ignoring the symptoms.

Of the two most common mental illnesses – depression and anxiety, women will experience them both in higher rates than men.

One in five women will experience depression while one in three will experience anxiety.

While genetics plays a part is determining your risk, others contributors include chronic health conditions, personality factors and stressful life events. Life events that can create major stressors are pregnancy, motherhood, menopause, and caring for elderly or unwell family members.

Women are at increased risk of experiencing depression during pregnancy and post child birth for up to a year. Nearly 10% of pregnant women will experience antenatal depression (during pregnancy) increasing to 16% experiencing postnatal depression in the 3 months post birth.

Working mums, while busy caring for others,  must be careful not to dismiss the signs and ignore the symptoms of mental health problems.

My tips for maintaining good emotional health while working and caring for your family:

  1. Cut your TO DO LIST in half. By reducing the daily tasks we expect ourselves to complete we can reduce our stress. Stress is a symptom of anxiety and depression. It can also be a catalyst for many physical related health problems. Remember your brain is an organ too and deserves care and attention.
  2. Maintain your SOCIAL NETWORKS, especially mothers group and playgroup. Consider the girls night out as sacred. Women, generally speaking, enjoy social communication, be it chatting with girlfriends or going to the movies or theatre. These exchanges allow us time to express our worries and fears and to reach out for support from the group.  Statistics show that you are less likely to suffer from depression if you have a strong social network to rely on.
  3. Prioritise YOUR TIME to do things that MAKE YOU HAPPY. Basically give yourself the permission and the freedom to do things you enjoy, FOR YOURSELF. Working mums are quick to prioritise the needs of their children, their partners, the housework, etc.  and often leave little or no time for themselves . Include regular EXERCISE into your routine. Maintaining exercise has been proven in reducing the affects of mental health.
  4. Take SHORTCUTS and don’t feel GUILTY about it. Often Mums feel pressure to be wife, chef, housemaid, cleaner, nanny, teacher, in short order. We can’t be all things but we can find more efficient ways of doing things (for me that involves employing a cleaner once a fortnight!) Finding a Work/Life BALANCE can help reduce our risk for mental illness.
  5. Don’t be AFRAID to SEEK HELP. GPs are becoming better trained at diagnosing mental health problems and quicker at referring to counselling services. Medicare will rebate up to 10 sessions with a counsellor if referred by your GP under the banner of mental health. Some employers have an employee assistance program (EAP) with free access to telephone or face-to-face counselling. A lot can be done to improve your mental health through life style changes but for some the answer is medical intervention. Simplified, anti-depressants assist with bringing a chemical balance back to the brain which then allows for counselling to be affective.

For further information on mental health, I have found the following sources useful:

-beyondblue 1300 224 636 (beyondblue.org.au)

-Lifeline  13 11 14 (lifeline.org.au)

-SANE 1800 187 263 (sane.org.au)

-Australian Psychological Society Referral line 1800 333 497 (psychology.org.au/findapsychologist)

Leilah Nelson

Thanks to Beyond Blue for references

Seven things mums can do to save the world (that won’t take extra time or money!)

Today’s guest post is from Anna Minns, who runs the Daily Lime.  You can find out more about her amazing efforts to protect our environment, and sign up to her easy to follow tips here.

As a mum of 2 small boys I often wonder (and worry) about what kind of natural environment they will inherit. I wanted to know more about the kind of things I could and should do to be kinder to the environment.

At first I was totally overwhelmed with information about global warming and climate change, which was sobering and depressing – I started to think that perhaps ignorance was bliss.

I found this was the experience of a lot of my friends. When I started to talk about the environment I noticed their eyes would glaze over, and they would shrug their shoulders and say “what can I do about it anyway”. So, I decided to do some research and I discovered there are hundreds of things we can all do everyday to tread a bit more lightly on the planet.

In order to be “green” there is a perception that you must have cold showers, a diet of tofu and quinoa, wear hessian clothes and live in a house made of recycled tyres.

So I set about putting together a list of ‘tips’ of all the things that anyone can do to have a greener lifestyle, without sacrificing the things that they love. I wanted to create a simple guide for (mums especially) who are busy with work, family and just living, to make small incremental changes that are easy, money-saving and fun!

The tips are about reducing energy and waste, reusing, recycling and all things green. I hope you are inspired to subscribe and give some of them a go!

1. Get Swapping: kids clothes

Don’t you hate it when your discover an adorable jumpsuit in the bottom drawer that you’d forgotten about and now it’s too late, because your little one is now not so little! Do the sustainable thing – and get swapping! You can keep your children’s wardrobes fresh and funky as your babies grow by trading your quality pre-loved clothes online – or you can purchase designer label gear at a fraction of the retail cost.

2. Join a toy library

Sometimes, when you’ve got little kids, it seems like you might drown under a sea of brightly-coloured plastic toys. And despite the best of intentions, those plastic toys appear to breed. But there is a way to reduce the amount of fluro-plastic in your life, save money, and save on landfill, too!

3. Buy a quality winter coat

It is estimated that 30 to 40kg of clothing per person is sent to landfill each year because of so called ‘fast fashion’. We all need a comfy coat to get us through the winter months. Selecting quality over quantity is the way to go to take a load off the earth. If you invest in a well-made coat now it will last you for years to come, so you will be saving money in the long run.

4. Too many toys? Get swapping

The average household in Australia with kids has over 100 toys. Do you suffer from regular toy invasions? An annual toy swap can be great fun, reduce the use of resources, and free up your hard-earned cash and storage space!

5. Sharing your stuff on Open Shed

The average power drill is used for 12-13 minutes in its lifetime! Stuff. It’s everywhere. Filling up our cupboards, our garages, under our beds, even in our roof spaces. And most of it is hardly ever used. The best way to enjoy all the latest must-have gadgets, toys and tools and get the most value out of our own stuff is to get sharing through openshed.com.au

6. Recycling mattresses

It’s hard to know what to do with our old mattresses, so most of us throw them out – they are the most common item put out at local council collections. But mattresses contain lots of valuable materials, like steel, timber and foam – which is all recyclable!

7. Replace your air freshener with a house plant

Many air ‘fresheners’ are actually air pollutants. Most contain nasty chemicals like phthalates and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). If you want to clean out the pollutants and toxins in the air and deodorise your home, get some house plants! Don’t just take my word for it – NASA found that they are great at filtering the air!

Anna Minns

More about Anna’s project and signup to the Daily Lime is here.

Were you listening to Julia thinking “I wish I’d said that”?

It seems everyone’s still talking about Julia Gillard’s speech .

I’ve never seen such different responses from the mainstream media and sites on the internet where women like to chat, the so called ‘mummy blogs’.

In the mainstream media, the Prime Minister spoke in defence of the Speaker, Peter Slipper, who has since resigned. According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher, We expected more of Gillard.  His general argument was that, as a woman, she had a choice between power and principle and she opted for power.  My view is that expecting women to behave ‘better’ or ‘more nicely’ as politicians is in itself a form of sexism, in presuming that women should be better behaved than men, when really all they want is an equal chance to have their say.

Most of the other newspapers yesterday reported on the political tactics of what was going on with the Speaker and didn’t focus on the main topic covered in the Prime Minister’s speech – the sexism of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott.

Notwithstanding the fact that what goes on with the Speaker is important, the response on many of my favourite websites couldn’t be more different.  Many women expressed an outpouring of relief that the PM had finally called sexism where she saw it.

Eden Riley is the Australian Blogger of the Year.  Her site Edenland is full of comments about how women across Australia were barracking for her right the way through.  You can check out the discussion here .

Mamamia saw something similar, in response to this piece about, ‘Why Julia Gillard’s Smackdown Speech Was Brilliant .  There were some critics, but overwhelmingly the comments are supportive of the PM’s speech.  Not bad for a Prime Minister who, according to the polls, only has the support of about one in three of us.

Why the difference? My theory is that most of us have a Tony Abbott in their lives, somewhere in our work history.

Someone who’s treated us poorly, unfairly, because we are women.  Most of us don’t call sexism every time we see it, but we really love it when someone else is brave enough to do so, and clever enough to do it well.

When it happens to us, we usually don’t want to make a fuss or have a fight about being a crazy feminist, so we just put up with being called a bitch or having the men in our workplace be more highly valued than those of us who came up with the idea in the first place, or did the hard work behind the scenes to make something happen.

It’s not always as clear cut as some of those quotes Julia Gillard used about Tony Abbott.  Sometimes sexism is harder to pinpoint, and we’re not even sure ourselves that it’s sexism, discrimination, or misogyny or whatever.

But we know it’s wrong, and we wish it hadn’t happened, and many of us see it happening to Julia Gillard too.

Regardless of what you think about politics, I suspect many women loved seeing  our Prime Minister say out loud that she was offended by behaviour and language she thought wasn’t acceptable, and she eloquently put the argument, better than many of us could ourselves.

I heard a story from a one friend about a woman who wanted to thank the PM  because she felt there was growing acceptance in the community of more aggressive and rude interactions. She said a man once called her a stupid bitch because she delivers newspapers to supplement her low income and he hadn’t liked where she’d thrown it that morning.

She said the PM was standing up not just for herself, but for women across the country who have been copping things like that because lately, no-one has been saying that kind of thing is wrong.

Do you think some of us were listening to the PM thinking, “I wish I’d said that”?

What do you think?  Have you experienced sexism at work?  Do you wish you’d given a speech like Julia Gillard?

Interesting sidenote: once the international reaction started to become clear today, our local media started reporting the substance of the speech, for example here and here.  Curious.

You can read the full text of the PM’s speech here but the video is better, here.

Miss Three is at war with her carers, and I’m on her side..


Here’s a confession, I haven’t had major sleep problems with Miss Three since she was four months old.

That’s not to say we’re not up a lot during the nights; there are often bad dreams, illness, heat or cold issues and sometimes a need for emergency cuddles, but we know that in the grand scheme of things, we’re pretty fortunate.

I’m the last person to claim the credit.  We had fantastic support from the sleep support centre provided by our local area health service when Miss Three was four months old.  As hapless parents who knew very little, this was a godsend.

Since then things have gone fairly well.  Miss Three gave up her daytime sleep about six months ago, it made the evening bedtime quicker and less stressful and we’re quite relaxed about that.

But every day she’s at daycare, her carers spend two hours trying to get her to sleep.  They pat, cajole and beg and she just doesn’t sleep. I get reports (from her) about how they will try and get her to ‘be good and have a sleep today’.

And I really don’t care.

I understand that those who work in daycare need a break during the day – this is absolutely not about that.  I also understand that some kids need a sleep, and others a little quiet time, but I do not understand telling a child that good behaviour is sleeping when they really have no physical need for one?

We spend the first few years of our children’s loves agonizing over their sleep patterns.  There’s a very good reason that Go the F*** to Sleep is a bestseller.  And it’s a serious issue for working mums, who are trying to commute, make decisions and function like regular human beings during the day, often on very little sleep.

I’d love to get an afternoon kip on the weekends, and it was lovely while it lasted, but if they don’t need it, there’s simply  not much you can do about it.

I try so hard to support our lovely carers and any rules or processes they implement.  I think consistency in expectations, especially on things like manners, eating patterns and treatment of other people, is really important.

But I’m sorry daycare, I just can’t back you up on this one.

Kirsten

Dad and partner pay – will your family benefit?

Today the Australian Government announced applications are now open for Dad and Partner Pay.

Never heard of it?  Well, it’s an extension of the Paid Parental Leave scheme and means government support for dads and partners to get two weeks paid leave at the rate of the national minimum wage (currently about $606 per week before tax), if you have a baby or adopt after 1 January, 2013.

You could be eligible if you work full-time, part-time, casually, seasonally, on contract, or if you’re self-employed.

Here’s the fine print. You may be eligible if:

  • You are the biological dad, adopting parent or partner of the birth mother or adopting parent and;
  • You are an Australian resident who has worked for at least 10 of the 13 months before the date your Dad and Partner Pay period starts, and;
  • Your individual adjusted taxable income is $150 000 or less in the financial year either before the date of your claim.

Dads can be eligible for Dad and Partner Pay even if their partner is not receiving Paid Parental Leave and you can read all of the details here.

The Australian Government hopes this will support families in the first year of a chld’s life, and encourage more dads to take time off to spend with their kids.  Excellent stuff.

They say that the move is a particularly big win for self-employed people, contractors, casual workers and others who generally don’t have paternity leave entitlements from their employer.

You’re still likely to be better off with your employer’s parental leave scheme, if you’re lucky enough to be work for someone that has one.  But for everyone else, this is a good start.

I wonder how many dads will take it?  I suspect lots of dads would prefer to spend more time with their kids when they’re first born, but feel lots of pressure to continue providing for the family, especially when mum is recovering from childbirth. Hopefully this will make it a bit easier.

If you’re  already registered with the Department of  Human Services for online services, you can logon and apply from there, or you can register here.   You can apply in person at Centrelink or Medicare offices or call 136 150.

Kirsten

Six options for mums with sick kids

We’ve been fairly lucky this winter (touch wood nervously), but when Miss Three is sick, things get pretty tense in our house.  Negotiations about who has the most critical meetings and deadlines at work occur.  There are thin lips all round.

Like a lot of families, we have no real backup plan.  Our parents live too far away and missing a day’s work can seem like a crisis.  It’s usually worse for Miss Three than it is for us, but at the time it feels like a disaster.

The other challenge is that, when kids are sick, it’s usually going around in the family, so you’re probably struggling with something too.  But there’s no sick leave as a mum, right?

Coping with Jane has published these tips on Four ways to avoid a sick child in day-care which has some good ideas, but there are times when none of them work, and you just need to get by.

Here are your options.

OPTION NUMBER ONE

Force your kids to get up and ready for day care.  Often a bit of a false economy as the carers are pretty expert at spotting a sick kid and will whip out that thermometer and call you home by mid-morning.   The rules are often that they have to stay away for 24 hours after being sent home, so you may have turned one sick day into two.

OPTION NUMBER TWO

Call someone – anyone – to look after your sick kid(s).  Mums, neighbours, friends, paid babysitters, can all come into their own at around 7am on a sick day.  A paid babysitter can earn more than you do, so this can also be a false economy.

OPTION NUMBER THREE

Try and do it all.  Call your employer and explain, offer to work from home, and then, if your work allows it, log in and try and get as much done as you can.  This method usually involves using a television as a babysitter, or taking calls with a child whingeing in the background.  In many jobs, and for many employers, it’s also not allowed.

OPTION NUMBER FOUR

If you are one of the very fortunate, use one of your carer days as a leave day and explain to your employer that your child is sick and you will not be at work today. They understand and know that their flexibility will be appreciated by less time goofing off at work and a more engaged and loyal workforce.

OPTION NUMBER FIVE

Try and get your husband or partner to do one or all of the above.

OPTION NUMBER SIX

Lie and pretend it’s you who is sick so your employer doesn’t regret employing a working mum and just thinks you’re always ill.

Have you used any of these strategies?

Kirsten

44% of mums want to work 3 days a week – poll results

Today we publish the results of our poll on part time work, with the news that 44% of mums believe three days a week is the perfect number of days to work as a mum.

Many of you said that three days provided the right balance between your work and family commitments.  We wrote when we launched the poll that we believed there was no perfect number and for most families, it depends on such a complex set of circumstances, not all within their control.  Our needs change from time to time as well.

There were no votes for extremes.  No one voted for one day a week as the perfect option but only 3% of you voted for five days a week as your ideal.

Our guest posts on part time work from Juliet, Tamara and Kellie inspired you all, with feedback that it was helpful to know how others mums went about making their decisions and how they negotiated arrangements with employers, families, carers and children along the way.

So how many of you aren’t working your ideal number?

Kirsten

A little post about school funding, a man called David Gonski and Rob Lowe

You may have read about the debate to change the way all schools are funded.  It’s been in the news a bit this week – here, here and here.

You may have even heard of the man who headed up the review advising the government on how to make changes – David Gonski, a well known and successful business leader.

The Gonski Review, as it’s known, recommended major changes to the way State and Federal Governments allocate their funding to our schools.

The review recommended a $5 billion a year injection of funding into public and private schools and changes to the way money is distributed to ensure it is going where it is most needed.

On Monday, the Prime Minister announced her response to the report, and said she would commit the Australian Government to:

Ensure that by 2025 Australia is ranked as a top 5 country in the world for the performance of our students in Reading, Science, Mathematics, and for providing our children with a high-quality and high-equity education system.

What a great idea.   How will she do this?

The Prime Minister says the improvements will be achieved by:

• Lifting teacher quality, including requiring more classroom experience before graduation and higher entry requirements for the teaching profession.

• More power for principals, including over budgets and staff selection.

• More information for parents through My School.

Ok, so what’s the catch?  Actually there are two.

First, the money.   This plan will cost around $6.5 billion and it will take six years to fully implement.  My Miss Three will be well into her school years by then but she’ll still be young enough to benefit from a more ambitious, better funded schooling system. The PM says she’ll find a way to get the money and she’ll cut other things to make it work, but we’re not yet sure exactly where it comes from.

Second, not everyone is agreed.  These changes will need to be supported by State and Federal Governments.  I know!  Frustrating. So you can expect some argy bargy along the way as we debate the pros and cons of the proposals in coming months.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Sam Seaborn, the dreamy fictional character from The West Wing played by Rob Lowe, who once said about education:

Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense.

I’d vote for a candidate who said that! And here’s a little Rob Lowe just to show you what the candidate posters would look like 🙂

Sam Seaborn

Sam Seaborn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kirsten

Local Council candidate ridiculed for asking about childcare support

Is childcare a right or a privilege?  What about for local councillors?

My friend Aisha Amjad is a candidate for her local council next weekend.  She’s a mum and activist, and I think she’ll be a great advocate for her community if she’s elected.

But this week in The Hill Shire Times, she and her other female candidates were  ridiculed by another councillor – a woman– for querying whether childcare was available for meetings.

You can read all about what happened here.

I asked Aisha to write for us about what happened.  Tell us what you think.

I’m a candidate for the Hills Shire Council (North Ward). Our ward is the only one consisting of all female candidates, two of whom (including me) have young kids under the age of five. A question was put to the Council, whether it would consider on-site childcare if any of the young mothers were to be elected.

The reaction, from a Liberal Councillor, Robyn Preston, who is a mother herself, was unbelievable. She scoffed at the suggestion but declared that “it’s the choice you make” and that the “cost of childcare by council would be better spent on footpaths.”

Yes, being a mother is the choice that I have made, and if it came down to money spent by Council on childcare or footpaths for my community, then I would obviously go for footpaths, but I wonder whether it is possible to do both, to ensure that mothers are encouraged to run for Council knowing that the support will be there if they are successful.

If I was elected, I may have to attend Council meetings for up to six hours. Yes, I would be sacrificing time with my son. Yes, it is the choice that I make, but only because I think I would be doing something important by making our community a better place to live.

If I was elected, I don’t need to rely on Council childcare, but it would be great to be able to count on them for support. So far, with all my busy campaigning, I have relied on the goodwill of my family to look after my son. I may not be a perfect mother, but I’m sure when he grows up he will understand that you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.

Yes I am trying to have it all, and often with heart-warming, sometimes heart-wrenching but also humorous results. Where I can, I try and take my son as child care can be expensive. However, I have also found it is hard to juggle being a mother and an MC at some events.

Last Saturday, I had to speak at a function with 600 guests. My son was close by, being looked after by his ‘digital nanny’ (the iPad). He casually strolled onto the stage, pulled my clothes and declared, “Mama I need to pee”.

Now that I can handle, but if I had to drag my son to a council meeting for six hours that would be unfair on him and even the iPad wouldn’t last that long!

Many other women, especially mothers, are trying to have and do it all, but sadly often it is other women which cut them down. The former U.S Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was famous for saying: “I think there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Now that is quite harsh, but I’m sure most women in the workforce have encountered women who have been more of a hindrance than a help.

I for one, am extremely excited, inspired and motivated whenever I meet a ‘succexcellent’ woman (that is, successful and excellent!). I think successful woman are great role models, not only for other women, but society in general.

I’d love to be elected to Council, because I think I could make the Hills Shire a better place to live and work. But if not me, then I’d at least love to see some mums get elected to Councils to help improve the footpaths, playgrounds and services for the benefit of all residents.

Aisha Amjad is an ex-lawyer but is currently studying for her Masters in International Law and International Relations. She has lived in the Hills Shire all her life and is a mum to her 5 year old son Miraan.

You can email her on aisha.amjad.govt@gmail.com or Aisha AK on Facebook (aisha.ak.16@facebook.com).

In New South Wales, it is compulsory to vote this Saturday, September 8. The fine for not voting is $55.

You can find out more about your local candidates and where you can vote here .