Juggling work, study and three kids under 10, Melanie Ohl often asks if it's all worth it. Writing from Central Queensland, she believes something's gotta give for the working mums of the future.
As many mothers know, life with children is a circus. Yes it’s full of laughter, happiness and surprise but behind the scenes, it’s complete chaos.
I am a mother to three young boys. I am also a wife, a university student, an assistant manager, a junior-golf caddy, and a somewhat efficient cleaner for a house full of monkeys (aka my family). It’s a tough gig. At the end of every day I find myself exhausted from the constant juggle of children, work, study and life. When other mothers ask how I am doing, I tell them the truth: life is a circus and I am the juggling act.
Life changed dramatically when I became a mother almost ten years. Gone were the days of full-time work, late nights out, and weekend sleep-ins. Nappies, feeding and sleepless nights fast became the new norm. I would perform the same routine over and over again trying to be the perfect mum. Back then in the circus, I felt like the elephant of the show. Every day was one big circular routine of trying to impress the onlookers and keep everyone happy. This included keeping up appearances with playgroup mums, keeping the house clean just ‘in case’ anyone stopped in, and sticking to a strict routine of bath time, dinner and bed.
As my children got older, I decided to return to university and the workforce. I had spent several years putting everyone’s interests before my own and it was time to find happiness, independence and fulfillment for myself. Those 3am feeds and controlled crying regimes were replaced with school homework, weekend sports, university exams, work meetings, and even some socializing of my own. I am now juggling an abundance of daily tasks on the unicycle that is my life. While there is a great sense of pride and accomplishment in my role as the multitasker of the show, the unicycle could quite easily lose balance with too many competing obligations. Some days I could happily let the whole carnival give way beneath me, and collapse in a heap.
Achieving this precarious balance is a relatively new challenge for me, but Australian women have long been obliged to manage caring responsibilities, domestic chores and paid employment. While the government paid parental leave has helped a little to take the strain off the conflicting demands in the early months of parenthood, there are still vast gaps in assistance (and recognition) for women returning to work post-baby. The ‘juggling era’ is an extremely demanding period where women have to constantly negotiate their personal and professional lives to suit their family commitments. Childcare benefits offer some support for women returning to work, but when you have several children under school age, the remaining costs are barely feasible. Further, finding a workplace willing to accommodate flexible working arrangements can be difficult, enough to the point that women question whether the juggle is really worth it at all. Trust me, I often ask this question!
So what next for working mothers? The answer is on the circus podium. The spotlight needs to be re-focused onto the real stars of the show, the juggling women. Payments and subsidies alone cannot reach this desired outcome. Addressing embedded social attitudes and the imbalance of domestic home duties is the way forward in reaching gender equality for women. Women need to be recognized and celebrated for their work behind-the-scenes, as well as be encouraged to advance into professional roles. Workplaces need to set the scene for flexibility, while families need to take on shared responsibility targets. This is what will really enable women to move forward, set their sights on a different circus act and reach the top of tent. So long juggling routine, hello ring-mastery!
Melanie Ohl is a student at Central Queensland University studying a Bachelor of Public Health. She is a Global Voices scholarship delegate attending UN CSW in New York in 2017, and currently lives in regional, Central Queensland with my husband and three children.