Towards the end of my recent interview with Tanya Plibersek she made a comment that I knew I would remember long after any story was published.
We were talking about how she and her husband juggle their busy jobs with their three children and she mentioned how their kids “undoubtedly” benefit from their careers. Not just in the sense that they provide for the family, but also because they see their parents engaged in careers they’re passionate about and they’re exposed to a great deal because of their parents’ jobs.
You might not deem that a particularly remarkable comment. But, subjectively, it resonated with me. It reminded me, again, of the bigger-picture value and importance of working.
In theory, I consider myself to be unwavering in my commitment to advocating women’s careers. Away from theory, when I am at the coal face of family life and my actual children, it would be dishonest of me to deny occasionally faltering in my commitment to the cause. Sometimes work and family seem as compatible as water and oil.
Like when my husband and I spend half the night up with one, or both, of our small children on a “school night”. Or when our beloved and reliable nanny texts at 6am on a Monday morning that she has a tummy bug. Or when one of our daughters has a meltdown when I wave goodbye at daycare. Or when I am all dressed up for work and we’re racing the clock to get out the door and, despite taking reasonable precautions against such occurrences, a wayward wheat-bix encrusted hand decorates my silk trousers. These are the tiny moments, the miniscule challenges, that variously colour, beset and plague the lives of working parents on a daily basis.
I am fortunate to have both an understanding employer and a degree of flexibility in the way I can complete my job which means those small obstacles aren’t insurmountable. Even still, occasionally, the cumulative effect of these daily challenges is feeling like I’m leaping from near-disaster to near-disaster, hanging on for dear life, wondering if I’ve read the wrong life manual. Trying to accommodate two children and two careers into one home is busy and sometimes I do stop and wonder is it worth it? I wouldn’t ever contemplate giving up work, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say from to time I wonder if being so committed to our careers makes us bad parents.
And, then, there are days like yesterday. A day where it is quietly apparent, for no apparent reason, that everything is ok; that the kids, the jobs and the life in between is all ok. Yesterday I had the kind of day with my daughters that I used to imagine all days with kids would be like. We did a few jobs, we played at the park, the girls napped, I got through a few emails, and as we pottered through the day we had fun. Actual, proper fun.
They climbed on me, they dished out cuddles, they made me laugh, we shared some cake for afternoon tea. At one point the three of us whiled away half an hour playing “tennis” with two pink balloons on the living room floor and at the end of the game for a brief, misguided, minute I imagined spending all my days like that. And that snapped me right back into a grateful reality.
For a start I’ve now spent enough time with my kids to know the idyllic moments cannot be contrived; a spare afternoon is no guarantee of parental/child bliss. But more than that, I knew, as I reflected on a joyful day, a large part of my joy stems from the fact I have some balance. I work and I’m a mum and I enjoy each of those roles more, because of the other.
And that’s why Tanya Plibersek’s words resonated with me the way they did. I’m not the deputy leader of the opposition but my daughters benefit from my career. And though it doesn’t happen all the time, sometimes juggling work and family is a joy. And those are the moments I live for.