Women taking a break in their careers or going part-time to look after their babies or preschool-aged children seems to get a lot more attention and support from governments, the media and society in general.
What’s often not talked about are the women who decide to step off the corporate ladder to spend more time with their teenage children. When your kids are older there’s a fair chance your career is in full-flight and respect from your superiors and peers is growing as fast as your responsibilities and hours.
What motivates women to put on the brakes and pull back in their careers at a time when their workplaces need them just as much as their teenage children?
I decided earlier this year to give up my publishing managerial job and freelance from home for the next three years to see my boys, who recently turned 15 and 17, through high school.
I did not have to search far to find three other women who also decided to tailor their work around their teens, for both practical and emotional reasons. While the women have all opted to set up and run their own businesses to achieve a better life/work balance, there is a common thread running through their stories. All three have a passion for helping other women attain part-time or flexible work – allowing more mums time with their teens and valuable piece of mind.
Fiona Anson regards herself as a “serial entrepreneur”. She has always worked during her 17-year-old son’s life, in her own businesses including running an accountancy practice for nine years, doing management and marketing consultancy work, writing a number of books and owning a property development company.
While Anson has always enjoyed the flexibility of working for herself, once Mitchell went to high school she needed to fit her working life far more around him. Now in Year 12 and with a more erratic final year school timetable, Mitchell needs more running around than ever, including for school sports and drama rehearsals.
Two years ago Anson set up a national online job board HireMeUp! which is like Seek but for the part-time, casual, contract and temp workforce.
The business came about when Anson and her co-founder Alli Baker were looking for part-time work to fit around their obligations. Not only was Anson able to tailor a new career around her son, she jointly set up a world-first and proprietary search engine that allows job seekers and employers to search by the days, times and hours they need.
“There is a section of the website called Job Matchmaker which is like a dating matchmaker for jobs. We find out what sort of work people want, their preferred days and hours and we go looking for the job. About 60 per cent of the people we help are women with school-aged children, a lot with teenagers. They want to be there for their children as much as women with little kids.
For me, when Mitchell was in about Year 10 I started to think I want to be around more because in a few years time he won’t want me around. You have this realisation that the end of you being their pal is coming like a freight train. Back then I had finished a consulting job and I thought, do I go into the fulltime workforce and find a job or start another business? I consciously decided I don’t want to work fulltime for the next three years and turn around and say ‘I’m free now’ and he’s 18 and I’m nowhere on his radar anymore.
It’s interesting, I was talking to my doctor last week and she said when her three daughters were each doing their HSC, she cut back her hours so she could be there for them, run them around and keep an eye over things. It’s just something mums do but you don’t tend to hear a lot about it.”
Nicole Kofkin worked fulltime for almost 20 years, primarily in the marketing area of the travel industry in the UK. She loved her work-from-home days but in order to step up to the next level, including managing a team, she was told she had to be in the office every day, which would have meant gruelling commuting and a 60-hour week.
Kofkin set up a Sydney au pair agency called Smartaupairs to enable her to work part-time and have the flexibility to be there for her boys, now aged 9 and 12, as they entered their teenage years. One-third of the families she has on her books have teenage children. They employ au pairs – young women from Europe and America – to live in the home and act as big sisters, role models, homework helpers and a “taxi service” when their parents can’t be around fulltime.
“It would never be voiced but you know in the corporate world if you make the decision as a mum to go part-time or ask for flexibility, it can affect your career. You know the employer will say ‘Oh well, there will be someone else to step into that position to do everything we want’.
I had to make a big decision to go part-time and for women who do that I think they deserve a pat on the back for that bravery.
Not everyone is in the situation where they can start their own business but you have to respect that other people want the flexibility you have. I’m proud that amongst the entire team I employ, not a single person works nine to five, five days a week. I employ several part-timers, including one mum who works some of the time from home. We all have a life outside work. Having that flexibility to work part time creates so much more happiness and fulfilment.”
Julie Nielsen is a single mum to five daughters aged 15 to 22. When her girls were younger, child care allowed her to work outside the home, primarily in administrative positions in law firms, while also doing bookkeeping at night.
When Nielsen’s children were in high school, afternoon and school holiday supervision became a big problem. They were too old for child care but too young to be left to their own devices. She decided working from home was the best option and now runs a cloud accountancy business, an e-bay store and an online coaching service for small businesses. Nielsen has also written an e-book Keep Kids Safe on the Net.
“I realised unless I was working from home I couldn’t properly supervise the girls on Facebook and the other teenage stuff around boys, alcohol etc. I feel teenagers need just as much supervision as young children but it’s different supervision. It’s just piece of mind that I know where they are and what they are up to. And teenagers still need you when they are having a bad day.
I found when the girls where younger there was more support for me. When they were in primary school you drop your kids off and meet other mums by the gate and you arrange to help each other out with pick-ups and drop-offs. In high school you don’t hang around the school gate and you don’t get the same support from other parents which can make you more isolated.
We now live in Mt Tamborine in the Gold Coast Hinterland. It’s a rural area with no public transport. I need to be here to run the girls around everywhere. Two of my daughters are living away at uni now and I don’t see them much anymore. I only have a few years left with the girls still at home. They just need so much emotional support compared to when they were younger. I feel it’s vital I’m available 24/7.”