Partner Content, Provided with the support of Juggle & Thrive
How do you thrive when you’re juggling work, kids and everything else life throws your way? This series supported by Guardian Early Learning Group takes a look at the daily lives of women tackling it all.
Weekly flights, emails, team-leadership, implementing best business practices, and of course, family—it’s fair to say that Tracey Thornhill’s life is far from dull.
With over 22-years’ experience in the early childcare sector—both as an educator and manager, Tracey’s knowledge of the industry is second to none. It’s why she’s now Assistant General Manager for leading childcare provider, Guardian Early Learning Group.
Describing herself proudly as a ‘true brit’, Tracey’s career took off in the UK when she opened her own company for parents who needed support with childcare after school and in the holiday periods.
A young mum at the time, Tracey recognised firsthand the shortage of quality childcare options and sought to relieve pressure on working families. Over a 10-year timeframe, she grew the company to include six centres with responsibility for more than 400 children.
Growing the business to a point where it thrived was a proud milestone for Tracey, but she also found life in the UK restrictive. For this reason, she and her husband made the bold decision to sell the business and move to Australia with their two young kids.
“We emigrated to Australia for a great life that gave us so much more than we had in the UK in terms of lifestyle,” she tells us. Raising kids in Australia opened up the opportunity for the family to live beside the beach and enjoy regular outdoor activities.
For three months, Tracey enjoyed her new home, the sun and settled into the “Australian way of life”. It wasn’t long though, before the itch to work again gripped her and she picked up a role as Manager at Guardian’s Export Park Centre.
Soon after, she climbed the ranks to operations and was overseeing the business’s expansion across South and Western Australia, as well as implementing a number of key initiatives.
One such initiative was the rollout of Guardian’s corporate solutions vacation program. The initiative enables Australian companies to provide sponsored holiday childcare for their employees in nominated centres, alleviating stress on new parents and mothers in particular.
When asked about her career trajectory and whether she had intended to end up where she has, Tracey is refreshingly honest—conceding that her pregnancy at a young age was definitely not part of the plan.
“I knew I always wanted to manage my own company from a very young age. In fact, my childhood cupboards were full of hole punches and staplers instead of toys!”
“However, the reality of becoming a Mum aged 23, was very much unplanned and may have even been considered an ‘accident’ at the time.”
At the same time, Tracey felt determined to prove that as a young mother, she could still have the a big career.
“I found a way to start my own business, alongside my beautiful daughter,” she says.
“My new position as a Mum gave me the perfect opportunity. I started to research opportunities whilst in Family Day Care and made it my goal to open my own company, which I went on to do soon after.”
Although her kids are now grown up, Tracey reflects on what life was like as a young mum, in a foreign country and a demanding (albeit rewarding) career.
“When the children were younger we made the decision that I would work five days per week and my husband would work three days, to be able to take the children to appointments or after school activities,” she says.
It wasn’t always easy, especially with a role requiring significant interstate travel. When away Tracey stayed pragmatic, knowing that her husband was taking good care of the kids and her career was a priority too.
Speaking with Tracey, you get the impression she’s a woman unlikely to sweat the small stuff. Every week she splits her time between Victoria and South Australia, but rather than complain about her regular 3:50am redeye flights, she tells us how much she enjoys the diversity this lifestyle affords her.
“I live in SA – what else is there other than sunshine and Shiraz?” she jokes.
In Melbourne for the other half of the week, she warmly refers to her colleagues as her “Guardian family” and blames them for corrupting her love of tea and subjecting her to regular coffee breaks.
She describes herself as tidy and organised, but her best attribute as a leader is the deep regard she has for her peers. She’s also self-effacing, telling us that’s she’s prone to mistakes but always tries to learn from them.
“Respect is my number one value and I try to uphold this when dealing with difficult situations. My most influential learning has derived from mistakes that I have made; I always try to reflect on situations that have not gone according to plan and execute them more effectively next time. Age helps!” she says.
Having worked in childcare for her entire career and having juggled a young family for much of that time, Tracey understands that perfect work/life balance is not always possible and women typically have to make sacrifices.
“Work/life balance is important, but not always achievable in a 50/50 manner,” she says.
“Sometimes work is busy and sometimes home life demands more.”
She’s also refreshingly unapologetic about her love for her career, and her willingness to prioritise it.
“I love to work. And my husband when reading these questions answered one for me – “what do you do to unwind?’ – his answer was ‘work’!” she jokes.
For Tracey, the juggling journey—career, family, life—has all been worth it. She urges other women not to forsake their own aspirations.
“Never give up on your dreams, even when life gets in the way. Treat everyone how you wish to be treated. Experience the world.”
Guardian Early Learning Group operates 96 high quality early learning centres across Australia. Guardian’s Reggio Emilia-inspired Curriculum places importance on the unique interests and developmental stages of each child and focusses on literacy, numeracy, creative and social skills to create lifelong learners. With custom-designed environments, nature inspired resources and passionate educators, we invite you to discover your closest Guardian centre today.
Read other stories in the ‘Juggle Thrive’ series: