"My Child Is Ruining My Career." The Silent Plight That Is Devastating Families Across Australia

My Child Is Ruining My Career  The Silent Plight That Is Devastating Families Across Australia

I am no influencer. I think I have just a little over 2,000 followers on Instagram, and though it’s largely a highlight reel of my life, given my job (Editor of One Fine Baby) I like to reflect the ‘real’ and the ‘uncomfortable’ parts of parenting, too.

I do this because I think of Instagram as my ‘other village’. Sometimes we see a little too much of the product unboxings and the free trips from influencers, and not enough of the real life ties that bind us.

So many working parents are suffering in silence

When I innocently posted a photo of my son Freddie’s slightly conjunctivitis-affected eye after he had been sent home from daycare yesterday, accompanied by an honest question; ‘How are we supposed to do this?!’ I was floored by the response I received.

I instantly received over 100 responses from women I both knew and hadn’t met, telling me they ‘feel this - 100%!’ and were also ‘at absolute breaking point’.

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My post was about the fact that after dropping my son and daughter at daycare that morning, to begin my 3-day work week, I had a call from the centre within the hour asking me to pick up my daughter (who had a fever of 37.8 degrees) and half an hour later, my son (who had a slightly ‘gunky’ eye.)

For the sixth time in just four weeks, due to a cold, runny stool, gunky eyes, a temperature or a cough, either my husband or I would have to let our work down by taking ‘carer’s leave’, inching even further behind in our careers as another day passed by where we weren’t able to achieve what we needed to achieve to hit our KPIs and show our worth.

So many other women - and men - are in the same boat. 

Child sickness in a post-COVID world

My daughter started daycare back in July of 2020, so I’ve never experienced daycare illness in a COVID-free world, but I imagine these days, policies are upheld a little more strictly. A temperature even slightly over the nominated degree means a phone call to be picked up, snot that is even a little cloudy results in the same thing, and a poo that’s even a little less than firm? Yep. Home time.

Do you still have to pay for the days where your child attends for only an hour? Yep. 

Do you get extended carer’s leave for choosing to procreate in a COVID-affected world? Nope

Does your workplace get compensated in terms of manpower for your lack of attendance? Nope. Your colleagues have to pick up the slack.

So many women told me their experiences over the last few months, here are a few that stuck out; a teacher with three children has to split her class every time one of her twins has a cloudy runny nose, or a slight temperature. She is left feeling so guilty, having to impose on two other teachers, despite it not being her fault. Another has tried to help support her personal trainer husband by bringing in some money working at a real estate office a few days a week, and is met with constant eye rolls whenever her day care calls to pick up her 8-month-old son. 

The fact is, given we were all locked inside last winter, the germ spread and subsequent rise in illness has meant that we’re picking up anything and everything. Doctor’s appointments are difficult to get, and hospital waits? Don’t even bother. It’s not their fault either - everyone is feeling the strain.

The constant ‘juggle’ - and feeling like you’re letting everyone down

I think the worst part of the constant illness that seems to steamroll at this time of year is the constant ‘juggle’ that comes with it. 

On the days when you’re balancing a sick child at home and trying to finish that report on time, odds are you’re doing half a job in both areas. Your child is either properly sick and really needs you or has a slight temperature, is sent home, and refuses to leave the light switches alone as you try to finish that report.

What happens next is a feeling of utter guilt and disappointment. You’re letting down your boss, who is in some capacity no doubt trying to rebuild after two years of being affected by COVID, and also your children, who back in your day would probably have been able to be cuddled by their mum, eating soup and watching Disney VHS tapes on repeat.

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The difference is that in this climate, you need two working parents to make ends meet. One salary just doesn’t cut it in most cases if you want to not only simply survive, but thrive. The cost of living is rising, interest rates are climbing, and through it all, we’re worried about job security because most of us haven’t managed to work a full, interrupted week in months.

The part that I can’t resolve in my mind, is that (given what’s currently in place) parents - but especially women - are expected to work like we don’t have kids, and parent like we don’t have to work. It’s a set-up that is designed to have us fail. 

It’s not fair to employers - and small businesses - either

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In my case, I have the privilege of working for a working mother who understands the struggle and is so accommodating in every aspect. And even though we all have carer’s leave we can take, those days are not infinite - and once they run out, it begins to cost us. They’re also having to fill the gaps on the days when we aren’t able to show up. It’s a lot - especially with what business owners have had to contend with over the last two-and-a-half years.

You would understand why they would see more value in hiring people without dependents - hey, even I can see the value! Because there is simply nothing in place to make hiring parents a preferable option.

What is the answer for working parents?

This is a difficult question to answer - as I’m not sure anyone with any power to change things has given it adequate thought. Speaking to my ‘village’ on Instagram over the last 24 hours, a few possibilities have been brought to my attention, so I thought i’d share a few of them with you now:

1. Start a family care set-up. This is where you and a few friends/neighbours/family members get together to form a group, and take turns in looking after the kids on a specific day. On Mondays you might have all the kids, then on Tuesday your sister may take them all, on Wednesday it’s the neighbour Julie’s turn, etc. This option is free, has less kids (and less chance of sickness) and can be altered without too much fuss.

2. Opt for a nanny instead. I had no idea, as I have always viewed this as something posh London families do, Mary Poppins-style, but a few people I spoke to actually already do this! The reason being that yes, while it is a little more expensive, it eliminates the illness-factor and provides one-on-one attention. I’m told the ‘sweet spot’ financially is doing a few days of daycare and a few with a nanny, and having the nanny potentially available to step-up on days when daycare won’t take your child.

3. Half payment to daycare centres on days when the child is sent home. This one's for you, Albo - and I think it’s more than fair. Once our carer’s leave runs out, we are at a financial disadvantage if your child cannot attend daycare on the days they’re scheduled for. That’s upwards of $100 per day down the gurgler, depending on your daycare’s costing structure and your individual childcare subsidy. The idea is that whatever you are left paying after the subsidy kicks in, should be halved again and covered by the government if your child is sent home by the daycare centre.

While one of these options may work for you, they’re simply not realistic for everyone - and so the guilt-filled juggle continues. Even taking illness out of the equation, parents are showing up each day on just a few hours sleep, pushing harder than those without dependents, as we have to prove our worth, all the while heading towards a breakdown. We watch the washing pile-up, gaze at the packet of cookie mix we haven’t had time to make with our kids, and mourn the dates missed with our significant other. Because there simply isn’t time or the capacity to do it all.

So I guess it’s true what they say, you can have it all, but not all at the same time - and until the powers that be can devise a way to make things more bearable, we will continue to try and keep our heads above water, as we - like ducks - have our legs pedalling overtime underneath the water’s surface, just to stay afloat.

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