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Working parent struggling for more time? You're not alone.

By Melody Tan 4 min read
Thursday, October 31, 2019

Legally in Australia, if you're a carer and have been with an employer for at least a year, you can request flexible work arrangements.

Being a parent today often means juggling two full-time jobs: looking after your kids and paid employment. And you know all-too-well how real the struggle is.

It starts with the morning drop-off rush, herding everyone out of the door to get to daycare, school and work on time—appropriately dressed and breakfast consumed is a bonus. You put in a full day's worth of work and then hurry off to make sure you're not late for pick-up. Returning home is a blur of activity as you make sure the children are washed, their homework done and dinner is ready before they get too cranky (not necessarily in that order).

As the last child finally nods off to sleep, you're back in the kitchen getting lunches ready for the next day. Next up are all the other logistical and administrative things that come with running a household. Household semi-organised, you glance at the unfolded pile of washing, realise it's already 11 pm, shrug and crawl into bed.

Data from the 2016 Australian Census revealed that the percentage of parent couples with children under 18 years where both partners work is increasing steadily, from 53 per cent in 1996 to 61 per cent in 2016. This means if you're a parent in 2019, statistics say you're likely a working parent.

Statistics also say you're likely to have difficulties looking after your own physical and mental health, as well as your relationship with your partner and children.

Initial findings from the National Working Families Report, released on Tuesday (October 29), analysed data from more than 6000 Australian parents and carers. Worryingly, it shows that the majority of working parents and carers have difficulty striking the right balance between their work and family commitments.

"One in four parents and carers reported an increased intention to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, because they struggle to combine caring with their job,” says Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents At Work, who commissioned the survey. “Two-thirds of working parents and carers reported struggling to look after their own physical and mental health, and that’s a startling statistic by anyone’s measure. Working parents and carers also find it difficult to manage household chores and caring for family.

“Two-thirds reported feeling too emotionally or physically drained when they got home from work to contribute to their family and half had missed out on family activities in the past month, due to time they had to spend at work.”

Legally in Australia, if you're a carer and have been with an employer for at least a year, you can request flexible work arrangements. While that may sound like the perfect solution, it's not without drawbacks. Firstly, your employer can choose not to grant your flexible work arrangement request based on "reasonable business grounds".

Also, as Dr Leonora Risse, a Vice-Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Economics, Finance & Marketing at RMIT University in Melbourne, points out, “It’s extremely concerning that one in three mothers [in the report] said they missed out on promotion opportunities, while one in four suffered negative comments, when they used their work-family entitlements."

The study also found that parents who aren't using flexible working arrangements were concerned about negative career impacts if they did use flexible work. Nearly half of all respondents said their commitment to their job was questioned if they used family-friendly work arrangements.

“Female employees would be advised to develop long-term professional work plans with their employer, including keeping-in-touch programs during periods of parental leave, to avoid the risk of being perceived to have lower career ambitions and penalised simply for being a mother," Dr Leonora advises.

While there isn't any real solution to the daily struggle, some mums from our Mums At The Table Facebook group have a few tips to make life easier:

"1. Make tomorrow's lunch and a plate for tomorrow's dinner for your daughter while she is eating dinner tonight. 2. Put a big pot of soup on the stove to cook for you and husband (even if the weather is super hot). If you are in survival mode, it is great—three nights' dinners for you and husband done at once. Just add toast! 3. Have a bath/shower with your daughter. Takes no longer than bathing them on their own."—Heidi

"We cook in bulk so we have lots of meals ready to go in the freezer and steamed veg cooked a few days ahead. When you get home dinner is ready to go, then quick bath and bed. Then you can either get dinner out for the next day or do it in the morning with lunch and still have 1–2hrs for yourself!" —Alexandra

"I cook bulk on weekends and pop them into three takeaway containers with names on it (mum, dad, LO). I just grab it out of the freezer and pop into fridge that morning."—Nic

"Team effort! Prep a few meals on the weekend so you can just make a quick salad to go with patties/quiche/lasagna/savoury etc. Or cook quick meals like gnocchi with precooked sauce from the weekend or a bottle of sauce. Microwave rice to go with a pre-made curry. Get Daddy to bath the children if possible while you get dinner on the table or vice versa. Or one of you do the bath after dinner while the other makes lunch/packs bag for next day."—Amanda

"On Sunday, I lay out everyone’s clothes for the week (including underwear and socks!) so there’s no messing with that during the week. Bags for everyone are lined up at the front door the night before but lunch boxes I do every morning. I now can get lunches done in the time it takes for the kettle to boil for my tea! Also, I’ve got to the stage where I’m OK with some evenings going off skew. If we end up with sandwiches/takeout instead of dinner that’s OK. Team work is also so important; my husband and I both get home at 6pm. One gets on with reheating dinner/emptying lunchboxes/entertaining the youngest while the other one checks the older boy's written homework and doing his reading, poem and spellings with him! It’s tough but we’ve got into a routine that gets everything done in the one hour from 6–7! But it is a bit of a rollercoaster so be kind to yourself!"—Siobhan

Melody Tan is project manager of the Mums At The Table multimedia initiative. She lives in Sydney with her husband and their preschooler son.