My oldest daughter started asking questions about career and motherhood recently.
Let me start by saying that my daughter has wanted to be a nurse since she was three years old. It’s a consistent dream that involves absorbing herself in human body books, asking a million questions of any nurses she meets, having a fully stocked nurses’ kit wherever she goes, assisting any member of our family who hurts themselves, and watching hours upon hours of medical shows on television.
Lately, though, her dream has been waning – not from a lack of enthusiasm, but because she’s been wondering whether it’s compatible with being a mum.
“Mum,” she asked out of the blue, “I’m worried that if I become a nurse, I won’t get to spend much time with my kids. How could I do both?”
I should point out my daughter is only eight; her career decisions don’t need to be made in the short-term. However, her concerns in that moment were very real.
Kids see more than we realise
Although I hadn’t ever spoken to my daughter about the juggle between career and motherhood, she has observed a lot more than I would have thought.
She has seen me as a stay-at-home mum, and she’s watched on as I’ve moved into running my own small business to both live my dream and support our family. Like 59 per cent of other Australian kids whose mums work, she knows how she feels as her mum’s time at home has reduced.
And she’s seeing into the future to think about how her kids might feel if she does the same.
What it will really be like for our daughters
I wanted to answer my daughter’s questions with idealism. “It’s wonderful,” I’d love to be able to say, “and you won’t have a worry in the world when the time comes”.
Unfortunately, though, my conscience won’t let me lie to her; the truth is there are significant challenges to having children and a career. These are the things that raced through my mind as I considered how to respond:
- It’s unlikely that our daughters will have a choice about whether to work or not post-motherhood, as many say the cost of property is likely to continue to rise;
- Our daughters won’t yet see gender wage equality in their lifetime – for that, they’d be better off working in Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden or the Philippines;
- They may have to fork out most of their wages on childcare costs;
- The mother guilt is extremely heavy to carry when you go to work and leave your children in the care of others;
- In the next generation, there will be more women than ever choosing not to have children, in part for some of the above reasons.
Of course, I didn’t throw this cloud of bleakness at my eight-year-old daughter.
Instead, I told her that sometimes it’s hard to be a mum and to have a job, but that there are ways to make it work. We talked about maternity leave, part-time working options, and how family and a partner are part of the equation too, just as she sees with her stay-at-home dad.
I hope the statistics take an unexpected turn and things are easier for our daughters. However, in the meantime they need strong role models to show them how to make the best of the situation.
And I reckon we can step up to that.