'If you don't have to live like this, don't': Why I quit working full-time

Push for woman to replace O'Dwyer

Federal government frontbenchers are defending Kelly O'Dwyer's decision to quit politics, saying it's unfair to suggest she's deserting the coalition.

“If you don’t have to live like this, don’t.”

That was the advice of my former colleague, a full-time working mum, when I was debating whether to keep up my corporate career or go back home to my baby.

I’d worked hard to establish a corporate career in human resources: full-time work through promotion after promotion, and part-time study to a postgraduate level.

Megan Blandford.
Megan Blandford. Photo: Supplied

And then I had my first baby.

While I was certain that I’d be a working mother – the idea of staying home full-time was never in my plans – the reality of that was incredibly eye opening.

Returning to work when my baby was just eight months old, I battled with the guilt of leaving her and physically ached with the knowledge she was at home crying for me.

I spoke to a couple of people at work about this.

My boss said my part-time request was nonsense and that – in my senior management role – I had to be back full-time within the next few months.

And then this aforementioned colleague, who was living the life I was considering, pulled me aside and told me her truth.

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“You see us working mums coming to work and you hear us talking about how great it is, that being here is easier than being home. But it’s not true. I’m stressed out all the time, I never get time to stop and relax, and I never feel like I give enough to the kids or to my job.”

She told me being a full-time working mum was not a decision to be made lightly, and opened my eyes to how hard it would be.

I walked back to my boss’s office and said, “I quit.”

Megan Blandford (centre) says she understands Kelly O'Dwyer's decision to move away from full-time work.
Megan Blandford (centre) says she understands Kelly O'Dwyer's decision to move away from full-time work. Photo: Lucy Taylor

And this is why I completely understand Kelly O’Dwyer’s decision.

The senior Liberal minister announced on Saturday she’s the latest to leave politics, citing family reasons for her decision.

“In compiling photo books and in looking at all of those special moments over the Christmas period, I have seen how many of them I have missed,” she said.

“I no longer want to consistently miss out on seeing my children when they wake up in the morning or go to bed at night.”

O’Dwyer added that she and her husband would love to add a third child to their family, and the stress of politics isn’t helping those efforts.

I empathise.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that my career was as demanding as politics: far from it. But it is true that many of us mums – parents – know that the rigidity of some careers’ demands don’t match with our ideas of what we want from family life. It means missing out on mornings and family dinners, working when the kids are finally asleep, and racing around to fit everything in on any available weekend time.

For me, it all led to evaluating my skills and starting my own business from home. I’m a full-time working mum, but it’s on my own terms. It’s not perfect, but it’s better for our circumstances.

Still, it makes me feel sad that there are so many talented and ambitious people dropping out of the workforce, simply because we’re told that we have to fit into the corporate box or get out.

All manner of industries – from politics to STEM and everything in between – are losing the talents and skills of women (and men) who don’t find the lack of balance sustainable.

Families are consistently facing barriers like childcare costs and availability, as well as discrimination, and the challenge that O’Dwyer has faced is yet another barrier that is so hard for some of us to overcome.

O’Dwyer tried to finish her statement on a positive note, by adding that she’s sure it can work out for some.

“This does not mean that men or women need to choose between family and public service: they don’t,” she said. “With the right support you can do both, and do both well.”

It’s a tough choice, though.

Megan Blandford is a freelance writer and the author of I’m Fine (and other lies).

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