Why I refuse to hide my parenting obligations at work

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Parenting is a demanding gig – everyone with a child knows that.

And it's not one that fits into set hours or waits for us to be ready, so sometimes parenting encroaches on our paid work space.

Sometimes we have to leave at short notice, reschedule meetings or push back on deadlines to accommodate a sick kid or a school dance recital which is inexplicably put on at midday on a Tuesday.

When my three children were younger, I used to try to hide my parental obligations at work. If I had something to go to, I'd say I had a doctor's appointment or car trouble. I'd basically do anything to pretend I didn't have children.

It felt like an unspoken part of my contract – and I would proudly tell anyone who listened – that while I was at work, I was at work. I didn't put pictures of my kids up at my desk, I didn't talk to my colleagues about baby milestones reached or proud parent moments, and I certainly didn't ask anyone to cut me a break because I was a mum. I felt like that would make me look weak and half-hearted.

Looking back now, it feels like that chapter of feminism where we all felt like we had to act like men to enjoy the same rights. I was acting like someone who didn't have children so I'd be taken seriously in the workplace and avoid appearing unprofessional.

What I've come to realise, slowly and incrementally, is that I am taken seriously in the workplace because I'm good at my job. I behave professionally and deliver what is asked of me consistently. The fact that I'm also a single mother of three children, aged 14, 8 and 6, doesn't negate that or affect my ability to do my work – most of the time.

But parenting is demanding and messy, and there are times something will come up that is unavoidable. When I separated from my ex-husband a couple of years ago, necessity led me to make the decision to stop sweeping my motherhood under the carpet to ease everyone else's expectations. I no longer had a safety net – on the days my kids were with me, I was on my own.

So I decided to try being honest when my kids needed me. Of course I did my best to keep my worlds separate, but when they collided, I was open about it. When one of my kids was hospitalised suddenly, I didn't take my computer up to the hospital and work from her bedside as I had done before. I emailed everyone I needed to and told them not to expect anything from me for a few days. Then I was present with my child as she recovered.

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At this point it's important to acknowledge that I come from a place of enormous privilege in this space, and it's something I'm acutely aware of. I work for myself, and I have a number of clients I write for in the space of any single work week. Sometimes I work in their offices, but more often I work from home.

That means if I have a client who is displeased by my delaying a deadline by a day because my son has the flu, I can comfortably kiss them off, knowing I still have enough income to get by. Then I can replace them with a new client who is more supportive of working parents.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to do that, but that's why I feel like it's my responsibility to push back where I can. The more employers that experience the parental push-back, the more it will become accepted practice in offices everywhere.

I will continue to be open and honest at work about my parenting commitments, and I hope my clients will continue to appreciate my dedication to their work almost all of the time.

Life is happening all around us every day and it's increasingly impossible to keep them separate. I don't think we should have to try.