By Kate Barnes

I am a working mother, as are many of my friends and past colleagues. Naturally we often debate the challenges of getting the balance between work and family right.

Personal circumstances vary widely and have a big impact on the choices one has, but my solution has been to work on a part-time basis. I have been lucky enough to do so for the past seven years and to me it seems like an excellent compromise. Yet there are many times when it feels like balance is the last thing I am achieving – in fact, I have the distinct feeling that I am failing on every front – my kids, my husband, and my boss, colleagues or direct reports, all want more of me.

Perhaps the truth is that I want too much. I want to be stimulated, challenged and to feel like I am adding value in the work place, but I also want to see my children more than the average, full-time working mother.

Many working mothers have made decisions involving changes to their working day in order to manage the work-family balance better. Unfortunately, I have found that one of the biggest issues is that one cannot simply decide on an approach, agree it with your employer, and then settle into whatever routine that entails. You might agree an arrangement to work 5, or 6 or 7 hours a day, or 30 hours a week, or to arrive at work early and leave by 3 or 4pm. But in most jobs, you will have to consider the balance equation on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. Is today the day I give more to work because there is a demanding deadline and everyone else is working late, or is it the day I give more to my child, because he is receiving an award at school or swimming in a gala?

And often the call has to be made taking into consideration not only what is happening today, but also looking at where the pendulum fell yesterday, or last week, or over the past couple of weeks.

As with any decision there are consequences, even if at first they are unforeseen. In the early stages of my career, I like many, was an idealistic youngster with dreams of holding a very senior, leadership position. I was ambitious, and some might say that I had much of what it takes to achieve my goal. Some years down the track I was being interviewed for a prospective job and the potential employer noted from my CV that the achievements in my career (or lack thereof) were not in line with my academic record, and he wondered why this was. I can’t remember what my response was, but I know I knew the answer. I even knew at exactly which point in my career the upward trajectory slowed. It was the day I was working at a large corporate, and I asked for flexitime. I negotiated that on two afternoons a week, I would be allowed to leave at 2pm and I would make up the time in the evening, after my young children were asleep.

Shortly thereafter, when a potential internal move to a new position was being discussed I was informed that I could not be considered for the role as I was “part-time”.

This was a wake-up call.


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