Navigating Full-Time Care and Work

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We’re strongly committed to ensuring we’re benefiting from all that gender equality can deliver to our workplace, communities, and to the individuals whose lives we impact. We believe achieving diversity is about more than targets. So we’re taking a holistic approach, which includes challenging the biases in our systems and providing practical support for our people.
— John Bradley, Secretary, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Victoria

Kelly Crosthwaite and her partner Beth have taken turns being the full-time stay-at-home parent as well as the full-time worker. She writes about how they have supported each other, their family and the important role her workplace has played.

We are a two-Mum family.  My partner Beth and I have two children, a nine year-old son and a six year-old daughter.  We each gave birth to one of our children - our donor is a friend and our kids know him and his own children well.  Our kids have known, since they were very young, how they were created, and our donor is involved with our family but not as a parent. Why am I sharing this with you?  

It is because we feel like it is normal to talk about our family situation, and we would like other people to feel normal talking about it too.  The more easily and naturally these things can be put out in the open, then the better off our kids will be in the future.

But we’re also very conscious that not every rainbow family likes to disclose the details of how their family is put together or who is in it.  Like the rest of the population - some people are inherently private and keep that stuff to themselves.

There isn’t any right or wrong approach.  But it is something to be mindful of for rainbow families – you need to respect people’s boundaries, and sensitively work them out as you go.

Beth and I have taken turns not only in giving birth, but also in being the full-time stay-at-home parent or full-time worker. We have both worked part-time for periods within the last nine years across two states and four government agencies (State and Federal).  

All those workplaces have been incredibly flexible and supportive, and we have benefitted from the great conditions and policies that government agencies implement (or at least the ones we’ve worked in).  

The policies and practices that have made the most difference to us are the same ones that make a difference to any family:

  1. Parental leave: we have clearly defined access to parental leave for mothers who give birth and for non-birth parents.

  2. Flexibility: we have the ability to work part-time and to work flexibly.

  3. Job sharing: we have the opportunity to job share - this one is an important ingredient to have in the mix so that the part-timer doesn’t get delegated ‘other’ more menial work in a workplace; and that the teams that you are a part of don’t have to ‘carry’ a position.

As with all HR policies and procedures, it is the practice of them that really makes the biggest impact and the intangibles that can make or break your experience.  

For me, being in a workplace, like the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning that so pro-actively deals with gender equity, means that drawing boundaries around my time is seen as a good thing not a bad thing.

Then there is your boss. He or she is one of the most important factors in navigating parenthood and career and we have been fortunate to have caring and supportive supervisors who have made things easy.  

The second biggest influence is the team that you’re in.  My teams have been fun, inclusive, caring and generous – and I have benefitted from that as much as anyone else in the team.  Those people that are extra thoughtful are so important in a situation where you might be made to feel on the outside. I know that my teammates in Adelaide celebrated the birth of our son with me just as much as if I had given birth - that meant the world to me.  And taught me lessons about how to do the same for others.

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