My favourite contemporary Australian author, Peter FitzSimons, recently gave a very honest and raw interview with Mia Freedman on her podcast No Filter. A big part of the interview explores his relationship with his wife – journalist and TV personality Lisa Wilkinson – and the challenges for couples and families in juggling two busy and successful careers. What really stood out for me was the explanation FitzSimons gave to his employers to justify his decision to quit his breakfast radio gig with 2UE. It was a job that he loved. But he quit, so that his wife could focus fully on her “opportunity of a lifetime” in breakfast television.
As he so succinctly stated, “We have discovered that a family can cope with having two parents out of bed at 3:30(am) but it cannot flourish. And we as a family…..through no fault of our kids, were coping, but not flourishing.”
“Coping, but not flourishing.”
FitzSimons’s words resonated with me. It summed up perfectly how Mrs D-E-D and I jointly reached the decision late last year for me to step away from a promising and lucrative career to be at home with our children. With both of us working full time, we were coping. Just. But we, as a family, sure as hell weren’t flourishing. We were merely going through the motions, surviving day to day, week to week, and trying to avoid any major catastrophes along the way.
You see, up until the beginning of this year we were ‘domestic outsourcers’ which simply isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As anyone who works in people management will testify, having more people to assist you doesn’t necessarily mean less stress. There are still the planning, organising, delegating and negotiating aspects of running a team of people that you need to manage. The same applied to us. Even with the outsourcing, our lives were still one big juggling act. We constantly rushed from one thing to the next, planning, organising and delegating. Perhaps, most significantly, too much of our time was spent negotiating with each other on a daily basis to determine who was responsible for which domestic duties. All the while, our kids sat by – spectators to the madness.
Towards the end of last year, within a period of a few short weeks, the winds of change started to blow. Firstly, Mrs D-E-D got offered an opportunity to further advance her career in a new and challenging role. A role that would require even more of her time and energy than the not-inconsiderable amount that she was already giving. At around the same time I also realised something had to give with my own career, which was becoming more and more demanding. This triggered a seismic shift in my perspective on my work/life balance.
We had started to notice that Focker #1 was coping but certainly not flourishing in his first year at school. We realised that he needed some extra assistance with some of the reading and writing basics if he was to realise his full potential. Our time with him was so limited and precious that the last thing we wanted to be doing was spending it practicing his handwriting. Not when there was so much other fun stuff to do.
Focker #2 was also growing up fast, and like her brother, needed more quality time with her parents if she was going to grow up to be a civilised human and not pursue a life of violence and crime. The jury is still out on that one.
The final straw for me came late last year when I attended Focker #1’s end of year celebration at kindergarten, which included a dance routine and a skipping display. When it came to Focker #1’s turn to show off his skipping prowess, our beloved nanny, who was standing beside me for the show, whispered to me, “he’d better get this right because we’ve been practicing this every day for the last 6 weeks!”
I was shocked. I had no idea that he had even been learning how to skip, and even less idea that our nanny had been putting in dedicated practice sessions with him after school every day. While I’m pleased to report that he skipped like a boss that day, sadly it had nothing to do with me. This might seem like a minor thing to many, but at that moment I felt like a complete failure as a parent. We had outsourced our son’s f*cking skipping lessons. And just like that the decision was made to change our entire approach. No regrets. No second thoughts.
This SAHDing decision isn’t a realistic option for everyone. I know we are very lucky to be in a position to be able to make it. It’s too early yet to know whether our family is now flourishing with me at home, but I think Mrs D-E-D and I agree that we’re definitely in a better place than we were a few months ago. My skipping is also really coming along nicely now that I’m around to practice with my son every single day. Next goal – keeping Focker #2 out of jail.