Recently my husband and I switched roles. He’s a stay at home dad. I’m a working mum. We are a modern family.
I was very excited to go back to work. I’m finally putting my PhD to good use doing research I really care about. I have two part time contracts. The first is with JCU running my own investigation into internet connectivity on remote cattle properties in Far North Queensland. The second is working at QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre on various projects more broadly related to digital inclusion. I’m in my element.
When Frankie was just four months old I took my first work trip to Far North Queensland. I left my baby girl at home with her dad and grandparents. We planned hard for this trip. Frankie was still on the boob for all her meals, so Brett practised feeding her with a bottle. In the weeks leading to my departure I expressed milk each night, often in the wee hours of the morning. Significant logistical planning also went into how the baby would be transported from Brisbane to Gold Coast mid-week while Brett was working full time.
During my five-day absence everything went to plan. Frankie the Football was passed around all week, taking it in her stride. Being away was made that much easier by the steady stream of messages and photos I received with proof that Frankie was doing just fine. The biggest headache of the trip (or boob ache as it were) was my swelling, oversized breasts. I tried so very hard to express and relieve myself as often as possible, but they bulged faster than I could keep up. Any breastfeeding mum will tell it is very uncomfortable, even painful for some.
On my return to Brisbane I beamed with pride that my little trouper hadn’t missed a beat. I was also pretty pleased with myself for getting back to work after a long hiatus. I felt (and continue to feel) that making these choices sets a good example for Frankie.
Relief that we had pulled it off quickly turned sour, as I was in agony with a misdiagnosed tooth issue. I took a conservative approach and decided not to breastfeed at all while trialling different pain killers. This lasted a good couple of weeks during which time Frankie was on formula, as we’d run out of breast milk. This was an awful time, which was compounded by a reduction in my milk supply that we ended up treating pharmaceutically. The baby was, of course, fine. But the mummy in me felt I had somehow squandered Frankie’s milk by continuing to put my own needs ahead of hers.
Eventually I got my tooth sorted. By this time Frankie was used to being fed a combination of boob and bottle, which we continued into my return to work period. This made the ball juggling possible in the couple of months that followed when I was working four days a week (from home and the office) as well as looking after the baby, the house and three dogs. Not wanting to put my supply in jeopardy again, Frankie accompanied me on my second data collection trip up North. Again she thrived – through her first flight, long hours in the car on country roads, her first day of child care (in Mareeba!), and being passed around to new people. It was one big week!
I was so very relieved when Brett finally finished up work at the end of August (somewhere in there we also drove to Sydney for my sister’s wedding!). The transition has, however, been tougher than I expected. You see, I quite liked being the mater. Despite my exhausting and unsustainable existence, I was proud to be the wonder women who did everything (not withstanding Brett’s epic daily commute and fantastic support I received from him in the early mornings, evenings and weekends).
Now my husband, such a competent parent in his own right, is Frankie’s primary carer. We now joke that I must now be the “secondary care”. What a flaccid title that is! Other slightly more acceptable titles include “working mum” or “bread-winner”, but these don’t suit me either. They do not capture the mental and emotional place I currently find myself in.
Being the working-from-home mummy (who spends a couple of days per week in the office) is a kind of purgatory. When I’m working, I’m missing my baby. When I’m at home doing mummy and wife things, I could be working. As well, Brett (to his credit) has taken on the role of chief decision-maker with the day-to-day management of baby (feeding, changing, napping, etc), leaving me feeling rather superfluous in a domain that I used to command. There is also tension around the broader domestic affairs (cleaning, dog walking, plant watering, etc) which I am yet to fully let go of and Brett is yet to take full responsibility for (save for the cooking, which has always been his forte).
It’s not really a role reversal so much as a role redefinition. I don’t do all that Brett used to do (working and commuting five days per week). And he doesn’t do all that I used to do (the juggling act). We’re trying to find our new groove in which all three of us (six if you count the dogs) get what we need. I’m sorry to say that most days, quite inevitably, someone misses out. Whether it’s Frankie not getting the story I try to read her, or Dallas not getting the walk she needs to curb her destructive tendencies, or Brett not getting the man time he needs to stay sane.
I’m yet to work out what I need on a daily basis in this new arrangement. Daily play time with Frankie is a must, along with getting back to running a few times per week. And the odd date night with my husband, which we’ve managed a few times since bub was born.
I don’t really know how our roles will evolve, particularly when Brett goes back to work. We’ll keep living our unconventional life for a while longer. I don’t know any other couple with a baby daughter with no fixed abode. I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of or not (I would dearly love to have a place of our own). But it does speak to our flexibility as a family unit.
Above all, I’m proud of the resilient little human we are raising, who rolls with the punches and smiles at every single solitary person she meets. Frankie, you are the light of my life and inspiration to try and be the best person and role model I can be.