Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Work life balance in Canberra

Well, it's all the rage to have work life balance. The people at work talk about it a lot, and it means different things to every single one of them.

When my son was born we decided that trying to have a family balance of people going out to work, people staying home and people occasionally getting to the movies would be a good plan. It kind of worked, except that my husband worked forty hours a week, and I worked three hours a week (outside work that is). He managed to spread his forty hours across four days, but that was hardly perfect, since the baby and I were frequently teary (or shrieky) by 6.15 when he got home. And woe, woe, woe if he got home at 6.17. We were lucky that we lived about 10 minutes away from his work, in the Brisbane suburb of Bulimba.

The plan always was that I'd go back to fuller-time work after a year or two, and the husband would have his turn to look after the baby, but that didn't work out particularly either, because I won myself a scholarship to do my PhD, and that seemed like a reasonable option. And then doctors stuck their noses in, and brought with them physiotherapists, occupational therapists and so on and so forth, and we suddenly had a much higher level of care with the offspring than we'd ever anticipated. The husband worked a bit less, but the PhD still brought in less money than the husband's job did, and seemed to be more flexible, so that's where a lot of the give came from. Not to say that the husband didn't take a very flexible approach to his working hours as well, thanks to a very generous boss (Suzy, that's you).

So we kind of teetered into part-ish time work for both of us, to accommodate hospital appointments, visits from our team of experts from Montrose Access, hydrotherapy and all the other stuff that we had always wanted to spend our child-rearing time on, like playing, reading Good Books and hanging out with our mates.

And then after the Noodle was very ill in Spain* we realised that we needed more money than a part-timish working life was going to deliver. But we also realised that we needed more time than both working full-timish would deliver. So the public service was the only option.

And they have so delivered. The husband is very busy, what with child duties, finishing off his masters, working part time, doing a spot of freelance writing and freelance design and watching the Sopranos. But he's flexible. And I work for the blessed and enlightened Commonwealth Government, with generous leave provisions, flexi-time and an underlying attitude of 'your family comes first - no questions'. (They do ask questions, but only out of the same rampant curiousity that informs their approach to policy development).

The first few weeks I was out of the house at 7.45am and had to leave the Noodle behind were devastating, and I really did sit in the toilets crying a few times. Although that might also have been because I just was not used to turning up to work at the same time every day. But now it's working. We're off to Sydney again next week for more tests (poor Noodle), and I get to take the days off. The husband keeps track of all the appointments, letters, results and stuff, as well as getting to take the Noodle out for afternoon tea. And I like the work much, much more than I liked the PhD. Thank goodness. When things work out this well I start looking for the disaster on the horizon, but maybe it's not quite due yet.

*About Spain - it might seem weird that we managed to go on holiday to Spain with our general part-timish work penury. Short story, I bought an embroidery kit on sale and won a competition. Yay craft! And I might write about what happened to the Noodle there some day, but I feel very uncomfortable about doing that, because the response of some of my colleagues at university was 'that would make a great book', which made me want to smack them in the face, made me realise that I would never be a 'real' writer because I didn't think it was such the great idea (although part of me did, which made me want to smack myself in the face as well).

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