Working parents too exhausted for family life

 

Shantelle Scovell is a mum, a wife and a successful professional, but it's a balancing act she hasn't yet mastered - and she's not alone.

A study of more than 6000 Australian parents revealed a constant tug-of war between raising their children and holding down a job.

The National Working Families Report found half of them struggled to find work and family balance, and it made them unhappy in both.

It also revealed two thirds of working parents reported feeling too emotionally or physically drained when they got home from work to contribute to their family, as well as struggling to look after their own mental and physical health.

It's a feeling Mrs Scovell can often relate to.

With two toddlers aged one and four, the Townsville mum knows she and her husband are deep in the trenches of parenthood.

She said a combination of "denial and hope" that the juggling act would get easier is what got her through each week.

"You basically put your life on hold and between work and the kids you lose yourself," Mrs Scovell said.

"It's not sustainable and there is a point where you think I do need to step back but it's hard because you just know you will always want to put the kids first.

"I hope that it will get easier when they get older but I have a feeling it will get harder because then there's sport and after school commitments."

Shantelle and Glen Scovell with Fletcher, 1, and Ruby, 4, at their Currajong home. Picture: Evan Morgan
Shantelle and Glen Scovell with Fletcher, 1, and Ruby, 4, at their Currajong home. Picture: Evan Morgan

 

The national study included mums and dads with each reporting different challenges.

The biggest challenge for dads was breaking through gender biases of accessing flexible work arrangements, particularly when it came to their professional reputation and employer perceptions.

For mums, it was the pressure of returning to work.

The report found that a third (34 per cent) of women had missed out on an opportunity for promotion because they had taken paid parental leave, compared with 11 per cent of men.

Mrs Scovell holds a senior management position, which she accepted while on maternity leave.

She said although her workplace was incredibly supportive of her working part-time after having her baby, it wasn't working out professionally.

And it comes at emotional cost.

"I'm lucky because my husband is really supportive and would support me either way but it's just not really viable with my job," she said.

"It's very tiring and extremely difficult to manage but once the kids are in bed I'm straight back into it and working.

"So you're just constantly feeling guilty but you just have to spend as much time with them on the weekend to make up for it and I try to leave my phone away so they have my full attention."

The number of families with both parents working full-time has also risen, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting an increase of 21 per cent compared to last year.

In June, it reported the number of mothers working had risen by 70 per cent.

Psychologist Renee McAllister said it was important parents blocked out others’ opinion on how to manage their family.
Psychologist Renee McAllister said it was important parents blocked out others’ opinion on how to manage their family.

Psychologist Renee McAllister said in order for parents to avoid burning out it was important to block out external opinions on how to manage their family.

"Create your own definition of what success looks like and what values are important to you as a family because how others are doing it won't necessarily work for you," Ms McAllister said.

"Personal relationships especially with partners is the first thing to deteriorate when we're under this sort of pressure so it's important to nurture them. When I've worked with parents and kids having a tough time, it's often the kids that have the best ideas because they point out the obvious and basic things."

Ms McAllister said there was no silver bullet answer to solving the increased pressures of juggling work and family life, so parents needed to be proactive in managing their personal health.

"It's the cliche of fitting the oxygen mask to yourself first, as hard as that can be as a parent, but it can often avoid situations escalating and just give time to help the clouds to clear a little bit," Ms McAllister said.

"In periods of stress and distress, it's about coming back to the basics and focusing on sleep patterns and good meals.

"One of the opportunities for families going through a rough time is it's an incredible moment to clarify how you want your children to manage big emotions."

KEY THEMES

1) Working parents are fatigued, stressed, anxious and depressed as a result of trying to balance work and family commitments.

2) Mums continue to shoulder the majority of household labour.

3) Dads suffer from unchanged social attitudes making it harder to access flexible work arrangements.

4) Returning to work after a period of parental leave is the hardest time of all.

5) Parents get personal satisfaction and fulfilment by being employed.