It’s the call no mum wants to see on her phone at work – daycare demanding you collect your sick little one. And that’s after you came to work “late” – at least by the standards of those who only have themselves to dress in the morning.

Balancing work and parenthood provides a smorgasbord of chances to feel stretched.

And if your boss is one who doesn’t fully appreciate the demands of mum life? The daily juggle becomes that much more stressful than it should.

For help with killing it at work (even with a boss who’s never changed a nappy), we spoke to executive coach Gabrielle Gleeson, a specialist in parental transition.


I get the side-eye when leaving work early to collect my child. How can I prove I’m still productive?

Gabrielle says the first thing to set straight is how you’re defining productivity.

Is yours a job where being present for a certain period of time is needed? Like a receptionist or optometrist? Or is yours more about how you use the time to produce quality outcomes?

If your job is primarily about results (not hours), productivity means achieving agreed goals. At each deadline, you can proactively check back in to highlight what you’ve achieved.


Uh, I don’t know if I can actually achieve what’s expected of me

Gabrielle says that in terms of proving your productivity, the bigger question is around expectations. “Are yours in alignment with the people that you’re working with? Are their expectations of you something that you’re capable of delivering on? And are you aware of your capacity to deliver on the expectations that they have?”

Ideally, you’d have this two-way conversation before returning to work. Otherwise: now.

“It’s got to be collaborative,” counsels Gabrielle. “And it’s better to not wait until the point where people are looking for what might not be working…Having a conversation about [expectations] before any issues come up is a really good idea.”


How do I ask my boss for flexible working arrangements, now that I’m a parent?

Gabrielle finds that a lot of the mums she works with already have solutions in mind, such as working on a project instead of managing a team.

“I think it’s unrealistic to expect that when a mum returns to work, it’s going to be status quo. Most people recognise that it’s a time of transition, and that there are challenges in place. But that doesn’t have to mean that the work that they do is less valuable.”

Fist, you need to know and communicate your own capability. Gabrielle explains, “It’s partly our responsibility not to set ourselves up in a way that’s not achievable to deliver on. Can we have the confidence to communicate and articulate what our strengths are? And explain what we can deliver and what we feel confident about, even if that differs to what it was before? And know that we’re of value in that.”

Of course, whatever arrangements you agree on now, they can (and should) continue to evolve as your child and your family develops.


I’m constantly asked to do things outside what I’ve agreed to. Should I push back?

Fleshing out your working arrangements and boundaries is the first thing – sticking to them is the next. For example, if you don’t work on Fridays, you remind colleagues that you’ll next check emails first thing Monday.

“The moment you wobble from that you can get pushed further and further out,” cautions Gabrielle.

Those with different circumstances to yours can’t fully appreciate the demands of family life. For example, it’s no surprise that 6 in 10 young mums feel “always or often” rushed or pressed for time (according to ABS data). Compare this to just 3 in 10 of your male colleagues with partners but no children.

So if they can’t understand, holding your boundaries is up to you.


Juggling work and parenthood shouldn’t fall only to women. How do I help my male partner share the load?

Gabrielle reminds us that conversations about flexible arrangements are tricky but vital for all parents.

“I think we just have to be prepared to have difficult conversations and encourage our partners to do so. And it can be challenging, but it’s challenging for anybody.”

The process is the same for mums and dads. Gabrielle summarises it in three steps:

  1. What are everyone’s expectations? Yours, your boss’ and your partner’s?
  2. Can you realistically deliver on those?
  3. How are you going to discuss that with your boss and partner?

In juggling paid work and kids, all parents benefit from reminding themselves and others what valuable work it is to raise the next generation.

“It’s a responsibility and a priority to care for the vulnerable people in our community,” says Gabrielle.

“So rather than that fear of ‘I’m not going to meet the expectations of my employer’. The question is: how can we have them better understand the collective responsibility we have to take care of vulnerable people in our community? And the important role that you’re playing [as a parent],..It’s really, really important work.”

By Louise Wedgwood