• P.O.V
  • By Emma Brain
  • Opinion

Three Phases of Early Parenthood

Akira Monaghan is an Architect at TheFulcrum.Agency and mother to two young girls. In her first article for POV, Akira provides a rich account of her experience navigating the demands of work and family life. In doing so, she offers useful advice to anyone with children – and even those for whom parenthood is a distant idea!

I acknowledge Whadjuk Noongar people as the custodians of the land on which my workplace and home are located. I am a Caucasian cisgender woman in a hetero relationship. I have a life of privilege due to these factors amongst others.

As with many other businesses, our architectural practice has found the Covid-19 pandemic difficult to navigate. Our situation has not been as challenging as others’, so it is with sensitivity that I say we are seeking out the ‘opportunities’ the crisis and subsequent downturn in work has given us.

One opportunity we have had has been to take some time to slow down and reflect. For me, that translated to a review of the past few years working as an architect and being a new parent, in a similar fashion to Motherhood Statements (1). I hope that through this exercise I can extract something helpful or meaningful, which I can pass on to others.

I love my kids and receive great joy from being a part of their lives. I also find a lot of satisfaction from my work as an Architect. My situation has also been influenced by my partner’s work; he is a school teacher and earns more than I do. At his particular school he is unable to work the kind of reduced week that would free up an entire workday.

I record my reflections in three parts; three early stages of the work/family dynamic. In doing so, I offer up what I hope to be practical advice, or at the very least alerting parents-to-be about what is to come in the wonderful and challenging life as parents.


I love my kids and receive great joy from being a part of their lives. I also find a lot of satisfaction from my work as an Architect.

Part One: Pre-Baby

Get registered

Luckily for me, I had the benefit of my director, Emma Williamson’s, experience of being an architect and parent. “Get your registration now” she said when hearing I was pregnant. I didn’t think I could cope with undertaking registration while being pregnant, but her point was this: put the effort in now, it will be so much easier to do it while pregnant than later with young children. I took her advice and registered, it was the right decision. I would advise all women to prioritise getting registered as soon as possible after graduation.

Know your entitlement

It is important to know what you are entitled to when you have a child, because it could be the difference between having a job to return to and receiving government payments, or not.

Eligibility for government payments and leave from your workplace usually depend on how long you’ve been in paid employment. For my first child I was eligible for government payments: this was the minimum wage for 18 weeks. For my second child, I was unknowingly ineligible (*sob*).

Knowing your entitlements applies to men too and be wary that not all workplaces themselves realise that the father can also access paid parental leave. My partner was entitled to this and had a lengthy amount of time at home. This meant he could do more of the caring, housework and ultimately became as competent in child caring tasks as I was. It also strengthened his relationship with the kids.

Plan your return to work

This may feel like the last thing you want to think about however I benefited from pencilling in a return date with my workplace. It gave me the impetus to firm up a return date that worked for me and also suited their resourcing and current projects.

Hidden deficits

It’s important to anticipate, beyond potential illness and the inevitable fatigue of pregnancy, some of the ways that you may be financially disadvantaged. Be prepared for a number of appointments and tests and the reality that you cannot use your sick leave to attend them. Expect that there will be costs associated with new maternity clothes. Don’t be surprised that certain jobs won’t be assigned to you, as you will be taking leave.

Part Two: Parental Leave

Parenting Plan

My partner and I spent a lot of time talking about what we would do at the birth; the ‘birth-plan’. We found out just after the birth that it would have been more useful to work out a ‘parenting plan’.

Subsequently, we discussed how the division of parenting and domestic tasks would be shared.  Being fair and equitable was important for sharing the load and respecting one another.

While my partner and fumbled through the early days, it soon became clear that beyond the obvious childcaring and housework that is required, there’s another significant piece of work. The ‘mental load’ (2) is the work that happens in your head; future planning, organising, and worrying. It had defaulted to me and it was exhausting. I spoke with my partner and now we share all loads.

Contact with the workplace

In the early days of being a mother, I struggled with feeling out-of-the-loop with what was happening in the office. Having an active email helps, as does making sure you’re still on the list for whole-of-office emails. Staying in touch with your boss and/or a close colleague is a good way to feel involved. There’s also 10 ‘keeping in touch’ days that may be used (paid days).

Financial disadvantage

Beyond the obvious lack of income when you are on parental leave, and then the reduced rate if you return part-time, there are other deficits lurking around. Superannuation will become suboptimal. Registration fees still have to be paid, even if you switch to non-practicing status. Progress may pause on repaying your HECS debt, and my bank started charging a maintenance fee as no money was coming into my account! Consider also that part-time architects must accumulate the same amount of CPD as full-timers. This has been a challenge for me, as my availability to attend talks, lectures or events out of hours is limited by my parenting job.

Gendered myths

It’s worth discrediting some commonly perpetuated myths which tend to result in the woman taking on more childcaring and housework, further inhibiting her career as she becomes the ‘expert’ in these domestic tasks:

·        Women are naturally capable of child rearing: No, men and women are both as hopeless as each other when the baby arrives.

·        Women experience the ‘nesting’ phenomenon: This a myth perpetuated by the patriarchy. If it’s natural for a woman to ‘nest’ then it’s natural for her to look after the housework, right? Wrong! (3)

·        Children need their mother more than their father: Although breastmilk is great for babies and only women can do this, this is where it ends for the things that women can do that men can’t. Children need the love and attention of both parents.

·        Women are supported more than ever in their return to work: This is partly true. We’ve become quite good at getting women back into the workforce. What we’re not good at is getting men out of the workforce and taking on more of the primary caring of children. (4).

Part Three: Returning to Work

Cost of childcare

The recent taste of free childcare provided us with temporary relief, and it has resolved in my mind that this should have always been free, for one thing it supports women’s return to the workplace. We have seen women disproportionately affected during Covid when children are pulled out of daycare, because it is they who shoulder the extra parenting load. But our pollies have their ‘blokey agenda’ (5) so we’re back to the reality of paying for it, in more ways than one.

Calculations of childcare costs should be proportional to how much each parent is working; Annabel Crabb notes how too often childcare expenses are automatically hypothecated against a mother’s income (6). Similarly, Clementine Ford wants to see a change in the language we use, and the assumptions we make, about who’s paying for the childcare (7). Consider also that the cost of childcare is an investment. If you delay returning to work because of the cost, you also delay the potential for work experience, promotional opportunities, and salary rises.

Sick kids

In my situation, when our children are sick and one of us needs to stay home, we decide which parent does this according to the proportion of the working week each of us works. My partner works 100% of the working week (5 days) and I work 60% (3 days). Therefore, he stays at home with the sick child for the first two sick days then I stay at home for one, and the pattern continues. This is actually a proportion consistent with a working week of 50% for me, but we also factor in ‘career equity’.

Career equity

There is no doubt that my career has been substantially more affected by having children than it has for my partner, who has continued his career mostly unchanged.

As I have had no choice but to be a part-timer, my partner takes on more of the child and household related tasks at other times. For example, he does the childcare drop-offs and pick-ups, excursions on weekends, an equal amount of housework (even though I’m at home more), and he is the one on-call to settle kids that have woken. I am also afforded some alone time on weekends. This allows me to spend time on activities I have come to find critical for wellbeing.

I am reminded of an article by Brigid Schulte which spoke to the gender inequity of being afforded alone time for those in creative fields (8). Reading a book about how great artists spend their days, it became evident to Schulte that there was a common theme amongst these (male) creatives. They all had women who relieved them entirely of all domestic and child caring work, so they could focus exclusively on their art. She concludes “It’s not that women haven’t had the talent to make their mark in the world of ideas and art. They’ve never had the time.”

At this point, while you may be thinking to yourself ‘Crikey, her bloke does a lot. She’s got it good!’, I’ll contextualise our personal situation further. Initially I hesitated in sharing this but ultimately decided that I shouldn’t censor the significant challenges I had. In fact, the silence around these issues contributed to me delaying seeking help.

Mental health

I am conscious to avoid diminishing the feat that is undertaken when women become mothers. I think what women do is often down-played and making babies dismissed as just ‘something women do’, and the trauma that can be experienced ‘is worth it for the baby’. The physical and emotional toll it takes on women can be severe, and it is appropriate to recognise this.

Like many women I had significant physical trauma to overcome after the births, which I am still recovering from. Additionally, like roughly 1 in 7 women, I developed post-natal depression and anxiety with both of my kids. My PND was particularly more severe after my second, a phenomenon not so unusual (9). It has been an exceptional challenge for my partner and I to manage.

It has been necessary for my partner to give everything he has to support me during this time, so while we both agree that he must do an equitable share of the childcaring and housework, he has gone the extra mile in order to support the recovery of my physical and mental health.

While my example may differ from others, I believe it’s important for everyone to avoid becoming complacent regarding their general wellbeing. I took for granted simple activities like exercising, reading, going out for a coffee, and catching up with a friend. When I was exhausted and time-poor after having babies, these simple activities were sacrificed, and my well-being suffered.

At home with my girls

The demands of juggling both jobs – domestic and workplace – invariably lead to increased stress, tension, anxiety and a ‘mental crossover’. A supportive partner who takes responsibility for one ‘job’ while you attend to the other, is part of the equation. Women need to be able to have confidence in their partner’s reliability on the home front, so as to be more present and committed to their career in business hours.

To conclude, I want to pass on the best advice anyone has shared with me since becoming a parent. It’s from my Child Health Nurse, a woman who is extremely competent and has been doing her job for a long time. In relation to raising kids she says, “you only need to get it right 30% of the time and they’ll be ok!”

Bibliography

(1)              Emma Williamson, Motherhood Statements, https://www.thefulcrum.agency/2019/08/four-home-traps-that-contribute-to-the-gender-pay-gap

(2)             Jessica Grose, A Modest Proposal for Equalizing the Mental Load, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/parenting/mental-load.html

(3)             Leah Ruppanner, https://theconversation.com/no-pregnant-women-arent-primed-to-nest-its-a-myth-that-sets-women-up-for-a-lifetime-of-housework-132514

(4)             Annabel Crabb, Quarterly Essay Men at Work: Australia’s Parenthood trap, Issue 75, 2019,https://www.quarterlyessay.com.au/essay/2019/09/men-at-work

(5)             Chris Wallace, She won’t be right, mate: how the government shaped a blokey lockdown followed by a blokey recovery,https://theconversation.com/she-wont-be-right-mate-how-the-government-shaped-a-blokey-lockdown-followed-by-a-blokey-recovery-140336

(6)             Annabel Crabb, The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives, 2015

(7)             Clementine Ford in conversation with Wil Anderson on Wilosophy, https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/wilosophy-with-clementine-ford/id951354264?i=1000442769291

(8)             Brigid Schulte, A woman’s greatest enemy? A lack of time to herself,https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/21/woman-greatest-enemy-lack-of-time-themselves

(9)             Leah Ruppannar et al., Having a Second Child Worsens Parents’ Mental Health: New Research,https://theconversation.com/having-a-second-child-worsens-parents-mental-health-new-research-107806

 

 

Articles / Blog

Filter
  • 10 Aug, 2020

    If we want to make the biggest impact, we can’t just be obsessed with the building.

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 03 Aug, 2020

    Welcome Alan Pigram!

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 27 Jul, 2020

    Three Phases of Early Parenthood

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 21 Jul, 2020

    Nick Juniper on Becoming a Social Value Practitioner

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 11 Jun, 2020

    Monique Woodward on AGENCY

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 09 Jun, 2020

    Evidencing our Impact

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 04 Jun, 2020

    Time. Value. Money. Building.

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 02 Jun, 2020

    Community Health and the Promise of Democracy

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 28 May, 2020

    Mental Health in Architecture

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 28 May, 2020

    NRW2020: #inthistogether

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 12 May, 2020

    A Lesson in Empowerment

    By Emma Brain

    Read More

  • 07 May, 2020

    Nick Juniper on AGENCY

    By Emma Brain

    Read More