Let's stop pretending working mothers are getting a fair go
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Let's stop pretending working mothers are getting a fair go

When three, enviably successful and vibrant working mothers with the kind of profiles many would kill for “throw it all away” for stay-at-home mothering, within the space of months, you’re left wondering what’s up. Could an epidemic of maternal guilt or anxiety be sweeping through the ranks of our sparkly, media-professional mums?

Are some traditional industries still so family-unfriendly you’ll likely burn out to charcoal before finding a vaguely bearable work-life balance? (Not a trick question.)

Peter Overton with his wife Jessica Rowe and their two daughters Allegra and Giselle.

Peter Overton with his wife Jessica Rowe and their two daughters Allegra and Giselle.Credit:Jacky Ghossein

Or are these few women fortunate enough to feel like they can take a break and “just” be mothers simply the tip of a very big iceberg; just the few we can see, representing millions of others battling breathlessly away beneath. Not that there is anything wrong with not working, it goes without saying. But these women have all said how much they love their jobs.

If working motherhood is too big an ask for polished pros like Jessica Rowe, Em Rusciano and Queensland breakfast host and former House Rules star Maddi Wright, who quit her job this week, then surely it raises the alarm that even after decades of employers talking about supporting mothers to come back to stimulating work, and stay, we are still failing women.

They all had commercial TV or radio salaries, partners and good health going for them. Surely, they were livin' the working-mother dream, the whole "having it all" package as we've been so vigorously sold it.

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“I LOVE my job. BUT I love my kids more," Wright told her 37,600 Instagram followers. “Some may be able to balance it, but I can’t. Not mentally. I’m ALWAYS tired and unfortunately my kids get the worst of me. They get zombie mum.”

The farewell comments of Rusciano and Rowe had similar tones. Rowe told an interviewer: "I want to be a more present mum for my girls, Allegra and Giselle."

Rusciano, whose book's title, Try Hard, reflects just how hard she has kicked and struggled to fight her way to a blue-chip entertainment career, said she couldn't cover off the requirements of the job as her third child's arrival draws closer.

Em Rusciano left her radio gig, citing a desire to spend more time with her children.

Em Rusciano left her radio gig, citing a desire to spend more time with her children.Credit:2DAYFM

Perhaps a clue to what is really going on for mothers trying to juggle the equivalent of five sushi knives and an un-pinned grenade – i.e. carry off "it all" in a workforce that most often still talks the talk about making ways for them to engage their talent in it, but rarely walks the actual walk – lies in Rusciano's statement to Wil Anderson on a recent podcast that she was "anxiety-ridden".

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A big survey by women's health advocacy and research agency Jean Hailes for Women, conducted with 15,000 Australian women and reported on August 31, found, in a nutshell, women's mental health is often cactus because they are being expected to "do too much". Nearly 67 per cent of women said they felt nervous, anxious or on edge several days or more in the last four weeks, 46 per cent reported they had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety by a doctor and 34 per cent reported they got no time to themselves on a weekly basis.

Yet look at social media and we're all supposed to be tripping through fields of daisies between work, ab-ripping F45, doing Masterchef-quality (and variety) meal preparation, turning up to the nail bar and little Felicia's jazz performance and footy training.

No wonder we're flipping anxious! No wonder many of us have no time for the kind of vital exercise and self care that bolsters mental health, especially when you are in what a Jean Hailes spokeswoman referred to as the "sandwich" years (when you are grappling with "children and career on one end of the spectrum and ageing parents on the other").

Maddi Wright is the latest media personality to focus on family over career.

Maddi Wright is the latest media personality to focus on family over career. Credit:Instagram

There's a lot of pretending going on out there about how do-able all of this is, without something giving. That thing that's gotta give, and is, is women's wellbeing.

We pretend it's fine for women to still be expected to pick up the main load at home, the main child caring and household management roles, we pretend workplaces are down with flexibility (and don't punish women for taking up these policies, let alone encourage men to use them to help keep their family and themselves healthy) and we pretend that we've made good progress on integrating mothers into our workforce and giving them a fair chance to thrive for the long haul.

Em Rusciano could do a whole comedy routine on the difference between the pretence and the reality for working mothers, and, as employers shuffle their feet and look at their shoes while working mums drop like flies, I so hope she does.