You can have it all, just not all at once

March 22, 2021
SCMP Insights
You can have it all, just not all at once.

It’s an adage which has rung true for me in the decade since I joined the ranks of those juggling a career and children - particularly pertinent if you have chosen a profession as unpredictable as that of journalism.

Newsrooms have not traditionally been family-friendly places. Days are usually long and deadlines are usually late. A breaking news story adds a whole other layer of unpredictability into this mix.

Children, especially when young, typically require the opposite of a journalist’s lifestyle - a parent available before bedtime and a consistent daily routine.

I was the editor of a daily commuter newspaper in Sydney when my daughter was born. It was when I was due to return to work from maternity leave that I experienced the first instance of feeling my career was not compatible with my child and I decided I could not sustain the pace of my much-cherished job.

But while modern newsrooms can be endearingly chaotic at times, they are not archaic.

A supportive employer allowed me to take on a part-time role so I could step aside from the cut and thrust of the daily news cycle. While it meant a short-term drop in income and a loss of career momentum, it also gave me more time with my daughter as a baby.

The second occasion where I decided to step back came several years later when my daughter was experiencing significant struggles at school. It became clear to my partner and I that two parents working full-time were not able to give her the attention she needed at this time.

As a result, we decided I would be the one to opt out of the corporate media environment for two years. And while it meant I sacrificed salary and status for a second time I don’t regret the choice at all. She - and I - benefited enormously.

These two occasions are tangible moments where being a working parent presented specific tensions for me. In saying these things, I am very conscious of my privilege - I have been able to decide when I couldn’t ‘have it all at once’.

I have a professional job where I could negotiate alternatives and I live in a dual-income household which gives me a financial buffer. When I have had more demanding roles, I have had the support of a partner who is a hands-on co-parent. Here in Hong Kong, we have the luxury of affordable home help.

I have also been fortunate to have worked for organisations which have offered flexible solutions where they have been compatible with business needs and my time as a parent has coincided with the rise in work-from-home technology options.

At the SCMP, we have a gender-equitable leadership team which supports diversity and flexibility in its workforce. As a working parent, I have always had the support of my manager to adapt my schedule if and when necessary and, most importantly, not felt penalised for needing to do so. The company’s move towards creating a more nimble working environment pre-dated the pandemic, but it meant we were well-positioned for extended periods of work-from-home. Our collective experience has allowed the flexible culture to evolve even further - the company introduced a new WFH policy which offers all staff, not only working parents, the flexibility of work locations between the office and home.

In my decade as a parent, my career certainly hasn’t followed what I used to expect to be a linear progression. But what I have learnt during this time is that pressing pause, stepping back - or even completely stepping away for a period - is not a career-ending move. Your career will have many chapters and iterations and your best role may still lie ahead.