Single mothers raising busy teenagers are undoubtedly deserving of admiration. Many also juggle busy careers alongside full parental responsibilities at home.
So, what happens if they’re tempted to trade in their corporate heels for a career that allows more time with their adolescent children? Between school fees, climbing rents, and a high cost of living, is this a possibility or just a pipe dream?
Sally Robinson* is a national business manager for a global brand in Sydney. She has worked in her field for over 20 years, and is a single parent to her 15-year old daughter, Hana.
Robinson has been considering a career change for some time and wants to leave the corporate world altogether. “My brain doesn’t stop in this role,” she says. “I need something that isn’t so all encompassing. I’ve been doing this a really long time and I’m ready for another challenge.”
It’s a common feeling for women who have invested long hours and endless energy and creativity into their careers, often at the expense of other pursuits, including family time.
Mentor and career coach, Aveline Clarke, says it’s indicative of the changing ideals of personal satisfaction. “There’s often a realisation for successful women in the 40-50 age bracket that a career doesn’t provide the same level of enjoyment and fulfillment as being a mother.”
As teenagers become young adults, and friends and school take on a greater value, this feeling increases. “Mums may question why they are in a particular job,” says Clarke. “They want to downsize their role, despite the career-limitations, in order to spend time with their teenager while they can.”
This momentous decision is especially difficult for single mothers with dual caring and financial responsibilities. A 2007 Australian Bureau of Statistics article stated that in 2003-04, over 50% of lone income families received no child support, resulting in ongoing financial stress.
Robinson has sole financial responsibility for her daughter and this is her main hesitation about changing careers. “I need to earn a certain level of salary,” she says. “I have to put Hana through school, feed and clothe her, and afford computers and all the paraphernalia teenagers require. That’s why I think I’m locked into this role and the salary it provides”.
A 2012 research paper from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University found that single mothers working full-time are the most time-poor of any working parent group. It’s important for women to remember that while a new career path may ease the juggling act between work and home, the process of getting there can still be arduous, especially if re-training or study is involved.
Robinson expects that she’ll need to study in order to change careers. “To move into a different role that isn’t business, I need to get qualified and that means studying again,” she says.
Some women have circumvented re-training with a sideways step into their own businesses. There are still financial and mental hurdles but there’s also the advantage of existing skills, experience and networks.
Lisa Vernak* was a corporate real estate lawyer for twenty-five years before striking out on her own as a private consultant. Now she works from home four days a week, enabling her to spend more time with her two teenage sons.
“I planned this move for a long time,” says Vernak. “It’s been a bit of an adjustment financially but my ex-husband also contributes to the kids’ education. I really needed this change. Funnily enough, I thought I would struggle working alone but actually, I love the freedom.”
At the end of the day, it’s about finding your passion, says Change Expert, Josie Thomson. “Women need to understand their core values and what’s really important to them. Start with identifying the things you know and enjoy and target your career to that.”
*Names have been changed.