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Role reversal – making it work

How one family reversed the traditional breadwinner/carer roles.

As a working mum it’s heart rending to be on the receiving end of a video of your child’s first steps. That was my experience though, and I’m perfectly OK with it. My husband Damon and I deliberately chose that I would be the primary breadwinner while he would stay at home with the kids during the day.

Damon is a professional musician. He works from Thursday to Sunday, in the evening, so it made perfect sense for us to reverse the traditional roles of breadwinner and carer. While he experiences the joys of kinder duty, I’m in the office or meeting clients and candidates in Melbourne’s CBD or suburbs. Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed with my current employer and if there is a special day at kinder like mother’s day or a performance day, I am there, no questions asked.

It can be tough though. When my young children have needed comfort, I’ve had to stand by and watch as they reach out to their father. It’s a natural reaction, as he is their primary carer, but it tears at my heart every time it happens.

Watching them cry on one occasion, yelling, “Mummy, please don’t go,” as I left for work, was again heart wrenching, and resulted in me crying for the 30-minute drive to work. While these events are difficult, my first son recently turned five, and he is showing no ill effects of me being away from him so much. In fact, I have noticed our bond becoming closer and closer every day.

For us, it’s a matter of keeping an eye on the big picture. Our kids understand this too. Our family operates on Lego currency – the more mum goes to work, the more we can treat ourselves to new Lego items. This is a familiar theme in our office. My colleague, Justin Samlal, has described how he explained the benefits of work to his young family in similar terms.

Timing it right
When my first child was born, I planned to take 12 months off work but returned after three when asked by my employer. For those who knew me this wasn’t surprising – I had the laptop out and was answering emails a couple of hours after giving birth. I resumed my job at three days per week but found it wasn’t enough in my line of work, so quickly moved to five days.

If I had my time again I’d do it differently. The advice I give to mothers now is to consider returning to work quickly, perhaps on a part-time basis, and then taking time off when their child reaches nine months. That’s when they start to interact more. It’s a rewarding time to be at home with them. Unfortunately, though, that’s often the time when many mothers return to work.

Sometimes parents are free to choose what’s best for them and their children, but employers’ needs will come into play too. I know that I was one of the lucky ones. It takes a flexible workplace to provide these options and mine was certainly that. Employees rightfully expect these kinds of conditions these days and employers that don’t provide them will lose out. If you want the best people you have to look after them.

While the needs and situation of each family will vary, the role reversal has served my family well. My kids are at home with their dad, so I don’t need to ask for time off if they’re unwell. My employer has a fully engaged worker. The arrangement works for all parties and perhaps, in the future, it will become more common and we won’t even think of it as a role reversal.


About the Author

Danielle Stone has more than 15 years’ experience assisting clients and candidates alike. She fills temporary and permanent positions, and is an expert in executive search.

She is particularly skilled at providing staffing solutions for start-ups, new contract implementations and businesses undergoing change.

With a sound understanding of industrial relations, modern awards, EBAs, change management, OH&S and strategic HR management, Danielle aims to deliver exceptional value, service and results to all of her partners.

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