Today is the last day of Charlotte’s schooling – there’s still exams to go but her days of getting up, breakfasts, packing lunches and piling into the car to go to school with Julian and her brothers are over.

Looking back it feels like the blink of an eye. Twelve years of school is done.

Today I have a much better understanding of the saying “The days are long but the years are short”.

It turns out – the years really are short and, without realising it, you can miss a lot. 

Although I have always enjoyed (and had to) work, I know now I sacrificed too much for my career and work that never really gave me the satisfaction or happiness that I have enjoyed with my children during the last few years while running my own business. This choice gave me the ability to choose to spend time with them or be there without distraction when they needed me.

Looking back, would I do anything different?? You bet I would!

I was lucky to have some great advice from day one from the remarkable Bronwyn Davies who told me the children would need me as much, if not more, during their teenage years. It turned out that was the case for us and was a significant factor in me leaving big law in 2017 to start my own business. 

#It was the only way I could get the flexibility I needed and wanted to be the mum I wanted to be and do work that felt purposeful.

I felt a huge responsibility to “have it all” early on – I was the first female in my generation of our family to go to university. I had invested time and money in gaining two degrees and my parents had sacrificed a lot for my brothers and me to go to university. Through hard work and persistence, I had amazing opportunities early in my career and I loved my work. Although I used to say I was lucky to have these opportunities, I now recognise that they came to me through working really hard and being smart (both street smart and intellectual).

#If I had my time over, I would recognise the difference between working harder and working smarter – I would choose smarter …

I would be there for all the big events in my children’s lives – they notice you turning up, and in twelves years time you will remember those events much better than another day at the office! I was not great at prioritising the sports day, the assemblies, the midweek sporting events, even just collecting them from school. In my own (stupid) way, I convinced myself I was indispensable at work (I wasn’t) and that my job was always at risk if I didn’t prioritise it over all else (it wasn’t).

#In hindsight, 12 sports days doesn’t seem like such a big commitment so whatever your child’s thing is, sport, dance, music, fun in the park, coding, turn up and enjoy it without guilt (and without checking your phone every 15 minutes – leave it at home and be present).

I spent too much time looking around me and judging myself based on how much better other people seemed to be doing. Other parents seemed to be managing their work/life balance better, how much better they were at being parents, others were earning more money and getting ahead faster, and they were much better at their jobs – I bet they weren’t going home and crying in their closet. Through honest conversations I have learned that nearly all of us are faking it and doing our very best every day. 

#Stop the comparisons – everyone has different circumstances and different ways of doing things. If you turn up each day and do your best, and know at the end of the day you did the best that you could in the circumstances, nobody can ask or should expect anything more …

Australia is not set up for working women who have other responsibilities, whether children, parents, friends or other dependents. After 10 years back in Australia, I believe that there are not enough people with the power to effect real change who have lived the experience to know what needs to change. Those of us who know are just trying to get through each day without dropping any balls. Having experienced the difference full-time help at home makes to a woman trying to juggle family and a career, and having read the updated reports about where household and family responsibilities continue to fall, I fail to see what will be different for Charlotte if she chooses to be a mum here in Australia who wants a career. The childcare system “enabling” women can work is a band-aid, not a solution.

#Support the founders in the legal industry who have tried to improve their family lives, and the lives of others, by taking a risk to build businesses that are family friendly and showing there is another way.

I want today to be very different to the memories I have of Charlotte’s first day. I had taken a day of leave so I could drop Charlie off and pick her up. My mum was in town and we were going to spend the day together. Things started out well but then the dreaded email landed – before we had even left for school – with an urgent request for something that was very, very important. The anxiety cloud descended but I tried to keep focused on Charlie while tapping out a reply on my blackberry – I was sorry but I was on leave today because it was my eldest child’s first day at school. Of course that didn’t matter, the reply came back that it was needed straight away. There wasn’t any fixed or real deadline but that didn’t matter – the expectation was for me to drop everything and attend to this. I didn’t – I wrote back explaining that I had moved into the role I held from being a lawyer so I could have more flexibility once I became a parent. For the five years since Charlotte arrived, I had continued to prioritise my work over my family but I wouldn’t be doing that today and so it could wait until the next day or find somebody else to respond. If I couldn’t take this day to be with my daughter, then the role was not what I thought it was, and I would hand in my resignation. 

I remember his response to be something along the lines of “My mistake” and I don’t recall what was needed or whether it was ever delivered or like many other “urgent” requests just disappeared into thin air.

But when I remember Charlotte’s first day, I still remember the sense of dread that hung over me all day.

Thankfully today won’t be like that because the clients I now work with have similar priorities and share my belief that it is the people, experiences, friendship, love, laughter and good times that make a good life.

Work is something we do to make that possible …

So while thinking of all those other parents and students who are embarking on their last day, and wishing them every success in exams and a fun day of great memories today, I am signing off for the rest of the day to be there for the excitement (and tears – mine) as this remarkable group of young adults celebrate this milestone and embark on the next stage of their lives.