Moms Make it Work: Courtney | Stay at Home Mom in Australia

Today on the Moms Make it Work guest blogging series we have Courtney, an international reader of this blog who offered to share a bit of her life in Australia with three kids. Courtney informs me that in Australia, moms can take up to seven years of family leave (the first 18 weeks are paid) and your previous job must hold your position for you that entire time, if you decide to return to work. Amazing! Loved reading this post and I hope you do, too!


Hi! I’m Courtney from Australia and I’m excited to be sharing with you all on Julia’s blog. You can find me on Instagram as @courtwillow.  I’m a  27 year old wife to Mathew, and a full time stay at home mum (apologies in advance for the differences you might notice in Australian spelling!!) to two handsome boys, Brock, 3, and Rafe, 10 months, and my gorgeous girl, Carter, who is 2. When Rafe was born, Brock was just 2 ½ so it’s fair to say we have been busy! 


-What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

I grew up in a very small country town, at the base of the ski resorts in the southern state  of Victoria, and attended University (College) about an hour away, studying a Bachelor of Education. I had always wanted to be a teacher and this particular degree trained me to be qualified from Kinder to Year 12. It was just lucky that it was so close to home. I first met my husband when he was visiting the area. He lived 5 hours away so given the distance between us we stayed friends and kept in touch and almost 8 months later, officially became a couple. After that, despite it being an almost 500 mile round trip , we only missed about 4 weekends of not seeing each other in the next 3 years while I finished my degree. I then moved to Mat’s home town, as he already owned a home here and was quite settled with his work. We still live in the same town (and house!) and are just 30 minutes from the Great Ocean Road, an amazing place to live and raise our children. I taught senior English and History at a small school, around 45 minutes from where we live. I LOVED my job, getting a senior class to teach as a graduate was unusual and I was very lucky. 

We were engaged in June 2008, the night before I was to fly to the United States to attend a teaching conference in Sacramento and were married exactly 5 years to the day we met, in April 2010 in Port Douglas, Queensland. 



4 months before we were married, I was diagnosed with a tumor on one of my ovaries and after surgery to have the tumor and ovary removed, we were told it may prove difficult to conceive naturally and should not waste any time trying. Given that, and the fact that Mat, who at 9 nears my senior, was over 30 already, we started trying as soon as we were married. 

As luck would have it, I fell pregnant almost straight away and 9 months later, in January 2011, we welcomed our son, Brock.


In the state we live in, teachers get 18 weeks of paid leave after having a baby plus a further 18 weeks of paid leave from the Government, so essentially about 7 months paid leave, but also have the option of taking up to 7 years of unpaid ‘family leave’ in order to have all your children, and then return to the workforce. After your family leave, your school must offer the same job back to you. (We are very lucky here 'down under!') We had already decided that I would be a stay at home mum and care for our children until they went to school, so I took the full family leave from my teaching job. 

In March 2012, we welcomed our daughter, Carter. There is exactly 14 months in age difference between the two. 



And in July 2013, our family was completed with the arrival of Rafe. 



-What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?

For me, the best part of being home all the time is being there to see every ‘first’, every funny moment, sweet saying etc. At the end of each day when I think of all the good moments that have been had, I’m so thankful I was there to see them. There are also the perks of being able to stay in our pjs till lunch if we feel like it, and not having to rush out the door each morning. I know that as the kids start kinder and school, life outside the home is going to get so much busier so I am really cherishing the years we have right now where we are just at home.  I know that I am extremely fortunate that we are in the position where I can stay at home and we can survive on one income. 


It does however, have its challenges, and there are weeks when I feel like running back to my teaching job and begging them to take me back! Here I am, a grown woman who can control a room of twenty hormonal and emotionally fueled teenagers, and yet I have these three little people walking all over me! There are definite days (weeks even), when the postie coming is the highlight of the day and how I would love some more adult conversation. I never thought I would be using phrases such as 'Make sure you are aiming your doodle into the toilet!!' or 'Fingers out of your nose' on a daily basis but here I am.  But as with all phases, I say to myself ‘This too shall pass’. I have the rest of my life to work and only a few short years of having babies/ small children in my home and I am going to enjoy the hell out of them. We get so many comments about their age gaps and having them so close together, if I got a dollar for every time someone said something to us I’d never have to return to work!! Some people are quite rude about their comments and we have heard plenty. A favorite would be 'Don't you have a TV?'- Yes we do! or 'Don't you know what causes it!?'- Yes! (And we like it! ) . I also get annoyed when people say I'm JUST a stay at home mum, or that 'Courtney's JUST at home with the kids'- like I'm having a big ol' holiday here and not doing a damn thing! It is really hard work having three so little but I am glad they will grow up close in age. Seeing them play and interact with each other is by far the most rewarding aspect of parenting. 


Mat works for Australia’s biggest Ice Cream company and works a rotating shift,  so depending on the week, he will work 4 am to 12 noon12 noon to 8pm or 8pm til 4 am. Each shift has its pros and cons and I just try and make the most of having him home a lot during the day time and I know that I am very lucky in that regard. I cannot imagine how hard it is for Mums whose husbands are gone all day. Night shift is hard, especially trying to keep three kids quiet during the day so he can sleep but we try and get out of the house each morning and do jobs or visit friends etc. so I’m not sounding like a broken record yelling ‘Dad’s asleep, SSHHHHHH!!’ constantly. I try and stick to the same routine with the kids, so even with some weeks Daddy being home for breakfast and away at dinner or vice versa, things are still quite settled for them. We are very routine orientated and lunch, dinner, naps etc. are all done at the same time each day. The kids take a bath each night after dinner and are all in bed by 7. I cherish the few hours I get each night after this to wind down!! We also do swimming lessons each Monday for all three, grocery shop Tuesdays and attend a mothers group/ play group Wednesdays. Brock does little athletics on Saturday mornings as well.  

-Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?

I guess so- much harder than I thought but so much more rewarding than I could ever have possibly imagined. 


-Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

Probably fairly close to it. I always imagined myself being a stay at home mum, and I love it. Some extra money would always be handy but wealth is a relative term and I think the more you have, the more you want. We sacrifice a few luxuries but we make it work. We have the essentials we need and we are going away on holidays in a few months so we are doing OK!

 Mat and I are, unfortunately, both very good players at the 'Must Be Nice' game and although I love him to death, we both pull out the 'must be nice to get out of the house every day' or 'must be nice to stay home and do nothing (HA!!!) all day' cards too much. It especially hits home hard when he very occasionally uses the 'Must be nice not to have to pay any bills' one, and I would love to be able to contribute to our family financially, but at the moment it just is not going to happen.  We both know that once I am back working and we have two incomes coming in, things will get easier but me being home now is the right thing for us and our kids (and I also have to remember that 90% of the time, Mat actually doesn't want to get out of the house to go to work- he is doing it for us!).

  I would also love to live closer to my own family, but we just make the most of our special weekend trips to see them or when my parents come down to us. I am lucky to have a great set of in-laws who are just around the corner if we ever need them, and have been known to drop off milk and bread on days when everything is falling apart and getting three kids out of the house is like a Mission Impossible.  


-Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

I will definitely go back to teaching, in what form, however, I am not sure. I doubt I will go back to where I had been teaching prior to having Brock, as I don’t want to be 45 minutes away if something were to happen, plus having to leave home at 7 in the morning, and not return until at least 5. I would like to find something closer to home. Once the kids are in kinder/school, I will hopefully return to some part time teaching and build back into a full time role. Mat is qualified as a chef and has always had a dream to open his own cafĂ© one day so that could be on the cards for us in the future too. 


-Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

The main thing I do is to be organized. I strive on organization (to the point where I probably go overboard- just ask my husband!!) but I find if I am organized, the day flows better and everyone is happier. I am a compulsive list maker (Yes, one of those types who adds things to the list after I have already completed them, just to get the satisfaction of crossing them off that list!!) and I lay clothes out of an evening for the next day (especially if we are going out), get bags ready, meals are planned out and we have a calendar showing everything that is happening for the month.  Mat plays representative Basketball and travels a lot over the summer with that so I know weeks in advance where he will be playing and if/when I will be alone with the kids overnight. We get a lot of comments about how busy I must be with 3 under 3 but honestly, I don't know any different- this is my life, everyday, and I think if I can manage 3 kids and keep things relatively under control then I must be doing something right. I do look back to when I only had Brock, or even when we had 2 children only and think 'Man, I must have had A LOT of spare time!! '


We also don't make any excuses for how we raise our children and for the routine we keep. There has been many a party/event that I haven't been to because it is past the kids bedtimes and I am ok with that- it is usually other people who think they have a right to comment on it. Having a routine works for us and keeps me sane and the kids respond well to it- they know what is going on each day and are always happy and ready to go off to bed each night at the same time. It also means that they get a good nights sleep each night (usually!) and wake rested and happy. We are fairly strict on the kids but we believe that by laying good foundations for behavior and expectations now, it will help us out later on. They are usually always well behaved when out and we put that down to them knowing right from wrong, from an early age. It works for us so we stick to it. 
-How do you handle mommy guilt?

Some days better than others, that's for sure!! There has been many a moment where I have had to sit down and have a good cry over silly things- missing my family, having a day when I have felt like I completely failed as a mum or just something not going as planned.  As I type this, the kids are watching the TV (Thank goodness for Peppa Pig!) and some days I feel like I use this as a 'baby sitter' for me to be able to get things done too much. But I try and make up for that time by using it productively, getting all my things done so that I can then sit down with them afterwards and have quality time. I would rather have them watch a half hours TV while I get stuff done, and be able to sit with them and not be worried about what needs doing, than to be hovering back and forth between jobs, not really giving them the attention they deserve. I am guilty of sometimes losing my patience, more often with Brock, and I hate when this happens. Usually when I am tired or having a bad day and I regret it almost immediately afterwards. I feel like we put a lot of expectations on Brock, because he is the oldest, and seems so much older than his years at times, and we both often have to stop and remember that this kid is only 3!

 I sometimes feel like I am not doing enough crafty/pinterest-type activities with them, but at the end of the day, they are happy, healthy and do not need expensive toys or planned activities to fulfill them.  They are at their happiest running around outside with our 8 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback dog or jumping on their trampoline. Life in Australia is pretty laid back and we tend to be outdoors a lot and the kids are very happy just to do their own thing.  I know as they (Rafe in particular, Brock and Carter are good with it, Rafe just puts everything into his mouth!) get older and more independent, it will be easier to be able to do more crafty things with them. 

There are only 24 hours in a day and I am never going to accomplish everything I would like to , so I have to be satisfied with doing little bits here and there and while my children are small, big things and time consuming jobs are going to have to wait. I have a dear friend who always says she has 'low expectations' of each day, and then doesn't get disappointed when things don't get done etc. Anything that does happen other than the usual activities (meals, nappy changes, naps)  is an added bonus and I really love her thinking. And in the end, I think I need to step back and realize that at the end of each day, I have cared for 3 very busy children, who are all healthy and happy, so I need to cut myself some slack and give a pat on the back for a job pretty well done most of the time. 


As much as I would occasionally love to, I don't go to the salon to get my hair done, get mani's, pedi's or very rarely buy new clothes. I am lucky to get spoilt by my family on birthdays , Christmas and mothers day and I know that once I am back working these things will change so I know its not forever and I can make do without, but I have to stop myself from feeling 'guilty' sometimes when spending money on myself. It is hard to shake the feeling that because I am not earning it, I shouldn't be spending it. A happy mum is a good mum and I am trying to find a happy medium where we all get to do the things we want to/need to. I have been guilty of wearing my 'mum hat' too often and forgetting that I am also a wife, daughter and friend. It is hard juggling all these roles and although it is not getting any easier, I am getting better at spreading myself between all the people who need me. I think too often we mums look at other mums photos or posts on social media and see their fun times, and its too easy to compare what we are doing at the time (especially if it's been a bad day!!) with those and believe we are not doing good enough. Its easy to forget that more often than not, we are only seeing their highlight reel and not the behind the scenes chaos. 


-Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying at home is the right choice?

Just do what works for YOU! We decided early on that we wanted our children cared for by me, and not by a childcare center and we are happy with our decision and support each other 100%. Whatever decision you make, it needs to be a joint one and all parties involved need to be happy. Having babies and small children  is such a small chapter in our parenting journey and just as our kids are learning the ropes of the world, we too, are learning how to be good parents. We have good days and we have bad days at home, and I know that in the blink of an eye, these little munchkins of mine are going to be off in the big wide world and not needing there Mum as much as they do now, so it is the least I can do, giving them my time for these special years, while they grow. 


-How do meals work in your family? Meal planning? How often do you grocery shop? Who is in charge of this task in your family??

I do a big grocery shop once a fortnight, and then just restock on fresh bread, milk, fruit etc. in between. I plan out meals for the fortnight and shop accordingly. I do most of the cooking, although Mat will occasionally get in the kitchen and cook and let me tell you, as a Chef, we all appreciate his culinary skills on those nights, as it is way better than Mummy's!! Usually twice a week we will cook a big batch of steamed vegies and mashed potato so that there are vegies for the kids each night, regardless of what Mat and I are eating, and meals are generally cooked, or at least started in the mornings while Rafe naps or during his afternoon nap.


-How do you keep your house clean? Power cleaning after bedtime? Staying out of the house as much as possible? Cleaning while kids are awake? Purging often? Cleaning schedule?

Ah, cleaning! Mat and I are both self confessed 'clean freaks' and like to live in a clean house. I cant stand walking around seeing washing laying everywhere or dirty dishes and this, my friends, as you know, is hard to get under control when you have a trio of shadows following your every move. We do a general tidy every morning, usually when Rafe is having his morning nap and I find by doing this, nothing gets too out of control. I do at least one load of washing every night to stay on top of it, and once the kids are in bed I will do a quick tidy up of toys etc.- although this is an area we are working on - trying to teach the kids that they have to tidy up after themselves. I usually do a quick sweep of floors after kids are in bed also. Mat is great at helping with the cleaning also (I have an awesome husband!!) and will pitch in , but usually I look after the inside of the house and he does the outside- lawns etc. I use nap time to get things (cleaning, cooking, washing etc.) done and find it is amazing how much you can get done in 30 minutes, rather than just sort of fluffing about all day. I try and tackle one 'big' job - bathroom, toilet, kitchen, windows etc. each day.  Having said all of this, we don't live in a display home and it is certainly lived in- we have dust and toys laying around, but it is kept tidy and I would NEVER judge another Mum on how clean (or not) her house is, this is just how we like to keep ours.

Thanks so much for allowing me to contribute Julia, I am sorry for it turning into such a long post but I hope you all enjoyed reading!

{Thanks, Courtney! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}

1 comment:

  1. Obviously I'm envious of the extended maternity leave options. Great post and lovely little tidbits about not letting other people's perceptions get to you about how you are raising your kids, your house, or anything. We should all feel so confident. I generally do. Peppa Pig is a great sitter!


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