'Bad parenting' and 'women's luxuries' - is that what you call it now?

'Bad parenting' and 'women's luxuries' - is that what you call it now?

Last week I took my six month old baby to a seminar. I took a photo of her there and posted it on LinkedIn. And the armchair warriors of the world accused me of 'child abuse', 'bad parenting', 'unacceptable risk taking', 'vanity' and 'indulging in women's luxuries'.


Like many of you, I have a family and I have a career. The two are integral to my self-identity and I have learned lessons as a parent that no amount of time in the office could possibly have taught me.

I am currently on maternity leave from my part time role as an executive Director in the Queensland Public Service, to care for my second child. As many of you know, being on maternity leave is a tough mental gig. You'd never change that time for anything in the world but it does come with a certain erosion of your self-identity. For me, part of managing the psychological side of maternity leave has been to read articles relevant to my work and start posting on LinkedIn as way to engage with these ideas. Taking my fully breastfed baby to a seminar at my old work was not a big deal, and was simply me trying to keep my baby and my brain fed at the same time.

So why ever on earth did posting a picture of my very content baby lying on a rug on the floor at the back of a conference room spark such outrage? Sure, the internet is full of trolls, but this was LinkedIn, where people are meant to put forward their professional brand. I mean, people were really passionate about what a horrible mother and exploitative worker I must be!

The truth is, in many parts of the professional world, people who seek flexible work arrangements (by and large, women) are considered to not take their careers seriously. I know because I'm guilty of thinking that once myself.

In my previous role as a lawyer at Minter Ellison I was privileged to have an exceptionally talented female boss. Many years ago there was an opening for a new partner and I remember discussing with some colleagues who we thought it might be. We discounted this woman because she was 'part time'...and we were wrong! Her skills spoke more loudly than her 'part time' status and she was made partner.

My own experience continues to teach me not to discount flexible work arrangements. I did not expect to be appointed to an executive director role because I wanted to work part time: I assumed the two were mutually exclusive. However, there were people at the department who saw in me skills and potential that – like my old boss – spoke more loudly than my 'part time' status.

That’s not to say working part time is easy. In some ways, it's harder than working full time. For me, working part time is a choice: I want to spend time with my 'obnoxious and smelly' children. The trade off is lots of juggling priorities, regular moments of self-doubt and a disproportionate amount of overtime. No one has 'figured it out' but it makes a lot more sense to support each other in this journey than condemning someone who does it differently.

So, here are a few things I've learnt since becoming a mum that I hold onto when the going gets tough:

Despite the extremely negative comments, my photo on LinkedIn has received thousands of likes and a huge number of both public and private messages of affirmation. That confirms to me that my decision to take my baby to a seminar really isn't that bad a thing after all!

Karen is the mother of a precocious little boy and a sweet baby girl, and wife to a majestically bearded gentleman. In her spare time, Karen is Executive Director, Procurement at the Department of Housing and Public Works.

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