The past 12 months with Covid 19, cost of living and house price rises, there's probably never been a time when both parents have had to work longer and harder to make ends meet, or to just try and get ahead.
I've always had an intense focus on work, probably, at times, at the expense of other areas in my life, but that never bothered me - my career was just about all that mattered - until I had my daughter, that is.
Eliza is two-and-a-half years old and, like most children, she is my and her father's absolute world. There is nothing more important to me than her health and happiness, and I promised myself from the moment that she was born that nothing would ever take priority over her. I promised myself that I would never look back in the years to come and regret ever putting her second, or spending too much time at work, or taking on anything that took me away from her unnecessarily.
It's for that reason that taking on a whole new 'full-time' job alongside an already pretty packed schedule at Nine was something I didn't take lightly. I had to think long and hard about how our life would change, not just mine, but our entire family's.
This year's work schedule wouldn't just affect me – but the three of us.
I also had to make sure that 2Day FM breakfast wouldn't have any impact on my ability to do my News and Sports hosting jobs at Nine to the same high standard I've always demanded of myself.
The opportunity of radio itself was an easy decision – Hughesy and Ed are phenomenal talents and I knew straight away the chemistry and banter was there, but it wasn't an easy decision when it came to calculating the eternal (impossible) quest for work life balance.
I also LOVE my job. I derive immense joy from working. It makes me so happy. I've been at Nine for a decade and 2Day FM for only a week and I couldn't love both jobs more. I almost left this bit out - the fact that I enjoy working - I don't know why I was reluctant to include it. It makes me happy, and when I'm happy and content I'm absolutely a better mum. This shouldn't ever make me, or anyone else, feel guilty.
All of this really got me thinking about the impact working hard has on our kids. Is working every single day a negative, even if it's not all day? Will getting up at 4am Monday to Friday then working every weekend disadvantage my child or result in her feeling less loved and adored? Her father is an incredible dad and that makes life a lot easier. He is also working an intense job and without any family here in Sydney, so we are 24/7 juggling.
My friends can attest to the fact that 99 per cent of invites to social occasions I turn down. Pretty much every second I'm not working I'm with my baby. I know I am so blessed, my child is healthy and happy so we've won the lotto. I also am acutely aware plenty of mums and dads leave their kids at 7am and get home at 7pm five, six or seven days a week just to make ends meet and I am in awe of them.
I am blessed that I get home at 10am most weekdays, sometimes I'll have a shoot or a work commitment but most of the time it's straight home to Eliza. Friday after radio I have News and Friday Night Footy, but I get the middle of the day with her. Saturday I'll get the morning before I head off to News and Sundays I'll get the afternoons at home straight after Sunday Footy Show. It will be a juggle but one I know is in her best interest and that is ultimately why we, as a family, decided to take it all on.
As the Australian Open looms and I face the prospect of two weeks away without her (she has always come with me but COVID will make that close to impossible this year) I feel physically ill at the thought of it, and yes I know there are plenty of parents worse off, but this is how I feel. The second I leave her I get a little sick/nervous feeling in my stomach that doesn't go away until we are back together. If this is you please reach out and tell me. I'd love to be reassured it's somewhat normal!
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about mum (and dad) guilt - the pressure so many of us feel to get the balance right - and how to figure out if the decisions we are making are genuinely in the best interest of our children. We might think they are, but what will Eliza think years down the track? Will she understand that everything we did was all for her and that mum and dad worked hard so they could provide her with the best life and opportunities possible, whilst still showering her with time and love.
Some of the most powerful interviews I've done with athletes have been the ones where they talk about their childhoods. Sometimes they were raised by single mums who worked as cleaners during the day then stacked shelves in Woolies at night just to pay the school fees and to make sure the kids were clothed and fed.
The way these sportsmen and women speak about their parents is with immense pride, love and gratitude. They never indicated feeling unloved, neglected or abandoned. They never seemed to feel like they missed out and they acknowledged from a pretty young age that the hours put in and sacrifices being made were all for them.
I wanted to reach out to some other people who had really hard-working parents and get their thoughts – as adults. The below extracts are in their own words, just a small selection, of the many responses I got.
They confirm that, while undoubtedly the most important thing you give your children is unqualified love, kids seem to understand that often issues like a prodigious sporting passion or talent, the breakup of nuclear families, unconventional career paths of parents, financial strains and other 'left field' challenges always enter the mix, affecting that universally acknowledged priority - 'unrestricted time'!
Of course, this won't be everyone's experience and I understand absolutely that not all children of parents who worked a lot will feel this way. If it was a negative and damaging experience for you then I am deeply sorry and hope that with time you have healed. Xx
Matt Ashley Cooper with his mother. Photo: Supplied
Matt Ashley Cooper
"Mum left our Dad in 1996… with no money and only the clothes on our back we rocked up at our grandparents for a month or so… and whilst it was incredibly hard she made sure we never missed a day of school or footy training (Adam – former Wallaby – is Matt's older brother). Mum made the transition as easy as possible for us even though we both knew she was hurting.
"Mum managed to scrape together enough money for a bond and get a little rental – near school and up the road from her parents so we could walk there after school until mum finished work. Her mother got terminal brain cancer so she had to reduce her hours at her full-time job to care for her and take us kids to and from school… her work soon replaced her with someone who could work the full-time hours. She found it incredibly hard to find work and things were very tight but we NEVER missed out on Birthdays, Easter, Christmas… she made sure of that.
"She ended up getting a part time job through the week 10am – 2pm – I'll never forget those hours – so she could be there before and after school. She'd then work weekends at a hardware store – which later turned into Bunnings. We still struggled… and at one stage while we were renting she was working 3 jobs just to get by. In the space of a few years she went through a lifetime of suffering and heartache but she never gave up, never broke down and never threw in the towel.
"It has taken me a good 15-20 years to truly appreciate everything she did for us. My relationship with my mum now is better than it's ever been – she's one of the most amazing, selfless people I know. Everything Adam and I have in this life, everything we have managed to achieve, or are yet to, we owe to her. She will never take credit or accept that what she did for us was heroic because she did it all with nothing but love in her heart, but she's nothing short of a hero to us."
"Not my parents but grandparents - they raised me from when I was ten and they worked SO HARD to provide for me even though they were at retirement age. My Pop worked on a farm really tough long hours and when I came to live with them my Nan worked as a teachers aide, administration, cleaning - pretty much anything and everything she could.
"I am SO SO grateful and I think about it all the time. Firstly because they loved me so much to provide as much as they could for me and be so selfless and secondly because it definitely instilled work ethic in me. I've worked since I was 14 and whenever I have one of "those days" where you just don't want to go to work I think 'Jelisa your Pop busted his arse in 40 degree heat for you in a paddock so you could sit in air conditioning all day' and that shuts me up pretty quick."
"My mum was a single parent and worked two jobs to put a roof over our head and food on our table. She would do a day shift at a nursing home and then work retail at the airport in the evenings. I don't think I knew any different. I just knew that my mum worked really hard for everything so it gave me that work ethic as well.
"I went out and worked two jobs when I turned 16 so I could afford things like my first car and schoolies because mum couldn't afford to that for me but she gave me what I needed. I think that taught me what I needed vs what I wanted."
"My dad was an interstate truck driver so it meant a lot of time away from home and really mum bringing us up alone as kids. My mum also worked when we were younger, it was in a café during school hours, but as my sister was seven years older than me once she was old enough to look after me Mum went and worked night fill.
"Mum and Dad taught us all about hard work and I honestly believe it's taught us to always give 100 per cent when doing a job and that you may not have the best job but if it helps pay the bills then you do it."
"My Dad worked big hours as a mechanic then worked a second job Friday and Saturday nights driving taxis so our mum didn't have to work and she could look after us three kids. My dad has had his own businesses but is now retired but the work ethic that he has instilled in me is something you can never learn – soooo grateful."
"When I was younger (in the UK) I was incredibly lucky in that until I was 14 my mum was home. Every morning she would wake me and every night she would be there when I got home from school. I don't remember a time with her not being there. The downside to that...my dad worked every hour. He did all the overtime he could get. He started as a London Bus driver and applied for promotion at every single opportunity that he got. He ended up a company director!
When I was young, I would come home from school and my dad would have already gone to work on late shift. Sometimes I would get home from school and he'd be in bed after a very early shift, by the time he got up, the kids were in bed ready for school the next day. We`d get up for school and he would have left already.
It meant as a child he was "Dad who worked" and not a dad who was there every night doing homework, watching movies etc. I didn't get the luxury of "knowing" my Dad until later in life. When I was married and spent more time with him, both as a couple with my husband and alone, we got to know each other. Dad and I used to go out on dad/daughter date nights where we`d see a band and have dinner. Now I am living with my parents again after 30 years, we`ve got to know each other more. "
"Mum's a nurse. Dad's a glazier. Mum worked night duty since we were babies and all through school so she could drive us to school and pick us up at the end of the day. Dad would get us up/breakfast/ready for school and they'd swap. Mum would come home and sleep all day. Then dad would take over when he got home from work, get dinner, bed time etc. Mum would get a couple more hours of sleep before waking again at 9.30pm to go to work.
"They're incredible. And they both still work to this day. Dad is 66, mum 63 this year. And to top it off, mum is a palliative care nurse, so definitely a saint. I never realised at the time, the huge sacrifices they made to do that for us. We never had to get a bus to school. Never had nannies or babysitters. They were always so present for the four of us. I count myself very lucky, and I know each of my siblings would feel the same."
Whatever your situation or experience, nothing is easy, but we are – for the most part – always doing our absolute best! Take care and have a cracking (Peter Sterling hates it when I use that word – sorry Pete!) 2021! Xx