Hosting a VIP Off the Record dinner for Future Women is always a privilege. The room fills steadily, with a pleasant hum of conversation, that builds to a dull roar of excited chatter. I’ve never watched a boxing match in my life so forgive the clumsy metaphor – but this was definitely a room of heavyweights. Each woman I was introduced to seemed more impressive than the one before. Overwhelming but exhilarating, was how one particular guest described it to me.
We were there to hear from workplace relations lawyer Amie Frydenberg, who also happens to be married to federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My prior knowledge of Amie was of her standing beside her partner, supporting him at official work functions. Having worked in politics myself, I knew she’d be clever and interesting, because most politicians’ partners are. What I didn’t expect was that she’d gift me the most surprising of presents.
During her appearance on stage with Future Women’s founder Helen McCabe, Amie covered a whole lot of conversational ground. From #MeToo and women’s changing experience of the workplace, to politics of the day and being the partner of a Treasurer, Amie was warm and engaging on every subject. However, it was her insight into parenting and the approach she takes to raising her – still very young – children, that stuck with me.
“Guilt is a pointless emotion,” Amie said plainly. “I choose not to indulge it”.
Feeling guilty is the noose around the necks of my girlfriends with kids. I tend to avoid declarative statements like that, choosing to insert a word like ‘most’ or a phrase such as ‘many of’ but when it comes to guilt and 21st century mothers? Those caveats simply don’t seem to apply. Guilt is a universal state of being. Torn between work and parenthood, we feel trapped in a constant cycle of not being good enough, not giving enough, not performing well enough, and not being, well, enough.
“She’s chosen to stop [feeling guilty]. It’s not a passive state, a natural change of her being. It’s a choice. An active decision not to let that unproductive emotion overtake her anymore.”
This week, for example, I am travelling interstate for work. I’ll be gone two nights and three days. It doesn’t sound like a lot. My old self would have laughed at the suggestion it were a big trip. However, when you’re leaving a 4-year-old behind and his dad doing the solo parenting load, it’s an enormous administrative and emotional exercise. A small part of that emotion is about preparing a little kid for my absence, and the rest? It’s about preparing myself for the guilt.
Last night I made a big bowl of bircher muesli, so my son had exciting breakfast for while I’m away. Each apricot and piece of grated apple, a small offering of apology for mothering in a lesser capacity than I’d like. There are presents for buddy’s birthday parties wrapped and ribboned at the front door. I’ve organised an army of neighbours to pitch in and assist over the handful of days ahead and the next trip I’ll be taking the following week.
Tomorrow I will take my son for a hot chocolate before kinder, another sweet indulgence that won’t at all make up for mum being gone at bedtime. Simultaneously I am stretched at work and trapped in that constant space of overwhelmed and behind. My husband and I share the load pretty evenly day-to-day but when one of us is interstate or overseas, it’s an operation of gargantuan proportions. We manage but he does so without the burden of guilt and expectation.
Now, Amie Frydenberg didn’t suggest that she’s never felt like I do. Not for a minute. She elaborated on the statement above, explaining that she’s indulged those feelings in the past. She’s given in to the voice in her head saying that she should skip coffee with girlfriends, forget about pilates or stay awake past 2.00am making a more spectacular costume for Book Week. However, she’s chosen to stop. It’s not a passive state, a natural change of her being. It’s a choice. An active decision not to let that unproductive emotion overtake her anymore.
Amie spoke to the room about how exercise is essential for her wellness. She gets the help she needs elsewhere, when her partner is away travelling, so she can prioritise that time. Her work as a lawyer, often involved in cases of sexual harassment and discrimination, needs time to percolate. She job shares with another mum. It’s an arrangement that makes sense for them and a plan they concocted together before approaching management for the OK. Amie is a woman who knows what she wants in all spheres of life and sets her mind to getting it.
I’m trying to put that lesson into practice and find it freeing already. I am evacuating those thoughts from my brain, whenever they enter (which is often). I am choosing not to feel guilt. To make time for a coffee in the morning and give myself an extra five minutes to prepare mentally for the day. Even though it means a slightly early kinder drop off. To head off for a run and simply say no to the four-year-old begging to accompany me. And to better enjoy the time I do spend with my family as a consequence.
Best Of Future Women
Your inbox just got smarter
If you’re not a member, sign up to our newsletter to get the best of Future Women in your inbox.