There was a time where I was anti-women getting into trades. I was an end-of-third year apprentice, had just finished my Diploma in Fashion Styling and I was about to complete my last block of TAFE for my plumbing apprenticeship. I was over plumbing. Over male tradies. Over male apprentices. I was over having to prove myself when I worked. I was over TAFE teachers who read from the Standards, rather than teach from experience. I was over tradies in general. I may have been over my dad too at the time, loathing him for suggesting I take over our plumbing business which meant doing a plumbing apprenticeship and dealing with all the above. I just didn’t realise how hard it was going to be. I was just over it all. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I didn’t expect the process to be struggle street, having my fears, doubts and weaknesses revealed to me every day.
And then a few months after feeling ‘over it’ and finishing all my TAFE, I won awards and I went overseas (for a much needed holiday). My faith in my career choice was renewed. But when I came back from overseas, I was unknowingly ‘knocked up’. I had thought I had a severe case of jet lag, but was in actual fact pregnant with my little Esther.
The next three years, I was able to work part-time with Dad while I took time off to have Esther (2010) and Maggie (2013) and would go back to work respectively when my girls were 5 to 6 months old. My mum looked after my girls at that time, because most of my pay would have been sucked up by daycare fees. I also needed flexible care, as Dad and I would never know which days we’d be working until we booked jobs that worked in with our client’s schedules. We would try and group book all the jobs in 1 to 2 days. Any randoms that needed to be done on a different day, my dad did.
I couldn’t have worked without my dad being there, nor my mum offering to look after my girls. When I fell pregnant with Phoebe, it changed my life because my dad wanted to retire – (he needed to retire) and I was going to have my hands full with 3 children under 4. And even though I still wanted to work, I knew it just wasn’t feasible without a person like my dad taking charge so I could be a mum.
The saying and mantra that ‘family comes first’ is so easily said, but not easily done when you run a business. A business can take over your family’s life.
When you run a small business, you and the small number of family members or employees you employ are it. It’s a huge responsibility. If one person decides to leave, you are it. Without the right back up support both in the business and outside, it’s not easy to run when you are raising a young family.
And so, I sometimes feel like a walking contradiction. I’ve had this feeling for two years really. I’ve had a little voice that says I’m not the right influence for female tradies. I’m a walking contradiction because of this: I’ve been encouraging women to get into a trade or more specifically become a plumber, yet I’ve stopped working as a plumber so I can be a mum.
As you know, I write this blog, to help promote women in trades, yet I’m not working as a tradesperson anymore because I have children. I feel like I’ve been letting down women who are trying to get an apprenticeship because I’m living out the very concerns trade businesses have when employing women. I’m a bit of a contradiction.
But none of us know what life has for us around the corner. And sometimes, what we say or think we can do, can be a different reality when living in the circumstances. (All parents will hopefully relate to that)
I don’t know how a mum with young children can run a plumbing business, without the support of a husband, dad or other tradesperson to keep the business going. Alternatively, they may be a mum with children who are older and independent. But even then, with dad working full time, mum is often left to organise and rearrange her life to ensure the kids and the household are looked after. This is a reality for many households and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I’m just pointing out how it is for many families.
Anyway, I digress.
When I surveyed the female plumbers that attended the recent breakfast at parliament, they fell into a few categories:
Mums that worked with their plumber partners or plumber dads,
Mums that were employed rather than self-employed or
Female plumbers/apprentices who hadn’t had children yet (and they may choose not to have them).
My life, values and decisions will be different to other female tradies.
But if you are a female tradie on the tools and you want to combine motherhood with your trade, from my experience and from what I’ve observed within the industry, you need the right support and the right job that gives you the flexibility to be the mum and tradie you want to be. Working with your husband or dad or even brother can be beneficial because they are emotionally attached to your children and will want what is best for both you and the kids. They won’t blackmail you with not pulling your weight, because your children are their family too (grandchildren or nieces and nephews), and so there is more understanding when working together.
The issue of female tradies leaving the trade to have children is something that trade businesses will have concerns with. I totally understand this. But, like any employment situation, a mum will take maternity leave (usually 12 months, which is law) and then come back to work when agreed. There is no difference to a male tradie taking off overseas for a gap year.
For the female plumber who runs a business, having the right management or outsourcing in place will be crucial. When the support system changes, as it did for me, I had to either get a job elsewhere or create my own path where I could create a work lifestyle that fitted in and around my children. I kind of fell into the latter.
It’s also important to remember that children can change your views and your lifestyle. Your employment situation may change because of your different values or simply because your children need you (special needs etc). Most mums have to go back to work to make ends meet, but children can change the way you want to work and the hours you want to be away from your children. Your existing job may not offer what you’re after.
I thought the early years were important for me to be home with my girls, but as they are growing and going to kindy and school, the rigidness of drop offs and pick ups and after school meetings and activities means a flexible work environment for me is absolutely crucial.
Having written about how I’ve felt, my work situation hasn’t been dire. My plumbing skills and knowledge haven’t gone down the crap hole… haha, pun intended.
When I started writing this blog more consistently while pregnant with Phoebe, I have been able to slowly secure freelance writing work, and ironically, I write news posts, motherhood articles, renovation posts and even blog posts for other plumbers for their websites. This blog in itself continues to be a resource for many.
My trade experience means I can punch out a plumbing blog post knowing exactly what I’m talking about, and if I don’t fully understand it (I’m looking at you septic and solar hot water), I have a few plumbers I can ring to get an explanation, and be able to write it in a way for everyone to understand.
Anyway, I know a lot of female tradies read my blog in Australia and overseas. Your views and experiences combining motherhood and work may be completely different to mine. That’s ok. This is what I’ve done and what has worked for me.
But I also know some of you haven’t walked down the motherhood road yet, but you want to, yet you have no idea how it will work.
Neither did dad and I, at first. We just faced each pregnancy as it came along.
Don’t fear the change. Embrace the uncertainty of it. You have 6-8 months to build the right support network (while bub is growing). It’s so important you have the right support in place for when you are a new mum.
I may be a walking contradiction, but my life and this blog are hopefully a testament, showing you you never know where your trade experience will take you. And change can be a good thing. I’ve been walking down a path no other female tradie has walked. And for that, I do hope it encourages you to forge your own path and walk down a road less travelled.
As Robert Frost said,”I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”