“My husband died suddenly and I have raised my 2 children by myself”

Mandy is an inspiration. Her husband died when her kids were only two and three years old. She has raised them as a single parent, but this has not held her back. We are blown away by Mandy’s strength, determination, and outlook. Mandy’s story will inspire you and warm your heart.

Can you tell us about your career journey?
I’ve always worked, from a really young age doing bits and pieces. My father had a really strong work ethic. My mother, too, but with more of a creative bent—they both valued work and I knew it was going to be the second most important thing in my life: second to family.

My first proper job was in retail, then I had a few great roles in the IT&T industry in Australia and during the dot-com boom in Europe. I was a media spokesperson for years. I had a job as VP of Change and Corporate Social Responsibility for FleishmanHillard in Singapore, before returning to my hometown of Melbourne, Australia, and eventually working at NAB in communications.

You have certainly faced some difficult times…
Yes, I have. Too much to deal with at times, but everyone has their ‘thing’ don’t they? I’ve discovered that along the way. 

My husband died suddenly when we were living in Singapore and we had a two- and three-year-old. It was a complete nightmare but my ‘ex-pat’ family was incredible. People I hadn’t even met were so kind and helpful. We came home to Melbourne about a year later, and then within a few years, six months apart, both my parents died, so my support structures crumbled in a pretty terrible way. Again, people—and often the ones you don’t expect—have helped us, been there for us emotionally, practically, and so on. There really are some exceptional people in the world.

How did you cope with caring for your two children through this experience?
It wasn’t really a choice. You just do—you have to. I never had a day where I stayed in bed the whole day. It was never like that for me, although for some I know that happens. I’m a communicator so not much was bottled up. I sought help when I needed to and that was a big thing because I’d always been really independent, so doing that felt unnatural but necessary.

I didn’t always cope well—lots of parenting I wish I’d done better or differently, but most people feel that way when you dig a bit so it’s just human and we’re all just doing the best we can, right? The school parents and some of the teachers have also been very supportive.

Did you ever feel like running away?
Of course! Although I’ve done so much travel, most of my childhood and adult life I’ve been lucky enough to travel a great deal. I’ve lived and worked in many countries. Melbourne is pretty great overall and I kind of like being a bit more settled. That said, I frequently ask the kids if they’d like a year in New York City or London if the right job came up. They say, no!

Looking back at your parental leave journey, what was the most challenging part of returning to work?
I didn’t stop for long at first. I had my firstborn in the bassinet while I was writing an annual report from Singapore for my client in Melbourne! But going back to work properly didn’t happen until about three years later when I had two under three.

In Singapore, we had live-in help, so it was ‘normal’ to work. I loved my job but I found the separation from my babies slightly unbearable too. A total conflict. I was so flat out at work that I didn’t think about family life much until I walked out the door to be quite honest. I worked four days a week and finished at a reasonable hour.

Can you finish this sentence, ‘My career changed after the birth of my child…’?
I breastfed during conference calls for a start! Sorry, too visual?! I also realized that my MBA, which I’d started in Singapore, then not long after deferred during a difficult pregnancy, was not going to happen anytime soon. I just never wanted to work full-time again and I still don’t. I don’t want to miss too much of their childhood, for their sake or mine. When you go through what we have with so much ‘frontline’ death, you’re forced to see what matters and it’s just very, very clear to me.

How important is your career now?
My career is definitely something I care about but not the way it mattered when I was 25 and super ambitious. I had some very senior roles, more senior than I was possibly ready for at a fairly young age. I loved the challenge and the long hours didn’t bother me. The travel was a bonus, not a horror! But now it’s about managing to do an interesting job which has intellectual stimulation, reasonable responsibility and uses some of my experience whilst being part-time! Not so easy to find, so I think I am very lucky. I’m not trying to climb a ladder anymore, it’s more about who I work with and what the work is like and, of course, can I do it part-time and flexibly?

How do you juggle motherhood and work?
I work about 30 hours a week. It was meant to be 20 over three days, but it kind of creeps up most weeks. I have a sitter who comes after school two hours, three times a week and I get home and she’s there with the kids for a bit, helping with the household stuff and dinner.

I’m pretty organized for a naturally disorganized person and I rely on paid help when I can because there’s no family support. I give other kids a ride and in turn, my kids get a ride. They’ve also been trained to be self-sufficient and independent going on public transport and doing things younger than most because they’re kids of a sole parent. Although not ideal, I guess that’s just how it has to be. The school parents are great and some of my friends have been amazing.

My weekends are a lot about kids’ sport and parties and lots of socializing and cooking. I don’t miss much in terms of school sports or plays, in fact, I barely miss anything! I move my days around for work and I don’t work school holidays! I just finished three years of studying business coaching which was insane on top of what I had on my plate, but I really wanted to do it, so I did.

What are your time management tips?
Know what matters. Make lunches the night before. Get your kids to help. Would you rather have the latest clothes or the home help? Totally the home help! Invest in property when young if you can. Work really hard and sell your soul to the corporate world early on in your career so that when you have kids you have some cash to throw at the problems! Seriously! Money is definitely a factor. Hopefully, the job you sell your soul for is one you like and aligns with what you value.

How do you sort out emergency child care?
I make a lot of calls. Usually, a school friend can help, or my partner, who doesn’t live with us, is there if he can be. Otherwise, they’re on their own for a bit. It doesn’t happen much because I go back to knowing what matters. The kids matter more than the work and so I weigh it up—does this piece of work really, really have to happen here and now or can it be done on the train, by delegating, when I get home, etc.? I’m not a brain surgeon, so pretty much nothing makes me more than an hour or so late and the kids are OK on their own for that long.

Is your responsibility to yourself or to your family first?
Tricky one. When they give the demo on the plane and say put your mask on before your child’s, I always say to my kids, “as if!” I put my responsibility to my children above all else, sometimes to my detriment. But increasingly, as I get older, I think I’d better look after myself so that I’m here for them (and not a burden) for a long time. It’s too entwined to answer because without wanting to sound corny, we are a team.

What do you still dream of doing?
I wanted to do my ski instructor course in Canada for six months. That’s not happening! I do dream of a ‘gap’ year after my kids finish school. Maybe I’ll let them join me for a bit!

Favorite time of the day… 9pm. That’s when the day’s work (business and home) is done and I can have my Sleepytime Tea and my TV or book!

Instagram sites that inspire you… my friends’ sites. Mainly their travels, or I like seeing their families growing up—many of my friends are not from Australia.

I’m happiest when… I’m with my children and my dog, Pepper, maybe some close friends are over with their kids and dogs too, feasting and festive. Or just watching my kids in hysterics while we play charades. Recently I took my kids skiing and, teaching them to ski in the sunshine, I thought, I’m incredibly happy at this moment. That was pretty great.

I’m addicted to… sugar—but not for long! I’m trying to quit. Also various TV shows—love my junk TV to numb the mind.

My role model is… my kids are my role models in so many ways. I also have some amazing friends and mentors. I have lots of role models actually. When you get really into finding out about another person they can be surprisingly impressive.

Discover more Real Stories from our Circle In community HERE.

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