Best job for this mum is always putting the kids first

By Catherine Milford

Next Sunday mums all over the country get breakfast in bed and a lie-in to celebrate Mother's Day. To mark the occasion, Kate Hawkesby tells Catherine Milford why she gave up a high-profile career to be a stay-at-home mum - her best job yet.

Kate Hawkesby gave up a well-paid job to be a stay-at-home mum, but she doesn't decry working mothers. Photo / Michael Craig
Kate Hawkesby gave up a well-paid job to be a stay-at-home mum, but she doesn't decry working mothers. Photo / Michael Craig

When journalist and newsreader Kate Hawkesby gave up her high-profile, well-paid job to become a stay-at-home mum for five children, many of her peers gave her six months, tops.

"Most of them threw their hands up in horror, declaring that I'd never last, I'd go insane, and I'd be back at work within weeks," says Hawkesby, 40, who is mum to Jackson, 14, Joshua, 12 and Marley 7, and stepmum to Newstalk ZB breakfast host and Seven Sharp presenter Mike Hosking's twins Ruby and Bella, 12.

"Other friends were delighted that my days would be freed up, thinking we could play tennis and enjoy long lunches."

That was March 2011. "As yet, none of those things have happened."

Ahh, the plight of the modern mother. Should she work, or stay at home? Does trying to do it all mean doing nothing well?

The latest Statistics NZ data available, from 2009, shows that six out of 10 Kiwi women are in work. But increasingly, women don't feel they have to do it all - that choosing to stay home is as valid as working.

Hawkesby knows she's lucky to have that choice, but she also believes being there for her kids is more important now than ever.

"It's ironic, but the older they get, the more children need their mum," says Hawkesby, who spent 12 years as a reporter and presenter at TVNZ, going back to work when Jackson and Josh were 6 months old. In 2002, she became co-anchor of TV One's Breakfast show.

"It was easier to leave them when they were babies. It tugs on your heartstrings, but really, anyone can cuddle them, love them and put them back to sleep.

"When children get older they have friendships and relationships to manoeuvre, they are making decisions, processing values, trying to work out how the world works. They have projects, questions, homework, theories, meltdowns, and hormones kicking in.

"Now I'm at home with the children we have real conversations about stuff that matters."

Hawkesby doesn't seem the type who would thrive without a challenge. And she's not - the Woman's Day parenting columnist just doesn't believe taking fulltime paid work is the challenge she needs.

"I think we often confuse 'important' with 'busy'. If we're busy we figure we must be important because we're working, but I feel my role at home is really important. My husband always says that what I do at home is priceless and you can't put a value on it, and I think that's right.

"So many kids are drifting without a moral compass, and they get their opinions and ideas from social media and their mates. "More than ever before, our children are learning values on a global scale - but they are still just children, and they have to be taught right from wrong.

"You don't have to spell it all out for them, but it's important for me as a mum to be available with my time, and help my kids by providing some kind of moral guidance so they can work things out in their minds and get the best possible outcome."

Hawkesby says it was only when she realised she wasn't doing her job at home well enough that she decided to give up work. Her breakfast newsreader job meant both parents were out of the house by 4am each day, leaving the kids with a nanny.

"I spent so much time trying to find the right people to manage my house and family. I got through nanny after nanny. That's when I realised it was actually going to be easier to do it myself." The final blow came when her older children admitted how much they hated waking up in a house with no parents.

"Something had to give. People talk about the roar of the crowd - for me, the roar was loudest at home."

Once she made the decision the rest was easy.

"The media industry works on a completely different level. It is a very high-octane industry that is obsessed with itself.

"It was only when I stepped outside it that I realised I don't need it, I don't want it.

"That was a huge weight off my shoulders, realising my job didn't define me. It's not what feeds me.

"I get my oxygen at home, from my family, and I love it.

"After years of being surrounded by grown-ups in an industry that works at breakneck pace, being at home, hearing the kids laugh and telling their stories is magical."

But the process wasn't seamless, and with the newfound joy of rediscovering her kids came the retrospective guilt at what she'd missed.

"When you can't be at home, you rationalise it - the kids will be fine, they are just getting up and going to school.

"It wasn't until I came home and was here in the mornings that I saw what I'd been missing.

"I'd convinced myself it was okay, but it wasn't. Kids in the morning are often a beat behind, they want a cuddle, they are tired, they don't know if they have the right gear.

"They need to go to school in the right headspace, not feel like they've been packaged up and shunted out the door."

So now Hawkesby gets up at 6am, after Hosking has left for his Newstalk ZB gig but before the children wake up: "Although sometimes Marley beats me to it.

"That's lovely though - it means I get the morning cuddles."

By 7am everyone's up, and the morning routine of dog feeding, putting on washing, doing the beds, making school lunches, getting uniforms and sports outfits begins, before the kids are packed off to school.

"I'm available to do all the school trips, parent help, manage the house, prep the mountains of food the kids eat, walk the dog. Every day is different. That's what makes it fun."

Hawkesby says that after she quit her job it took her a long time to "slow down, relax and realise what was actually important".

"For the first year, I still got up at 5am and stayed busy, busy, busy. The house was constantly immaculate - Mike probably thought it was awesome. That's when my mum, who was a stay-at-home mum too, told me that there is a difference between being the mum that's constantly fossicking around with washing, phone calls and emails, and the mum who is actually present for her kids.

"That has been my biggest challenge - being present for them, and being there to actually talk to them and hear what they have to say."

Which, in the Hosking/Hawkesby household, happens most days after school when the kids have afternoon tea with their parents before Hosking goes to work at Seven Sharp.

"I remember the late, great Paul Holmes telling me that one of his great regrets was missing the after-school and dinner times with his kids when they were little, and it stuck with me that all we have in this world is family.

"Mike and I had a long discussion about it - we chose to have these kids, to blend this family, and I believe I have a duty to do my best with that."

Hawkesby is currently supervising extensive renovations at the family's large house in the Auckland suburb of Remuera - a small part of the domestic project management that is now her life. "Keeping a household of seven functioning is quite a production. Someone asked Marley the other week what I do all day, and she told them I went to the supermarket. But there's always something going on - there isn't any downtime. It's not like being at work, where you get defined lunch breaks."

She's happy with her choices but she knows not everyone will agree - and, she says, neither should they.

"There will be people who think I spend my days shopping, getting my nails done and having three-hour lunches, but I can assure you that's not the case."

She's adamant that her choices aren't a blow against the feminist principle that women have the right to have it all. "As a society, we woefully underestimate the role of mothers and children. We think being busy and important in a workplace is the be-all and end-all. But we burn out more than ever before, there's more stress than ever before, there are more unhappy relationships. My choice is going back to something very simple, which is being there for your kids. I don't see it as a backwards step at all - I think whenever a woman makes a decision that's best for her and her family, that she's comfortable with, no one has the right to criticise her for it. I would never judge another woman for the choices she makes about work.

"Plenty of women simply don't have the choice that I have. They have to work to put food on the table, and I 100 per cent respect that. The truth is, I could work inside school hours, and we could have a bit more disposable income, but I choose not to. I can't really justify that, except that I know it's a privilege to have the choice.

"People ask me if I worry about getting nappy brain, or that somehow I've become less of a woman for choosing to stay at home, but this is a natural fit. I can be there when things hit the fan and the kids need me. I can go to bed at night, thinking, 'Thank God I was there for that'. I can't always fix things for the kids, or do much about it - but I can be there, hear what they are saying and give them a hug."

Just the two of us

Teuila Blakely as an 18-year-old with her son Jared.
Teuila Blakely as an 18-year-old with her son Jared.

Shortland Street star Teuila Blakely was 17 when she became a single mum, and went to work when her son Jared was 6 weeks old.

"It was awful," Blakely says. "It wasn't out of choice. I was straight out of high school and it was a necessity.

"Jared is 22 now. He is a truly wonderful young man and I couldn't be prouder of him. But as his mum I look back and wish it had been different. I would have loved to at least have had the first five years with him, before he started school - instead, he spent his early years travelling around with my dad in his delivery van on his paper round, and later Barnardos helped with looking after him, too.

"I don't know what I would have done without that help. Any time I could have stayed home with him would have been amazing. I can't regret it because at the time there wasn't a choice - but it was so hard.

"My first job was working with material, cutting fabric. I didn't have any qualifications so getting a good job was pretty much impossible, and the rates were terrible so I had to work full time. I was only 17, freaking out at the idea that I was now a mum, while at the same time going through all the thoughts and feelings every new mum does. I yearned for my child, and he had to be bottle-fed because I wasn't there to give him my breast milk - I still remember feeling my milk dry up. Working when Jared was a baby was emotionally very painful.

"Things did get easier in a way as he got older. We both became conditioned, although there were times I felt terrible because Jared would ask me to come home, or not to go to work, and I never went on a school trip or camp. We got used to what we had to do. It was just how we lived. Only another working mum will know how that feels. I did find missing out on so much of Jared's childhood heartbreaking - but there have been up-sides too. I have a huge fulfilment through my work, particularly now, as I worked hard for years, and now I get to do something I love. As a career woman I have experienced some things the stay-at-home mum would never get to do, and I certainly understand the reasoning behind those mums who choose to go back to work.

"Jared and I have always made the most of the time we had together, and we are very close - it was always just the two of us. And he has inherited some of my good traits. I have always had a very strong work ethic and so does he. Kids will always follow your example - it is their single biggest influence. They see how you handle situations, how you react.

"I am so proud to have this wonderful young man in my life. He will be there when I celebrate my 40th birthday next year - and as I never had a wedding, and I've worked hard my whole life, I am going to have one amazing party to celebrate. My 40s will be fantastic."

- Herald on Sunday

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