Birthing, Bonding & Back-to-work for mums

Grandson Zachary is cared for by his mother Vanessa.

Grandson Zachary is cared for by his mother Vanessa.

One thing that fascinates me about the current feisty debate around  Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “signature” Paid Parental Leave proposed policy is that women, themselves, are not hailing this initiative as the best thing since sliced bread.  The hoo haa from men was always expected, because the vast majority simply continue to go off to work each day once children arrive.  Their superannuation upon retirement is big and fat after a long working life.  But it is the mothers who suffer the financial deprivation if they drop out of the paid workforce for any length of time.  And it is mothers who need to manage the domestic scenario in order to return to paid work. Which means arrangements for paid child care and weighing up the costs.

Where are the losers here if this policy passes the Senate?   Women, particularly low paid women in menial jobs, will be big-time winners.  They will be paid for six months at their usual salary – as a work entitlement – and surely this will give these women integrity as valued workers – and fortify their sense of independence and equality. Importantly, it also validates their important role as mothers-to-be bearing, birthing and raising children.  We have created a two-income society and in doing that, this country can no longer afford to provide middle-class welfare for women to stay at home indefinitely.

The Federal Government is on the right path to insist that once the last child is at school and reaches the age of 6, that it’s time for women to return to paid work.  Former  Prime Minister John Howard’s mantra that women needed choice, has run its course and because of the enormous debt the country finds itself in, tough decisions need to be made and implemented. It is madness to think that social policy does not yet fully underscore women to maintain their role in paid work as well as have children – the next generation.

This isn’t only about fiscal repair.  One of the saddest states of being for a woman is to find herself in her 60s, often alone and with very little superannuation of her own.  When freed of her family responsibilities and able to enjoy retirement, she is reliant on the age pension which provides little more than basic living standards for many older Australian women.

Paid Parental Leave for women who earn up to $100,000 will lay the foundation to build an uninterrupted working life as well as raising a family.  Disposable income drives our economy and also provides the funds to ensure the nation’s children enjoy their fair share of activities such as sporting activities, artistic endeavours and school outings.

This policy which delivers six months full pay, allows women time to bond with their newborn babies and enjoy mothering for the crucial first half year. It endorses women’s place as part of the fabric of the nation’s working life and builds an expectation that they will returning to their existing jobs. Figures support this with 69 per cent of women now in the paid workforce.  The sound idea is to ensure there are no gaps or obstacles  in women’s smooth transition from paid work, maternity leave and then returning to work. Which means government also needs to closely examine the issue of paid child care. Accessibility is still a problem and now, added to this is the much higher costs of childcare. Costs have risen 44 per cent over five years.

The Federal Government should also examine subsidising child care fees on a sliding scale of need. Availability of child care is still a stumbling block for many women along with its cost, especially for women with two children under five. These women are the ones who need to be encouraged to retain their links with work while establishing their two-child domestic world.  Having money in the bank at the end of paying child care fees is a great incentive to take on the juggling act of working and child-rearing.  The more low-paid a woman is, the more she is sensitive to childcare costs when deciding whether to return to paid work.

So let’s help them.  National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling figures shows only 43 per cent of childcare subsidies are paid to families in the bottom 60 per cent by income.  The current dual system – a means tested benefit and a universal rebate – needs to change to provide one payment which is means tested. This will ensure a higher percentage rebate goes to lower income workers.

One thing which would help households justify the woman’s return to work would be for husband and wife to share the cost of paid childcare so mothers can pocket more of the money they earn and fathers can have half the cost of childcare skimmed off their usually larger take-home pay packet.  Why should it be considered only the mother’s expense. Daddy should also bear the financial load fairly.

The long-term benefits for women of staying in the work force through their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s manifest in their 60s, 70s and, hopefully 80s and 90s, when their little nest eggs of superannuation can ensure a quality of life for them, either with their partners or alone.


Exhilarating journey of an eclectic life

A happy snap at my 70th birthday with family and friends.

A happy snap at my 70th birthday with family and friends.

This is the week that I reach the formidable milestone of turning 70.  I never thought it would happen, but time moves right along and here I am enjoying myself with a week of activities whereby I have managed to involve my family and most of my friends.

In  seven decades I have jammed in much change and adventure and no-one could accuse me of being lily-livered. So let me highlight a few points I have made at the three major celebrations this week.

I have had three husbands, three children and three major careers. I have built four houses from scratch and I have five gorgeous grand-children.

The sun has shone on my life, but it has caused some very long, sad shadows, too. Mistakes? There are more than a few but I have learnt the hardest lessons through them.  I have had a fair share of bad mother days, but a pile of career successes to compensate.

With a large intimate family of 11 and a larger extended family of 25 persons, I am so rich in human relationships and kinship. When I look at my family, I see my past, present and future. And over this past week as I welcomed my close friends and reunited friends – I also see my past, present and future.

My children – raising them from infancy to adulthood  – with all the mixed blessings that entails, have been my greatest purpose in life. In reflection, I loved my mothering years and I am so proud of how they are living their adult lives, the choices they have made and what they are becoming – because life is a long continuum. They are beautiful human beings.

In reflection, my most precious birthday gift in my whole life was, without any doubt, my 16th birthday when my mother, Florrie gave birth to my only sister, Anne, who followed three brothers’ births. I am the eldest and Anne, is not only “sis” but a beloved friend. What a wonderful gift and as she said this week, she loved pretending I was her mother when I took her shopping – and vice versa of course. I pretended I was a very young mother of little Anne Victoria.

Recently, I was talking to my 95-year-old father and asked him if he could remember when I was born and he threw his hands to his face and said “Florrie said, Oh, it’s a girl! We wanted a boy.”

I then asked him if he loved me regardless. His whole face broke into a smile and he said with feeling “Oh yes, you were our little missy.’’

Frank picks me up in his Mercedes

Frank picks me up in his Mercedes

It was such a precious memory for him and so wonderful to witness in his dotage, how much he loved me as a little girl.

Chris, Pat, Sally, Jill, Cheryl, Barb and Lesia celebrate with me.

Chris, Pat, Sally, Jill, Cheryl, Barb and Lesia celebrate with me.

Turning 70 cannot be fobbed off as being the new 60, because the body has aged and even though I still snap at my son if he dares to say I am elderly, “little missy” is now an older woman.

The selfie I took this week reveals jowls just like my mother. Behind me on the whole, etching those wrinkles the sunlight blatantly exposes, is a blessed life.

My marriage breakdown in my 20s shattered not only my dreams of happy ever afters, but also my health and happiness for years.

I found myself where I never expected to be – as a single mother.

Another marriage, and another divorce 14 years later ushering in a long 20 years of singledom until I married my third husband, Olivier, in 2008.  The saddest chapter was losing him to cancer and caring for him in his deterioration until death.  I could hardly bear the profound grief which consumed me.  The loss of happiness was excruciating. Now I find myself where I never expected to be – a widow, and alone for the first time in my life.

On the career front I have been a shop assistant in my father’s electrical shop, a secretary, a high school teacher, a professional fund-raiser, quest organiser, public relations consultant, and lastly, a journalist, columnist and editor  during a 20 year career.

My career  at the Advertiser was an exhilarating journey of growth and change and amongst countless different roles and writing assignments, two stand out – drawing up an agenda of women’s news for the male editors of the day to shape into editorial policy and establishing the women’s issues round to write stories which reflected women’s lives.  The other major achievement, the story which had the biggest impact, was breaking the State Bank story; that our bank was driving South Australia to bankruptcy.

At the other end of the news spectrum I enjoyed a few years as celebrity columnist writing up the gossip surround the stars and juxtaposing this with serious columns on social change. Whilst cultural issues writer, I met my future husband Olivier.

Maria Kenda who designed my birthday present to me - a pearl pendant.

Maria Kenda who designed my birthday present to me – a pearl pendant.

One quantum leap into the unknown was writing my memoir of our first trip to France where I fell deliciously in love with Olivier – and I combined this risky enterprise with working full-time at the Advertiser in a new role as editor of the supplement Looking Forward – the highlight of my long career. My book, From France With Love, published by Penguin, became a best-seller and we sold the film option, an exciting dream for a few years.

The news of the moment is that despite two rejections from publishers over the past six years – I am again writing a manuscript which I hope will be published. It will be the story of returning to France last year with my dear friend Jane, who lives in Sydney and our various experiences and misadventures as I tried to throw off the mantel of grief which had all but snuffed out my joie de vivre.

Therefore I am not afraid of failure and, as with my website,, I am willing to take risks.  My name, Nadine, means “hope”, yet I am bracing myself for another rejection.  But beginning to write again after closing down through grief is a success in itself. When I complete the manuscript of 100,000 words, whether a publisher wants my story or not, that huge project can never be considered a failure, but a growth phase in my older life.

So, I felt proud sharing these chapters of my life with my friends this week.  It has been a fruitful life for a “lassy” (another name my dad called me in my teens) who was frightened of her own shadow at 20. Dad didn’t believe in educating me, so I educated myself  completing year 11 history and shorthand before achieving matriculation English in my late 20s. It took eight long years in my late 30s and early 40s to achieve my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, but this was my entrée to a career in journalism which has metamorphised my life.

At 70, I am healthy and content. Grief rides in tandem with happiness as only the grieved will understand. Balancing this all up, I do feel a fulfilled woman.




Nancy Inspired by Widowed Refugee Mum.


Nancy Nguyen, a Perth based Business Advisor for Woodside Energy, has been selected by The University of Sydney Business School and the Australian National Committee for UN Women, as the inaugural recipient of their MBA scholarship.

The scholarship and new 2014 partnership between the Australian National Committee for UN Women and The University of Sydney Business School were celebrated at a lunch attended by the Chancellor of The University of Sydney, Ms Belinda Hutchinson AM, on 1 July which was attended by 40 industry leaders, students and alumni.

Nancy says as a child she gained strength from her mother who became a widow due to the Vietnam War. She saw her single mum with two children, in spite of her vulnerabilities, find the resilience to fight for her family’s freedom and future.

“Coming from a refugee family from Vietnam, I am grateful for the opportunities that I have been able to pursue. I am part of a first generation of women in my family to be able to have a tertiary education in Australia.”

The Scholarship is open to all women from Australia and overseas.