Artist, producer and mum Tammy Brennan and her then-partner managed the work/life balance fairly seamlessly when their daughter was very small. But when the relationship broke down this creative mum was forced to hatch her Plan B on the hop.
Tammy Brennan spoke to The Mother Shift’s Jacinta Tynan about balancing a job and a child – as a new single parent. She admitted it was a bit of a rude awakening.
“It was a real shock and it took a lot of adjustment, not only in terms of physical resources but also mental and emotional, because I think you have these expectations around, you know, your ex partner and you have to really undo all those ideas around the nuclear family and start to redefine what it is to be independent.”
The big shift
Those first steps to independence were necessarily geographic ones. Tammy had been with her partner for 11 years, and the pair were living in central Australia when they broke up. She and her daughter moved away from Pebble’s dad, in the quest for better support.
“I actually didn’t have any family in central Australia,” Tammy told The Mother Shift, “so my first priority was to move back where I had close friends and family, so that involved a relocation and I decided to move to Sydney because that’s where I went to university, I had a lot contacts and networks here and felt that I would have a better chance of getting employment in my area.”
Building a network
Friends and family stepped in to help, until Tammy managed to sort out somewhere to live and secure employment.
“We had very supportive friends so we stayed with friends … until I got full time employment, because without full time employment it’s quite difficult to get a lease.”
Once Tammy had the basics sorted, she set about finding housemates who would be open to helping out with daughter Pebble.
“The idea of sharing a house meant that I would have someone else in the house if I need to pop to the shops, or you know, if I had to leave for work early, there might be someone there that could take Pebble to daycare or school and things like that. So I made those choices based on the fact that I didn’t really have any extended family support.”
Communication is key
Tammy said her employer was fairly supportive of her family life, but negotiating the hours and conditions that would work for her and Pebble took real commitment.
“In the beginning, it was just a constant conversation with my employer at the time who was quite understanding … so that might have looked like starting work a little bit later, leaving work a little bit earlier, working longer days in terms of school; but it certainly didn’t come without hard work and would often involve putting in a business case or having to go to a board.”
The Mother Shift’s resident counsellor and psychologist, Kirsty Levin confirms Tammy’s approach is a great example to other single parents. She encourages lots of open conversations between employer and employee to ensure everyone’s expectations and needs are met.
“It is really important to negotiate flexibility and support when you’re a single parent and you’re looking at your employment situation,” Kirsty explained. “You need to be able to seek out employers that are mindful and supportive of the responsibilities of parenthood. And particularly as a single parent, you need to advocate for yourself much more strongly than ever before.”
A change in direction
When Pebble reached school age, she was diagnosed with a number of learning difficulties, and Tammy made the decision to restructure her work so that she could homeschool her daughter.
“I just did some research and thought that she really needed quite a lot of one-on-one, and that assistance just isn’t in the public education system. I did the math – if I was to get extra tutors and all these other things so it just worked, that if I quit my job, looked for part time work and balanced actually teaching her myself, going back to those fundamentals, that that would actually be a better outcome for everyone and it has been.”
It truly does take a village
Tammy told The Mother Shift that being engaged in her community and having a solid support network around her has been vital.
“Give to your friends … keep those networks in place,” Tammy advised, “because you just never know when you’re going to have to pick up a phone and make a phone call and ask for help.”
“Building a tribe is something you need to cultivate,” Kirsty agreed, “and you need to be proactive about doing that. You can’t be sort of a passive recipient expecting people to come to you if you’re just sitting back and waiting. You need to be really proactive and take initiative about meeting people and putting yourself out there.”
Tammy said that while it’s been a real juggle at times, having Pebble in her life balances out the tricky times.
“It hasn’t come without sacrifices and challenges but it has fulfilled me enormously as a human being and I love my daughter immensely and every day I learn something about myself.”