5 Women Share What Leaning Out Looks Like (And Means) To Them



Part-time, full-time, stay-at-home, mumpreneur, side-hustle… it seems the lines really are blurred when it comes to motherhood and choosing whether (and in what capacity), to go back to work after babies. We often hear stories about women kicking career goals, starting their own businesses and running major corporations all whilst having children, but the flip side is very rarely promoted in such a positive way… until now.

Call it the slow parenting movement or simply a dose of the reality of life with kids, but it seems a lot of mothers are redefining what work means to them and their families by simply not buying into the whole “leaning in” philosophy. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a concept coined by Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and encourages women to speak up, be heard and physically lean in to advance their careers. While the sentiment had the very best of intentions – to celebrate women working hard and getting ahead – in some ways it’s just added to the unnecessary pressure for women to have it all, particularly mothers juggling both worlds. And so here we are… 

We quizzed 5 mums on what working after children means to them – from ex-magazine editors to business owners and bloggers – and the responses all shared a common theme, that a traditional career no longer suited their lifestyles as mothers. For some, that now means working harder than ever on their own terms, while for others it has meant leaning out and taking on more defined roles in the household. Either way, these women are doing what’s best for their own families by writing their own rules, and we couldn’t be more inspired by their choices. 

Image: Grace Alyssa Kyo


Bronwyn Mccahon

Mum of Harper, Grace and Theo and co-founder of PLAY etc.


When did you decide you didn’t want to return to a traditional 9-5 job and why?

When I left Cosmo, I didn’t consciously decide not to return to traditional 9-5 work, I just knew I needed to do something different. I went back to full-time work in magazines quite soon after each of my three kids were born and suddenly I woke up and they were starting school. In the first 6 months after leaving Cosmo, I had a few chats about amazing job opportunities but all of them felt like they were throwing me back into the same hours, same demands. It gave me an uneasy feeling. It was then that I realised it wasn’t that the jobs weren’t right, it was me that wasn’t right for the jobs. After 17 years working for the same company, I didn’t want to go back to working for someone else and feeling restricted in my time with the kids. BUT, I also knew I didn’t want my world to revolve around my kids, my husband and the house. I needed something for me. Something that spoke to my creative interests and felt like I was learning something new….and that’s how PLAY etc was born.


What does a typical day now look like for you?

I get up and go to the gym at 5:55am maybe three days a week, then I’m back home by 7am to do breakfast, lunches and drop the kids to school. Three to four days per week I meet my business partner Kristiina at our PLAY etc office in Paddington around 9:30am and we work work work until 2:30pm when we leave to pick our kids up from school. Our work days are short but efficient (mostly). After school we do homework or whatever activity might be on that day and then bath, dinner and bedtime stories at 7pm. I’m almost always back on my laptop by 7:45pm to keep working. In some ways I’m busier than ever and being a small business we’re learning everything along the way and doing it all ourselves (no more assistants and marketing depts etc!) which is time consuming but also so satisfying.


How has this decision ultimately impacted your family dynamic?

My husband works quite long hours and although he’s super supportive of my career and we made it work with nannies for the first 6 or 7 years of both of us working full-on jobs and raising a family, I really felt the need to be around a bit more. More available for the kids as their needs became less physical and far more emotional. For a number of reasons, I think our household is a lot happier and harmonious now. On weekends there’s less “competition” between my husband and I for downtime because if I want to get my hair done or go shopping without kids, I have time to do it during the week (I normally have Fridays to myself). Having me home more often has also calmed the kids down and they’re settled into a nice routine. I remember when I was working full-time, I would get home at 6:30pm at night just as the kids were getting ready for bed and my arrival would set off a string of crazy behaviour as they all vied for my attention. I would be so excited to see them and within 10 minutes of arriving home, I’d be rousing at them to calm down.


There seem to be two playing fields at the moment - women who #girlboss and #sidehustle all day and every day, and those who have consciously decided to slow down after kids came along. How do each of these sentiments make you feel?

I’ve girl bossed and I’ve side hustled and in many ways, I don’t feel that what I’m doing now is “slowing down” after kids either (in fact I’m busier than ever!).  I feel like I made tweaks to my work life to be more inclusive and sympathetic to how my broader, overall life as it continues to change and evolve. There’s a perception that when you leave the corporate world you’ve leaned out and slowed down, but I don’t necessarily agree. In corporate life, I had the benefit of working 9-6pm and having access to numerous departments within the business (legal, marketing, finance) that made doing my daily job much easier. Now, as a start-up, we’re doing everything. We ARE the legal/marketing/finance/editorial departments and my job, although more flexible with hours, is a 24/7 gig.


Georgie Watts

Mum to Wolfe and Kinga and blogger at The Window Seat.


When did you decide you didn’t want to return to a traditional 9-5 job and why?

Before starting a family I worked in fashion PR… such great fun for a young person! It was never a traditional 9-5 job, there were many late nights, and travel interstate for launches and fashion weeks. After having children there was no way I could keep up, but my priorities had shifted. I still adore fashion, but I couldn’t see myself in that environment ever again.

So much has changed since I left; social media was just starting up, these days posting on social media IS work for some! Interestingly, I am still very good friends with all the girls I worked with at the time, some are still in fashion, and manage to juggle work and family brilliantly, whilst others have chosen to give it up.


What does a typical day now look like for you?

I wake up mega early, usually before 6am. I prep lunch boxes, and have a shower whilst the kids have their breakfast and then we’re always out the door before 8am. After dropping them to school, I might have a coffee with my school mum mates, then I’ll try and squeeze in some exercise (either a Physicore class or a big walk). Then I’ll figure out dinner, maybe squeeze in some laundry, and before I know it, it’s time for pick up. If there’s an after-school activity, I’ll take the kids to that, then it’s home for homework and dinner. After the dinner/bath/bed madness, I collapse in a heap, maybe watch some Stan/Netflix then hit the hay… Then do it all again tomorrow!


How has this decision ultimately impacted your family dynamic? 

I like the stability that this brings to our household. And I know how fortunate we have been that financially we’ve been in a position whereby I can stay home as a stay at home mum.


There seem to be two playing fields at the moment - women who #girlboss and #sidehustle all day and every day, and those who have consciously decided to slow down after kids came along. How do each of these sentiments make you feel? 

I did find that after having kids I felt I lost myself a bit. And so it was important that I have a project, an outlet that was just for me, that allowed me to pursue things I felt passionate about, such as travel, food and photography. I started my blog as a result. I feel immense pride when I’m able to post new stories, but often I feel stressed that I’m not posting enough, or getting enough writing done! So #sidehustle doesn’t always work for me… I think if you can make it work, get that elusive work-life balance right, then do it! I can’t! I think that mum guilt is a thing no matter which camp you’re in, so get on with what works for you!


Emily Dryden

Mum to Noah, Harry and Juliet, stay-at-home-mum.


When did you decide you didn’t want to return to a traditional 9-5 job and why? 

After my first child was born. At the time I couldn’t imagine being away from him for that long each day. My husband’s business was just taking off and he worked long hours, plus we demand breastfed and didn’t have much family support, so we made the conscious decision for me to stay at home. Just after his first birthday I fell pregnant again so we continued doing what was working for us.


What does a typical day now look like for you?

Every day is consistently busy! My two eldest are now in school and I have a toddler with me full-time. I thought life would slow down a bit by this stage but with the school runs, extra-curricular activities, training, homework and all the usual running of the household, every day is still jam-packed and non-stop.


How has this decision ultimately impacted your family dynamic? 

It’s what works for us. We have clear roles in our household and this keeps things running smoothly and ultimately makes our day-to-day routine less stressful. Obviously, we share the load when we are all at home, and now that my boys are older they have started to take responsibility for a few chores as well.


There seem to be two playing fields at the moment - women who #girlboss and #sidehustle all day and every day, and those who have consciously decided to slow down after kids came along. How do each of these sentiments make you feel? 

I really believe that we can have it all, just not all at once. I admire the former if they can master the juggle and are happy in that role, but am definitely part of the latter. Ultimately though, there is no need for judgement. I’ve never met a mum who isn’t trying her best! Do what works for your family, makes you happy and try to find the joy in your daily reality.


Fiona Kowalski

Mum to Gidget, creator of Printebebe.


When did you decide you didn’t want to return to a traditional 9-5 job and why?

I guess having Gidget was life-changing for me, as it is for every mother and father. Maybe, because I was older I just really wanted my life to reflect the change I felt. I wanted a different way of working and a different way of living, consciously choosing to revolve it all around her. Having been a “career girl” for so long and seeing what effort is involved, the commitment you give to a company is not always reciprocated. I went back to work part-time and though the company was very flexible, I ultimately felt the job needed more of me to do it well… and I didn’t want to give more of me!  I just wanted the next phase of life/career to be different. I felt that I’d had an amazing career thus far, I was proud of the things I had done and the travel was especially amazing. But these things were not important to me anymore so all that was left was the money. And that’s never my driving force, so I thought why not try a change!  I wanted to be at home with her when she was young and knew once school arrived I wanted to be able to drop off and pick up and go to any assembly.  I think my age and the career I’d already had definitely gave me a different perspective as I didn’t have any career challenges I wanted to take.


What does a typical day now look like for you?

  1. Early morning exercise. My husband and I juggled who got to do what each morning during the first few years, and then finally worked out if I do the 5.45-6.45, he does the 6.45 -7.45 then we both get to do something every day. In saying that if I miss my slot, then I miss out! He gets the easier end come winter!
  2. Get breakfast and school lunch ready and off to school by 9, which means we have a lot of time in the mornings as we’re all early birds.
  3. I head to the office after drop off, I do two to three days a week where I finish at 2pm and two to three days I leave by 4.30 depending on our activities which seem to change each term.
  4. I often finish emails and Instagram planning etc at night and I’m forever taking pics of Gidget (or anyone who comes for a play date!) so I guess it’s still very all hours.

How has this decision ultimately impacted your family dynamic? 

My flexibility means I can be there for Gidget after school and also during school holidays. We mix up with her and I travelling a lot to see my family who live in Perth and all of us travelling for family holidays.  We love holidays. So this ultimately makes life much easier for our family as we don’t have to juggle as much.


There seem to be two playing fields at the moment - women who #girlboss and #sidehustle all day and every day, and those who have consciously decided to slow down after kids came along. How do each of these sentiments make you feel? 

Oh, I just feel old when I hear #girlboss and #sidehustle feels like you have to put way more effort just to keep up! I guess ultimately what started as my side hustle did become my full-time job, but I really just see it as a lifestyle change.


Eliza Ashe

Mum of Atti, Iggy and one on the way. Stylist, editor and creator of For The Young.


When did you decide you didn’t want to return to a traditional 9-5 job and why? 

I made the decision to go freelance two years before having our first son and looking back I think I subconsciously made the move so that I would be better positioned to continue my career post babies. I’d always worked long hours in publishing and as much as I loved my job I knew it wasn’t something I’d want to sustain with a young family.

Freelancing has allowed me to focus on the aspects of my job that I love most and it’s also afforded me the time to explore new projects such as my children’s bedding range. That being said, being self-employed isn’t all sunshine and lollipops.


What does a typical day now look like for you?

It varies depending on the projects I’m working on. I try to schedule meetings and shoots on the three days when our eldest son is at preschool so that we’re free to enjoy the time he has at home together.

I usually wake an hour or so before the boys so I can tackle emails and prep orders before the morning chaos begins. We arrive at preschool by 8 am and then it’s off to gymnastics, a park date or playgroup to tire out the toddler. We’re usually home by 11am for lunch and his two-hour nap. Those two hours when he sleeps are when I get the bulk of my work done and follow up on emails.

My husband and I try to share the preschool drop off/pick up runs so afternoons are usually spent prepping dinner and tackling life admin. We aim to have the kid’s dinner and baths over by 6pm so we have plenty of time for bedtime stories before it’s lights out at 7pm. I’m lucky that I can do the majority of my work from home so once they’re tucked away in bed at night I’ll usually do another hour or so to tie up any loose ends.


How has this decision ultimately impacted your family dynamic?

Being self-employed means I can pick and chose the type of projects and volume of work I take on depending on where we’re at as a family.  Some months I’ll be busy juggling multiple deadlines and shoots and then I may have a week or so of downtime where I can focus solely on the boys and my new business and that suits us fine. I’m all about working smarter, not harder. I’ve also learnt to say no to clients and projects without feeling guilty or worrying that I may never work again.


There seem to be two playing fields at the moment - women who #girlboss and #sidehustle all day and every day, and those who have consciously decided to slow down after kids came along. How do each of these sentiments make you feel?  

I wish we didn’t have labels or categories as such as I think they fuel feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I also don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. Slow living, part-time work, full-time work  … I think we’re all hustling and juggling. We really should be focusing on what it is that keeps us feeling happy and fulfilled. Recognise that your needs are fluid and that it’s okay to change course. Whether that means scaling back at work, accepting the promotion, or taking the kids on a gap year. Just focus on your unit and what feels right for you.


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