Interview

Senior features editor, Elizabeth Wilson, reflects on managing the juggle so she can be present at work and at home

by Liz Marchant

Elizabeth Wilson, Senior features editor, House & Garden.
Age: 52
Number of kids: 2 girls
Age of kids: 14 and 12

What’s important to you in a role?

In no particular order of importance: job satisfaction; creativity; working in a positive culture; and connecting with people. Working on a monthly home-related magazine gives you the privilege of connecting with people in their private homes. There is a sense of community about that that I love.

Can you describe what’s involved in doing your job on a day-to-day basis?

No two days are the same and yet everyday consists of the same components. I’m writing at a computer 95 per cent of my time, however, the content changes throughout the day depending on the stories and the production schedule. But writing is at the heart of what I do; writing stories and liaising with home owners, PR agencies, and my colleagues within the publishing house.

I also spend a lot of time planning and organising content. Weeks tick by quickly and I’m always on a deadline; copy or print. It’s very important to be organised and have the content lined up and ready to go. We work three to four months ahead, so I like to have six to 12 months of story ideas lined up.

As senior features editor I also oversee the gardening section of the magazine, so I always have my ear to the ground looking for unique projects around Australia, liaising with landscapers, photographers, and freelance writers, as well as writing about 90 per cent of the garden stories.

Throughout the monthly production cycle, I help proofread the magazine, which increases in deadline week. And I contribute anyway I can to help wrap up last-minute writing tasks to get the magazine out the door to the printers.

Did you have any personal concerns or worries in relation to family or out-of-work commitments when you started combining working and parenting?

After I had my second child I didn’t want to go back to such an intense job with two young ones. I did have concerns about returning to work, and initially worked as a freelance writer for two years so I could spend more time at home when the girls were younger.

When I was offered a role at House & Garden 10 years ago, my youngest daughter was two-and-a-half years old and the eldest was going in to kindergarten. My greatest fear was that I’d miss out on time with them. Work is important to me – it provides me with a sense of purpose, I’m diligent and work hard – but my girls are my priority. It’s important that I feel present in their lives.

What kind of support do you have at work and outside of work?

I’ve always had female editors who are mothers themselves, and they understand the working mum’s dilemma. However, in publishing, you’re always chasing deadlines so you need to think of the team as well. It’s not always possible to attend a concert or sport carnival, which is a constant pull on the heart strings.

I’ve always maintained that, once you become parents, one parent has to have the flexibility to work part-time or from home. In my case my husband works from home, so I’ve never had to worry about before/after school care. Kids have the security of knowing a parent is always available.

What are your work commitments?

I work a nine-day fortnight. A work day is typically 9am to 6pm in the office. I get home somewhere between 6.30 and 7pm. There are occasional after-hours events or trips for work that take me interstate for one or two nights, chasing a story. These can be exciting as there’s travel involved, meeting new people and unearthing stories, however the downside is you’re away from all the organisational things that go on at home.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced finding a balance between work and parenting commitments?

FOMO: missing out on that time with the girls after school. Often, they’ve told their stories of the day before I get home and are too tired to recap on them for me. Missing out on precious little everyday moments, and missing out on accompanying them to excursions means there is an element of regret but you have to accept that it’s the struggle of the juggle.

How long did you take maternity leave/time out of your career with each of your children?

When I had my first child, I took maternity leave for eight months. I returned to work and, when I fell pregnant again, I was going to take another eight months. However, I extended my maternity leave and eventually resigned. I built up a very sustainable freelance writing career and was able to work three days a week from home. It provided flexible hours, and the girls were in family day care and would do short days. I’d pick them up mid-afternoon and, if I had to write in the evening, that was OK. It was a nice balance.

What advice would you give someone before commencing maternity leave?

Take 12 months leave if you can. Be confident; you’ll instinctively know the best thing for your baby. Don’t rush into programming, take the day slowly and gently, go for walks; you’ll enjoy the fresh air and baby will commence its relationship with nature. If you’re goals-driven, try to avoid setting KPIs as you’ll be setting yourself up for a punishing and confusing time. Try to accept that your life is about to change in ways you can’t predict.

What advice would you give someone returning to their career after having kids?

Be prepared for the roller coaster. It’s a constant tug on the heart strings. There will be layers of guilt; leaving kids, leaving work, enjoying after-work events, having to stay at home for a sick child. You’re not alone in that predicament and there’s no easy fix. Somehow just adjust to that; you can’t be too bogged down by the guilt. When you’re at work, get into it, feel proud of the work you do, and give it 100 per cent. And, when you’re at home, give 100 per cent. There’s skill that comes with juggling life and work.

Are there many women at your level juggling family and work at your organisation?

Yes. Publishing is a very female-dominated industry and many share the same juggling act. I work with women who have children of all ages, some are still in the toddler phase, and others are teenagers. Regardless of the age of your children, there’s always a big demand on the home front. There’s a nice understanding among working mums in my workplace that we all know what we’re dealing with.

Do you find time for yourself? And if so, how and what do you use it for?

To be honest, I really don’t. When not at work I’m with the family and we’re a very tight-knit little pack of four. I love to go for long walks in a park or nearby river, but quite often that’s with the family, including the dog. Being with the family and going for a family bike ride, walk or playing tennis, doing some sort of outdoor activity with them, that’s my happy place.

Do you have a daily routine, and if so, what does it look like?

There’s the hurly burly of the morning, making lunches for girls and me. They require less help getting ready now, however, I’m still racing to get out the door. At work, it’s the daily routine from 9am to 6pm, and then the same in reverse to try and help with a bit of homework and download our days. We always have dinner together as a family, which is really important to all of us; it’s a good conversation time. We watch a bit of TV together or play board games, and then get ready for bedtime.

If you could do anything differently in relation to developing your career over the years, what would it be (if anything)?

I love what I do; I’ve always wanted to write. However, if I could rewind and retake, I would make sure I take all opportunities that come my way. I have turned down travel and training opportunities because I’ve been too caught up in the pressure of the now, of the deadline. I’ve never not made a deadline; you make it work, but extending skills and travel are invaluable and sometimes the opportunity doesn’t present itself again.