A stay-at-home mother's plea to her working colleagues reveals a big problem women face raising families

Karl Stefanovic and Cassandra Thorburn in 2011 during happier times. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The work/life balance debate for families, and especially women, flared up this week in ways that were both unedifying and uplifting.

Cassandra Thorburn is a journalist and the mother to three children, aged 16, 11, and 10, who several years ago stepped back from the workforce to raise the family while her husband pursued his career ambitions. Thorburn is married to Today Show presenter Karl Stefanovic, and the pair recently separated after 21 years.

This week she unexpectedly found herself making rather than reporting the news, after News Corp implied a private Facebook post celebrating her husband’s success was an “emotionally-charged rant” after too much to drink, following it up with an opinion piece by Angela Mollard, who argued Thorburn was proof that women should not sacrifice their careers for family.

The personal and professional struggle amid gender stereotypes about stay-at home mothers alongside the emergence of working ones is not just a debate about lifestyle. Governments also grapple with the economic and budgetary implications for parents in terms of childcare rebates, productivity and income-splitting.

Amid incredibly difficult professional and personal question families and women face, Thorburn addressed the issue head on in an eloquent open letter on Popsugar Australia yesterday.

Thorburn says to working mums “we are not in competition with you. We sympathise for you, but we are not in competition.”

Her point is that deciding to stay at home and look after a family is “not a better or worse decision” that heading to work. It’s just “the right decision” for the individual.

She explains how frantic her day is at home, and compares it working in an office.

“I’m aware you spend your days in a competitive environment… You’re often surrounded by young co-workers who are a constant reminder that someone is biting at your heels and there are deadlines to meet and pressures at work — and then you race home and your children need you also.

“It’s never ending. I get it.”

“What I don’t get is why, in my experience, you also feel you’re in competition with us, the stay-at-home mums who made a different decision than you. Not a better or worse decision, just the right decision for us and a different one to you.”

She then picks apart why women feel the need to comment and critisise another’s life choices.

“It’s such a shame that the biggest critics of women seem to be other women. Such a damn shame.

“Next time a working mum rolls her eyes at your stay-at-home status, hold your head high.”

Thorburn concludes with a plea – “when will judgments from other women stop?”

You can read her full open letter here.

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