Getting it Right!

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By Karen Rutter

Nombulelo Dlangamandla was thrilled when she applied for, and was given, her job at a call centre in Cape Town. At 20 years old, she had completed her matric and a year-long course in computer literacy, and was ready for the working world.

“I wanted a job where I could use my computer skills, as well as gaining experience in the business world,” she says. After an induction and training course, she was excited to tackle her new job. And, after several months, she proved very good at it.

“My supervisor noticed that I was getting through a lot of calls every day, more than meeting my target. So she recommended that I go for extra training,” says Nombulelo. She set her sights on becoming a team leader, hopefully moving on to a managerial role as her skills improved. 

Surprise

Nombulelo had been employed for one year when she discovered she was pregnant. “It was a surprise – my boyfriend Thabo and I hadn’t planned for this,” she explains.

Nombulelo’s employers were sympathetic when she explained the situation, and assured her that her job was in no way in jeopardy due to her pregnancy. She discussed her situation with the HR personnel, and planned to take four weeks maternity leave before the birth, and eight weeks after. Thabo agreed that once their child was born, they would share parenting duties between them. He had a half-day job at a retail store, and promised to help assist financially and practically. Nombulelo still lived at home, so her mother also offered to help.

Little Thandiswa was born in January, and by the end of February Nombulelo was ready to go back to work. “I love my daughter, and I wanted to spend all day with her, but my career is also important,” explains Nombulelo. “Therefore, I thought, with Thabo’s help, we could share responsibilities and I could balance being a mother with my work.”

Tough Times

All went well for a few months – Nombulelo’s mother would see to Thandiswa in the mornings, and Thabo looked after her during the afternoons. When Nombulelo would return from work, she would bath and feed their daughter, play with her, and put her to bed. 

But over time, Thabo stopped coming to the house to help. “He started hanging out with his friends. He also stopped contributing to Thandiswa’s nappies and food. I was paying for everything,” says Nombulelo. “He even asked me for money.” When she tried to speak to him about this, he refused to discuss the situation. There were even rumours that he was seeing other women.

“I was losing weight from anxiety and stress,” says Nombulelo. “My standard of work was slipping, and I was tired every day.”

Eventually, a sympathetic HR colleague named Lavinia Brown took her aside and asked what was wrong. Nombulelo burst into tears and explained. “I didn’t know what to do – I was chasing after Thabo trying to get maintenance money, and to get him to look after Thandiswa, and my work was suffering, I was afraid I was being a bad mother,” she says. But she received some good advice from Lavinia. 

Balancing Work and Life

“She told me to take a long hard look at my relationship with Thabo. She asked what were the good points and the bad points, and if the partnership was worth saving,” says Nombulelo. After much thought, she decided that it wasn’t. She broke up with Thabo.

Then Lavinia advised that she organise her personal life in a way that would reduce stress and allow her to enjoy time with her daughter and time at work. 

“She said I should think about support systems around me, and not take on everything myself,” says Nombulelo.

“I made a more formal arrangement with my mother, who is at home all day, to look after Thandiswa. In return, I now make a monthly contribution to her for childcare, as well as contributing to the household,” says Nombulelo. “When I get home from work, Thandiswa is well cared for and I can enjoy her company.”

“It has meant that my salary is quite stretched, but it is worth it. I know Thandiswa is in good hands, and I don’t have to worry about chasing after Thabo. My work has improved – and in fact, I am being sent on a junior managerial course, which has big consequences for my career,” says a relieved Nombulelo.

Quality Career

“I am disappointed that the partner I chose, the father of my child, has not been able to give me the love and support I need," she adds. “But I am glad I made the decisions that I did. If I had decided to stop work to look after my child, I don’t know how I would have continued with my career. This way, I have a chance to spend quality time with my daughter – and develop a quality career.”

Read more 

Read more about Maternity Leave and Family Responsibility Leave.

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