Navy service and parenting - a successful balancing act

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Claudia Harrison (author), LEUT Kirsti Burtenshaw (author), SGT Murray Staff (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Harman, Retention

Leading Seaman Jaye Anderson (left) and Able Seaman Will Anderson with daughters Teagan and Jennifer at the Navy Personnel Support Unit information session and barbeque. (photo: SGT Murray Staff)
Leading Seaman Jaye Anderson (left) and Able Seaman Will Anderson with daughters Teagan and Jennifer at the Navy Personnel Support Unit information session and barbeque.

It's the age-old conundrum, how to combine work and family - but add the dimensions of sea time and posting upheaval and sometimes it can seem a little challenging.

But HMAS Harman in Canberra is one of many Navy commands successfully transitioning new parents back into service life, in all its forms. 

Leading Seaman Jaye Anderson from Harman has recently taken maternity leave and after attending an event designed for new and expectant parents she said she felt more confident about combining work and family commitments. 

“Having new twin girls, the thought of returning to work was a bit daunting,” she said.

“However, meeting other parents in the same boat and learning about the different support options available to my family and I, has made me feel a lot more relaxed about it all."

Harman and the ACT Personnel Support Unit have hosted two successful events for members such as Leading Seaman Anderson, to meet and network over a BBQ, funded by the Harman Welfare Committee. 

While future and brand new mums and dads chatted, the children played and various support organisations including Navy People Career Management Agency, Defence Community Organisation and Australian Defence Force Family Health provided guest speakers who shared useful information on topics such as flexible working arrangements, maternity leave and return to fitness programs.  

Commanding Officer Harman Commander Jayne Craig is a mother of three teenage children, and subscribes to the ethos that with the right support you can be a great parent as well as a fully committed service member. 

She and her team have worked towards ensuring that the transition from full time service member, to new parent, and back again, is a smooth one by creating a variety of opportunities to support new and expectant parents.

“Having a baby is an incredibly exciting but stressful experience for most, and it is common to become overwhelmed by it all,” Commander Craig said.

“At Harman, we have introduced a variety of support networks for new and expectant parents in an effort to make the transition as easy as possible.”

Leading Seaman Anderson is just one of a number of Navy parents returning to service after having children in the past 12 months. 

From July 2014 to May 2015 there were a total of 83 people across Navy undertaking part-time arrangements, often to accommodate family responsibilities. The leave was often taken on return from maternity or paternity leave.  Navy also provides the opportunity to participate in a mentoring program when on leave.

In addition to part -time leave without pay, personnel can request variable work hours, working from home or alternate workplace arrangements or even remote overseas work. 

Director General Navy People, Commodore Michele Miller, advises that for Navy, there is the unique challenge of balancing a seagoing career with carer responsibilities.

“Often, it is not the returning to work that is the problem for our people but, rather, the long term retention of the person balanced with the seagoing continuum,” she said. 

“To that end, the main effort at the moment is focussed around reviewing the career continuums to identify potential or real barriers to advancement and career satisfaction, particularly for our Navy mums.

“A new team within Navy People Branch has recently been stood up called the Flexible Employment Cell, which has been preparing a guide for our people, and updating resources to provide better information for people seeking flexible arrangements,” Commodore Miller said.  

The cell is currently developing the means to provide direct career management activities and advice for members on part -time leave without pay and those returning from maternity or paternity leave.