Primary school principal David Austin well understands the pressures on families – he and wife Katherine both work and have four children aged 14, 11, 9, and 7.
The word ‘juggle’ is used a lot as David explains how he and Katherine manage their family life with so many demands on their time.
“Obviously our children are our lives, and we want to be very involved in their schools and interests, their sport and friends; so it’s a case of spreading yourself around,” David, 43, explains.
“On a recent weekend, my two sons had basketball, one son is doing golf lessons and our two daughters had dancing. We have Mass, time with family, birthday parties … the weekends just go.
“I’m not sure I would win Dad of the Year, but I try hard to do my best. I try to be very involved. You need to be. I love our family life and seeing our kids grow and develop.
“We eat as a family together most nights, that’s a ritual, and after that it’s readers and homework and making lunches. I finish off paper work and chase emails once the children are in bed.
“It’s a challenge for Katherine and I to find time alone together, just with the busyness of everyday life, particularly during term time.”
Canberra born and bred, David grew up in a close Catholic family, and the sudden death of his public servant father Gerard – when David was 17 and about to start his final year at Marist College – was a huge blow.
“It had a big impact on me at the time, and being the eldest of three, I felt I had to help Mum as best I could,” he says.
David always wanted to be a teacher and is in his third year as principal at St Francis of Assisi, while Katherine is a part-time teacher/librarian at St Clare of Assisi in Conder. She was a full-time mum for about 12 years.
The pair met when they were teenagers and married in 1996, when David was 25. Their daughter Georgia is at St Clare’s College, Oliver and Harry attend Marist College and Amelia is at St Clare’s Primary School.
Their Catholic faith is at the centre of their family life, although David admits it’s not always easy getting the kids to Mass.
“I can see why many parents struggle and some give up,” he says. “It can be hard work, but the kids know they have to go and how important it is.”
Being in touch with so many families, David believes the biggest strain on families today is money.
“Most parents are working full-time and before and after-school care is always full,” he says. “Some families don’t have a choice.
“As a principal, it’s often hard to get parents to help at events; they’re too busy. Parents know they’re under pressure and it’s hard for them if they can’t make a special assembly or be there if their child gets an award.
“But Catholic schools are real communities and we want and need parents to be involved. All the research shows that when parents are actively involved in their child’s school the child does succeed, but we can all just get lost in the busyness.”