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Anastasia Thomas sets out cereal while son Ethan, 5, waits to eat. The civil servant is up by 5:30 a.m. to make sure her kids get their baths and breakfast.

erin conway-smith The Globe and Mail

Anastasia Thomas, Johannesburg: "If you don't have a support structure, it can be very difficult."

40 hours at work, $540 a week

The life: Married with three children, the 44-year-old lives in Ridgeway, a suburb of Johannesburg.

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The work: Ms. Thomas is a civil servant in the Education Department of Gauteng province. Her office is in downtown Johannesburg - the commute to which can take her from 30 to 60 minutes.

The pay: About $2,150 a month after deductions - and with the income from her husband, Charles, a school inspector, she earns enough to live in a spacious bungalow with a small pool. Her 18-year-old, Keegan, is at university in another town, but her sister-in-law and nephew are temporarily living with her, so the house is bustling.

The grind: Ms. Thomas is up by 5:30 a.m. to make sure her kids get their baths and breakfast. Like many middle-class South Africans, she has a live-in domestic worker who does the cleaning and makes the school lunches for her children. "If you don't have a support structure, it can be very difficult," she says. At the office, she works on school admissions and student registrations. She's also taking a correspondence class at a university to boost her career. After work, she cooks dinner and makes sure the children lay out their school uniforms for the next day, clean their shoes and pack their school bags. She stays up a little later to do her homework, but by 10 p.m. the family is asleep.

The down time: She tries to go for a walk with her children before dinner, to get some exercise. She also enjoys the bus ride to work. "The bus allows me to have 'me time' and relax, to read a book or just sit," she says. The family always has a big Sunday lunch together, after going to church.

The work-life balance: "You do feel a little guilty when you're working and you have children. It's quite a lot to have a job and be a mother and a wife. It's all about time management. We try to balance things and compromise. … When I'm busy with exams, the family helps me as much as they can. If it's a stressful day at work, I go to bed a little early, like 8 p.m."

Compared to Canada: Ms. Thomas understands the time crunch Canadian parents are feeling. It's not too different from her own life. "I sympathize with them. It's not about greed. From a woman's viewpoint, I know what they are going through."

What she'd change: "I'd like to spend a little more quality time with the family. Working a half-day would be something quite nice. That would be ideal. But I don't think I'll ever not work - I'd get bored very quickly at home."

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