During my first pregnancy I was sure I would be a happy and content full-time stay at home mum. I prepared to put my career on hold and fill my days with peekaboo, play dough and baby giggles. So no one was more surprised than me when I discovered that even though I loved my baby beyond belief, I felt isolated, depressed and even (dare I admit it?) bored, when I was at home with her fulltime.
The realisation that I was not cut out to be a full time stay at home mum gave me the highest admiration for those who do. I have no idea how you ladies can do that job day in, day out, and stay sane.
When I went back to work I embraced it with open arms and promptly dealt with the passing guilt. I learned that who I am in my career is a fundamental part of the fabric of who I am, full stop. And it would be in everybody’s best interests, especially my daughter’s, if I stopped suppressing that.
I’ve happily been a working mum for more than four years now, and since those heady first steps back into the office I’ve had another child and am halfway through my third pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong – it’s certainly not all sunshine and roses. The juggling act gets tiresome sometimes, and my neighbours often catch sight of me in the mornings all suited and booted in our driveway clutching a laptop bag, a school project made of paddle pop sticks, and a spiderman doll while barking rapid-fire orders like a drill sergeant. It usually all ends with me counting to three at the top of my lungs until the kids pile themselves into the car. (I have no idea what I’m supposed to do if I ever reach three. Thankfully, it’s never been tested. So far so good.)
Over the past four years I’ve developed many new skills too, like the ability to wipe a three year old’s bum while talking to a client on the phone. You’ve never quite experienced the sheer thrill of danger until you’ve done that one…
Here are a few things I’ve learned along my journey so far. I hope they help some other working mums, and maybe even some SAHM’s too, get the right balance for their families.
1. Come to terms with the fact that being at work is easier than being at home
This realisation was the source of a lot of guilt for me. I must be a terrible mum if doing my (quite demanding) paid job was a cakewalk when compared to spending time with my kids? The answer, I discovered was to just get over it. Just because being with the kids can be exhausting doesn’t mean that I don’t like being a mum, or that I don’t love my kids. I love being a mum, and I love my kids – I just love doing my job too, and that’s ok.
The secret here was balance. For me spending four days at the office every week takes the intensity out of family time, because I am more relaxed, and more focused on the children in the mornings, evenings and on the three days I am at home with them.
2. Other people can have funny opinions about mums with careers
Some people in my life were confused by the fact that I went back to work from choice rather than necessity. I could sense the why-have-kids-if-you’re-not-going-to-raise-them whispers that sometimes happened after I left the room. These whispers died down over the years when these people realised that my kids definitely come first in my life. Or perhaps I have just gotten used to them. Even more crazily, maybe I was just imagining them, and those whispers were just coming from the guilt that I felt when I was starting out as a working mum.
If do you have naysayers in your life who are bound to highly traditional perceptions of how families should work, remember that it’s your job as a mum to be the best role model you can be for your kids. I would certainly want my kids to lead a fulfilled, well rounded life and chase their dreams, rather than pandering to the view of others, so why shouldn’t I model that for them in my own life? Only you know what is ultimately best for your family, so tell the whisperers to bugger off.
3. If you do it right, the kids are just fine
It’s a myth that daycare damages kids. My two have thrived at a quality daycare centre, and it has been a huge part of our childrens’ social lives. They have learned many life skills there, like how to look out for little kids, how to deal with people they don’t like, how to respect diversity by being around people who are different from them in some way. No to mention independence and confidence.
4. For everything there is a season
I’m the type of person that doesn’t want to admit that I have limits. But motherhood has made me face my limits in a big way. There are many things that I just can’t do because I am a mum with a job, and that leaves very little time for other things. This blog is a great example. I was a prolific blogger until my first pregnancy, and have been pretty patchy ever since.
Every time there’s some creative undertaking that I want to do and realize that I can’t, I just tell myself that for everything there is a season. My kids won’t always be so young, and I won’t always be as in demand as I am now. So relax, and the time will come when I can immerse myself in whatever other time-intensive pursuits take my fancy.
5. Forgive yourself
No matter how organised you try to be, you will forget important things. School permission slips will sometimes be forgotten, or show and tell days, or the occasional bake sale.
Don’t be hard on yourself. Working mums have an incredible amount on their plates. Right now my To Do list is divided in two, with 15 items relating to my paid job, and ten items relating to my family. (Next year’s school enrolments, new sandals for Mr 4, put baby on daycare waitlist, review insurance for the new house, book removalists, blah blah blah).
The list-making gets ridiculous sometimes.
When things do slip off your list just remember that the world hasn’t ended. Your kids will still love you. Your partner, sister or mother-in-law might roll their eyes a bit, but they’ll get over it. Just shrug it off, don’t beat yourself up, and move on.
6. Outsource as much as you can
Outsource as much domestic drudgery as you are comfortable paying for. If you don’t like cleaning your house, get a cleaner. If you don’t have time to iron, send it to a laundry. Look at your household budget and think about how you might be able to afford some domestic help to free up your time and headspace.
7. Healthy meals can be quicker than take-away
We took a hard line with the kids’ diets from the very beginning. They eat the same food we eat, and vegetables are on the plate at every meal. This has made it really easy in the long run, because now I can whip up a salad in five minutes for dinner and everyone is happy.
Learn how to take healthy shortcuts in the kitchen. I use a food processor and a slow cooker to help me get meals on the table quickly. I also accept help from my mum, who is a great cook and lends an enormous amount of assistance to our busy family. Which brings me to my next point…
8. Set up a strong family infrastructure
Support systems are essential for working mums. Set up a support network from family, friends, mothers group or other families from school or daycare. If you find you need more structured help, you could consider a nanny or aupair, depending on your budget.
Aupairs are a great option for many families, and may be more affordable than you think. At around $200 a week (plus room and board) for approximately 30 hours of work, some families with more than one child may find that this is an affordable prospect because they can often offset it against daycare costs. Or you could consider hosting a demi pair, in which a student or traveller stays with your family and helps with the kids for around 15 hours per week in exchange for room and board – no cash payment required. Just find a model that works for your situation.
9. Establish a family philosophy
Establishing a family philosophy to balancing your work/home life is a good idea too. For example, we decided at the beginning that the children were not to be at daycare for more days a week than they were at home. So daycare has always been a 3-day-a-week deal for our kids, plus a day with nanna and a day with me.
10. Be mindful
There are times when it will all get too much, and you feel like your head is going to explode. At times like these, it’s best just to forget everything – kids, work, husband, dinner, messy house, cranky colleague. Just close your eyes and let everything drop away for a few moments. Go and lock yourself in the bathroom if you need to. Take a few deep breaths, and feel how the air feels like as it hits your nose, throat and lungs. Just chill, and listen to what you’re feeling. Angry? Frustrated? Scared? Exhausted? Overwhelmed?
All those emotions are ok to feel, especially as you’re juggling two really monumental roles, so just let yourself just feel those feelings for a bit and you may find that they fade away a little. When you’re ready, open your eyes. The mess and obnoxious kids/boss/husband/colleague will still be there, but at least you’ll feel a little calmer.