Rush to school in the morning. Your baby spits up on your freshly ironed suit, your preschooler is hysterical when you comb his hair, your boss calls you in the middle of the chaos to ask about the project that apparently had to be ready for yesterday. And just when you get in the car, you realize that someone has left their school backpack on the table.
Lots of crying, yelling and tantrum throwing. Kids seem to be slower than snails on tranquilizers. Sounds familiar?
I think that every working mum can identify with Kate from Allison Pearson’s novel ” I Don’t Know How She Does It”, a hedge-fund manager who has to manage “currencies in five time zones, a homemade cake for a school party and Teletubbies”. Multitasking, micromanaging chores, exhaustion and feeling of guilt are common among mums who work in Armani suits and mums who wear Primark trainers. Feeling guilty when you miss a school theatre play again, when your mother in law criticizes mess in your house, or when you leave an office early because your kid is ill.
But does it have to be this way? Is it really obligatory for working mums to feel stressed, guilty and overwhelmed with tasks? How to be a happy career mum?
In May Mother’s Day is celebrated in many world countries and I would like to share with you my advice on how to be a happy career mum. My post does not aim to make stay at home mums less important; I think all mums do an amazing job and every woman should be able to decide freely what’s the best for her family. I always feel sad for women who have to go back to work while they’d prefer to stay at home with their kids.
I don’t want to picture career mums as corporate mums in expensive suits, either. There are several ways to define a career and for me career mums are all the ladies who love what they do and thrive to accomplish their professional goals. Some of the most amazing career mums I know include a lady who reinvented herself after having a baby and started a succesful parenting blog, a mum of five who runs a great activity centre& library for kids and a dedicated nurse who qualified in her late thirties as a mum of two. Entrepreneurs, students, accountants, cooks, ladies who work for huge corporations, small businesses and for themselves. Ladies who work on their projects when their kids are asleep, who do the impossible to find time to play, laugh and cuddle together. Ladies who work hard to give their children lifestyle and opportunities they deserve.
How to achieve that work-life balance and be able to enjoy both worlds?
Don’t feel guilty.
Never ever. You have to do what suits best your family, not your neighbours, acquaintances or relatives. Nobody said you have to attend all the school meetings, bring homemade cupcakes to all kids’ parties and have a perfectly clean house to be a good mum. Did you pay attention as a kids whether your clothes were always ironed and dishes were washed immediately after each meal? Nope, and nor will your kids,so don’t be too hard on yourself.
If your family members think you work too much and you should dedicate more time to household chores, don’t argue with them; everyone is entitled to their own opinions and priorities. However, you should stick to your own. Is your mum happy to bake a cake every Sunday? Good for her, that’s her choice. Are you happy to study corporate law every Sunday? Good for you, that’s your choice.
Same about work. Don’t feel inferior to your colleagues who don’t have kids and are more willing to work extra hours; many studies have shown that working over time ruins your productivity, while leaving the office on time forces you to be more disciplined and prioritize the most important tasks.
It hurts when your loved ones criticize your choices and don’t appreciate how hard you work and how succesful you are; in such cases, it’s better to focus on things you and your family have in common. You don’t have to discuss work and chores with your mum; why don’t you invite her for a family nature walk if that’s what you both like? And if she’s still more excited about the cleaning products you got in Tesco last Saturday than about your latest work project, just let her be….
Plan in advance
When you expect a baby it’s time to talk things through with your partner. How much time are you planning to spend with the baby at home and what do you plan to do next? Nanny? Nursery? Grandparents? Are your working hours flexible so that you could pick up your child from nursery in case of emergency? If not, how are you going to organize that?
It goes without saying that you need to discuss your maternity leave at work as well. When your maternity leave is over, do you have a possibility to work for part-time for the first few months? Do you want to be be involved in some of the projects when you stay at home with the baby?
Again, try to think of solutions that will suit best your family. Parenting forums are full of advice on the right moment to go back to work , but there’s no universal “right moment”. It’s normal to feel bored and isolated with a baby at home as well as it’s normal to feel upset and miss your kid when you’re back to work. There are working mums of babies and stay-at-home mums of preschoolers and all of them raise healthy, happy kids.
Separate work time and family time
How many times do you sit in your office, nervously think about your son’s rash and text your friends to find out if that can be measles? Or you search for the best discounts on Amazon for your toddler’s Paw Patrol Party as you fill in that boring database? Don’t; the more you concentrate on work, the better results your get. If you try to divide your day between a database and a Paw Patrol party, you
The same applies at home; don’t read work e-mails at the playground. Concentrate on quality time with your kids; talk, play, hug , put down your smartphone. Kids crave undivided parents’ attention and even a little quality time makes them happier than a few hours spent with a nervous, absent-minded mum who never has time to listen to them. Live “here and now” and enjoy little moments; when you’re out on a day trip, don’t think nervously about the landry piles back at home and e-mails to answer back at work. These little mundane moments often make the best memories….
Ok, maybe there are ladies out there who get up at 4 am every day, prepare a two course meal, clean all the house, then spend a long day in their office and get back home to make crafts with their kids and study Chinese, but they must be a secret society because I’ve never met any. Can you imagine a sales team leader who manages personally a portfolio of 500 customers, makes his own travel arrangements and before leaving the office makes photocopies for everyone who may need them? Delegating responsabilities is a key skill at work and at home; why to struggle with too many things to do if your co-workers and family members can give you a hand?
Housework and childcare duties have to be shared between both parents. If you both work eight hours a day, why do you have to do most of household chores while your husband relaxes on the sofa? Children should do age-appropriate chores as well; a 3 year old is perfectly capable of picking up toys and a 5 year old can make simple sandwiches. If your mum offers to help with cooking or laundry, accept her help; it doesn’t mean you can’t cope with your responsabilities. All the contrary, it means you can concentrate on your priorities and organize your home life in an efficient way.
Finally, if you both have busy jobs you can hire someone to help with housework. There are many mums who search for flexible cleaning jobs to earn some extra money for their families. This way you can help another working mum to reach her goals!
Build support networks
Surround yourself with people who are supportive of your career and family. Those that will always listen to you when you had a bad day at work, when your son struggles with maths and when you feel overwhelmed with everything. Your partner and close friends’ support is crucial when you go through hard times or when you have to make key decisions regarding your career.
Support in workplace is important, too. While some people don’t like to talk too much about their families at work for fear of their professional image, a trusted colleague’s friendship and can be priceless. After all you spend most of your time at work,so it’s great to have a colleague you can laugh with at your desk and who can help you in need. Who can be more understanding for a new mum who returns to work after maternity leave, feels overwhelmed with her taks and guilty to leave her baby in day care than a colleague who went through the same situation a few years ago?
Don’t complain, celebrate!
Sometimes when I listen to mums on the playground I feel as if I was watching a depressing TV drama. They always complain; they’re exhausted, always in a rush, their husbands don’t help around the house, they work too much, their kids are disobedient….sounds familiar?
When I say that I enjoy my job and I have great time with my kids in the afternoon, they look at me as if I spoke Chinese. How come can I work 8 hours a day in an office, sometimes work from home in the evening and say that I enjoy it? How come do I always come up with funny anecdotes about my kids?
Well, my life is far from perfect, and like everybody sometimes I yell at my kids, I’m fed up with lots of work and at the end of the day I don’t feel like doing anything. And I don’t try to convince anyone that a working mum’s life is as idyllic as on pink inspirational memos on Instagram. I simply try to concentrate on good moments and I keep positive attitude with my kids. If I have to work from home in the evening, we all sit on the couch together, me with my laptop, the kids in front of a TV. They enjoy having a little more screen time and celebrate if I get an urgent project to do while they’re doing homework. Even when your preschoolers are upset because you have to work and you can’t take them to the park, smile and stay positive; who wouldn’t like to watch 2 extra cartoons and then go to the park later in the evening like big kids?
Be creative and make it fun. If you have to rush from home to day care, play that you are spies on a secret mission who have to complete it quickly. If you have to work a lot during the week, plan a special activity for the weekend and count the days till the weekend together. Plan little fun moments with your kids; let it be a quick walk to your favourite bakery after school, or making a yummy snuck together in the afternoon together. And finally talk with your children about your passion for your job; your role model can inspire them to follow their dreams, do what they love and achieve their goals as you do.
Pictures by Agnieszka Werecha from Ti Amo Foto