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Being a working mother is certainly not easy, but a flexible and forgiving attitude goes a long way towards the balancing of career and family.
Being a woman with the option to do it all in the 21st century can be a double-edged sword. It can make you feel as though you must do it all and do it well to be considered a success.
A high-flying well-paid career, picture-perfect family with happy and healthy kids, interesting and creative hobbies that might translate into side hustles… These are just some of the expectations that women these days may place on themselves to achieve.
The reality is though, that juggling is no easy feat — and it can be tough to keep your eyes on that many balls spinning through the air. Managing work and family can feel overwhelming.
Taking a big-picture view of the situation, and what’s really important, can help you to get through. Navigate the demands of career and motherhood through these tips.
#1 Recognise the season
We get it, some days can feel endless. But just as each season in nature brings with it unique changes and experiences, so do we go through shifting seasons in our careers and motherhood. Just look at how children grow and transform from infants to toddlers to adolescents in a matter of years.
You’ll want to make the most of what you deem important in the season, so you won’t have regrets once it passes. This could apply to your family life, career, or both.
For example, when your children are just starting on solids, you may want to start their nutrition off on the right foot with home-cooked meals. But as they get older, you could become more relaxed with their diets and buy takeout for the family.
Or if a rare opportunity opens up at work, that might be your focus for a while.
Whatever it is, if it’s a season that holds something precious to you, be intentional in capitalising on it. Appreciate the distinctiveness of every stage of life, and be flexible in evolving your goals based on what’s important to you at various points in time.
Also be aware and unapologetic that what might be important to you in a season can look totally different from what is critical to another working mother.
#2 Schedule your priorities
Once you have sight of what’s crucial to you, commit to it in a practical way by scheduling it down. Planning these aspects in advance will give you peace of mind in knowing you’ll have time to take care of them. It’ll also help you better decide whether to accept or reject appointments or tasks that are not as important, based on how much time you have left.
Want to make mealtimes with your family a priority? Make sure they’re blocked off on your calendar. Value quality time with your spouse? Block that out in advance too, whether it be for a date or chilling together after the kids go to bed.
Include more humdrum day-to-day activities too, to make sure you don’t miss out on anything important, including your children’s drop-off and pick-up times, paying of bills, and grocery shopping.
#3 Tap on and nurture your support system
No man is an island, and no woman either. Take stock of the ‘human resources’ you have around you, both in your workplace and at home. It should comprise your support system, and you should actively rely on them. This could look like your work team, in-laws, parents, spouse, helper, siblings, friends, or a good infant care or childcare centre. You’ll probably find that you have more people willing and able to lend a hand in your personal and professional endeavours than you realised.
If you feel bad about drawing on support, keep in mind that enlisting others’ help can let them feel needed and valued in your life. Nurture these relationships so those in your support system know they’re appreciated. Treating them to meals or covering their petrol fees/taxi fare to your place is one easy way to do so.
#4 Proactively communicate your needs
With a support base in place, don’t shy away from being open about what you need so that others can rally around you or adjust their expectations as needed. It’s worth having a chat with your boss or manager to clarify what the workplace expectations are regarding childcare. For example, whether you can take urgent leave or work from home to care for a sick child, when and where you’ll be able to pump during the workday, and flexi-work options should you want to spend more time with your child.
When it comes to your spouse and fellow care-givers, check in with them regularly about how you’re doing emotionally and physically, and the areas you may need more support in. This will help to avoid frustration at unmet needs from building up till you’re at a point of distress.
#5 Focus on the moment
A lot of ‘mom guilt’ stems from thinking about your child while at work, and conversely, from being distracted by work when with your child. When you’re juggling multiple balls in the air, it’s understandable that your mind and emotions would drift to something other than what’s at hand.
Remind yourself that what’s in front of you is what deserves your fullest attention, and resist any inclinations to let your thoughts wander off. What’s the point of balancing it all if you aren’t ever thoroughly engaged or enjoying any of it?
When it comes to your children, focus on connecting and making memories. Ultimately, you’re aiming to cultivate a relationship that your children can feel safe enough to rely on, no matter what they (or you) are going through.
#6 Put yourself and your partner first
As tempting as it may be to make everything about others — what your children need, what your boss is expecting — you’re the one who’s being counted on. That should make you the priority; you need to ensure you’re in a fit enough state to deliver.
Just as you fill up a car with petrol and regularly service it, find ways to recharge and keep yourself in good shape for the long term. As a time-starved parent, this might seem challenging, but is one of those priorities that should definitely be scheduled in.
This systematic maintenance applies to your relationship with your spouse too — one way children feel secure is when their parents have a loving relationship. Even if it feels tough to be separated from the baby while you go on a date, he/she will thank you in the long run!
#7 Enjoy the journey
When you look back, working and raising children would have been just some of the facets that shaped your journey. They would have been the means through which you grew relationships, collected cherished memories, felt joy, sadness and anger.
So don’t cling on too tightly to your identity as a mother or career woman, or about ‘proving’ yourself in these roles. Instead, embrace the various ways of experiencing the world, and learning about life and yourself, that they’ll unlock for you.
By embracing the process — including the struggles and mistakes — you’ll be able to impart a grateful, kind and honest way of living to your children.
In sum, as a working mom, you’re probably doing a better job than you think you are! As women, we can often be our harshest critic. Recognise what’s important to you (not anyone else), and take practical steps towards that with the help of those around you. You’ll be on track to not just pull off your juggling act, but relish the experience as well.
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