Have you ever noticed how easily the topic of guilt comes up when the conversation turns to juggling the competing demands of work and home? ‘Working mums’ and ‘guilt’ seem to go hand in hand. But think, how much more productive, creative and happy all us working mums would be if we could stop servicing that guilt, and instead put all that negative energy into something positive?
With this in mind, here are seven tips to help you release that “mother load” and feel positive about managing competing demands.
- Amplify your accomplishments
My friend’s mother was a doctor. My friend found it was easy for her to justify her mother’s work and time away from her and outside of the home as her mother was healing the sick. We may not all be doing something as noble as “healing the sick” but it’s important to consider what contributions you’re making to the world every day. If you love your job, you will be doing something that is important to you. So rather than hiding our talents and abilities, let’s celebrate the place and space we occupy in the world and highlight our accomplishments to our children. Amplify the valuable contribution you make every day. I say “amplify” because rather than simply telling your children what you do, explain why you do it, your drives and your passion. If they can capture your excitement they will understand why you spend time away from them.
- Remember role modelling matters
Working mums were all little girls once, and our mums were a role model (either positive or negative). If you have a daughter, what values do you want to instil in her? Do you want her to believe she can work and have a family? By you doing so, you are showing her it is possible (we all know it is hard work, sacrifices are made etc, but we are still showing the next generation of women that it can be done). For mums of boys, I don’t have any scientific evidence to prove this, but I would submit that boys who saw their mums balance home and work will be more supportive and enabling of their partners when the time comes for them to start a family. What we see modelled, we often subconsciously imitate. Educating boys on work/home balance from a young age is beneficial both for their future partners and for the men themselves.
- Be fully present
One way to feel better and more productive is to be fully present wherever you are — when at work, put your head down and work, when at home, play, watch a movie, spend time with your children. Be fully present and in the moment with them. Adult children may remember their stay at home mum who was so busy doing chores that she never played with them or, conversely, a dad who travelled often for work, but when home would always play with his children. There is a lot of research out there which can make us feel bad for doing “the juggle”. However, the research done on people who are now adults and had working parents when they were young, presents a positive story. It appears that these people didn’t care so much about the amount of time their parents spent out of the home, but what the attitude of the parents was towards them when they were at home. Parents who are fully engaged in the moments they get with their children appear (from the research) to raise children who do not resent the time spent away from them. If being “present” in any arena is difficult, then consider the range of administrative and home help options available. Women’s Agenda had an excellent article a little while ago highlighting some technology and apps that could help women be better organised. If you do some research, getting a house cleaner can be an affordable option and if it provides an extra couple of hours in your week to spend with your family, it is money well spent.
- Are they thriving?
Ask, are your children healthy and happy for the most part (aside from the dreaded winter colds from childcare/kinder and the moodiness of teenagers)? You know your children better than anyone. Mother Nature has designed mothers with an in-built radar where their children are concerned. We just KNOW when something isn’t ok.
I made the transition from three days to four days in the office when my daughter was 20 months old. All the expert parenting books told me such a shift should not be made until a child was at least 24 months old (and preferably not until they are three). I worried whether there would be a negative impact upon my child. Instead, my daughter thrived with the extra time in childcare. For the first time in her life she started sleeping through the night consistently and I realised that given her active personality, I simply had not been providing her with sufficient stimulation being at home four days a week (despite playgroups and other activities). When we changed the balance, our lives completely changed — she is happier than ever as she has access to greater social interaction and the ability to spend almost all day outside in a massive play area and we are happy with a full night’s sleep! You know what is right for your children. If they are happy and healthy, trust your instincts and quit worrying.
- Ask yourself: Are you happy?
I had trouble breastfeeding and I approached my GP querying whether it would be so bad to move to formula feeding as pumping six times a day was getting too much. My GP explained that while breastfeeding is important, nothing is more important than a happy, healthy mum and so if pumping was draining my physical and emotional energy it was actually going to end up being detrimental to my child as I wasn’t going to be able to provide my best to her. Ask yourself: do you feel more fulfilled as a working mum? If so, then this is good for your children because a happy, fulfilled parent will be in the best emotional space to raise a child.
- Drop the rule book
Apparently lawyers (and I am one), have some of the highest rates of post-natal depression out of all professions. A suggested reason for this is that it occurs because we are used to following a rule book for doing something. For example, if I insert this clause into a contract it will prevent a certain outcome, or if I go to court and follow a particular precedent I should obtain this verdict for my client. Conversely, if a client doesn’t follow a particular rule of law, this outcome is certain to happen. Unfortunately for us lawyers, children don’t follow a formula or a rule book. Some babies sleep through the night from the start, some don’t. Ways of disciplining the first child in the family means nothing to the next child and some teenagers go crazy with anxiety while others seem to have no angst. There is no formula to perfect children. We all bumble along and hope we raise children that turn into healthy, well-adjusted adults and that is honestly the best we can do. So much of life is actually outside of our control – we can’t dictate everything, so rather than listening to so-called experts or feeling stressed because your children don’t follow the guidelines of the parenting book, remember there is NO formula. That is actually liberating because then we get to do it our way and really enjoy the process!
- Tell your working mum friends and colleagues that they are awesome
This is self-explanatory – do it! Let’s share our experiences and support each other. Let the working mums in your world know you think they are doing a great job!
Sometimes guilt can be useful, letting us know that an area in our life requires a change. However, it is a very common experience that once a woman falls pregnant she is suddenly inundated with advice regarding her child and her upcoming role as a mother. It doesn’t stop with people we know, there are hundreds of books on parenting and almost every month new research comes out telling us what we should or should not be doing with our children.
Whether the intention of this information is to be negative or positive, it often results in making us feel like we cannot reach a particular standard that other mums can reach or that our efforts are not good enough. From my perspective, this is not right. I am yet to meet a mum who did not adore her children and want the best for them. It is time to discard the negativity guilt brings into our lives and trust ourselves that we know what is best for ourselves and our children and that we are making the right choices.