I was going to write a Working Mother’s Survival Guide, but then I thought – why should we just be surviving? Life is short. In most cases our children won’t leave home until their 18 or so. That is a long time to just be “surviving”. Why can’t we be happy?
I am the first to admit I struggle with balance, of balancing the desire to be there for my children with the tug of work commitments. I’ve struggled with the guilt. Every extra minute I spend at work, or away, I feel the guilt that I “should” be at home with my children. Every time I miss a school outing I feel the guilt. Every time I’m late or I miss a newsletter – I feel like I’ve failed as a mother.
And that I believe is where we differ from working Dads. I work with a number of working Dads, and I’ve asked them how they cope. How they cope with the demands of work and also make sure they are there for their kids and significant others. And the answer? They prioritize the moment. So if they are with their children – they prioritize their children. If they are at work – they prioritize that. If they need to get out and do exercise – they prioritize that. And the guilt? Well, that is generally harder to spot. It seems like as mothers, we like to beat ourselves up, to feel guilty for not “putting our children first”.
But I have been doing this long enough to know what works and what makes me happy. And that’s what I’m going to concentrate on.
That’s the first golden rule – focus on the good and filter out the rest.
I’m writing this post on my phone at a cafe eating breakfast by myself. I’m away from home with work and a demanding schedule. I can’t say I’m currently enjoying the job that is taking me away from my kids. But I can’t sit here and dwell on that – I’d be miserable.
I’m going to concentrate on the fact I get to go home tomorrow and see my girls. And the sun is out and today I’m heading to Whangarei – an absolutely stunning spot in the sun. And hopefully I can find the energy to go for a run around the harbour in the morning.
Which brings me to how to be a working mother and be happy. And my first priority is energy, and the importance of managing our energy.
1. Manage your energy.
There is always more to do. And when there is more to do – we work more. But there is only so much time in a day – time is finite, and i’m at my limits. So when I work more – something else gives. And it’s me. I will still beat myself up to meet my work requirements, no matter how unrealistic they are. I will still prioritize the girls and try to be there for them. So it is “me” that gets missed. A missed lunch break. Missed exercise. Missed yoga. Missed ‘my’ time. My diet. My health.
This fast paced, demanding and stressful lifestyle leaves us feeling tired, wound up and low in energy. This is not sustainable – this is merely survival.
And this shows the core problem with “time management” – there is only so much time in a day. However, that is not the case with energy. Energy is defined as the “capacity to work”. Energy comes from four main sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. In each category, energy can be expanded and renewed by managing your energy “inputs”. Read more about managing your energy here.
I have chosen to concentrate on what I can control – my physical energy. I’ve set an earlier bedtime and established a bedtime routine that helps me sleep (see my ten healthy ways to deal with stress). I’ve committed to exercising three times a week (see staying still, how I find my balance), and to eating better.
I can manage my energy so that I can stay motivated and in control, and happy.
2. Remember your priorities.
For me this has been a journey in minimalism. Minimalism is traditionally thought about as reducing clutter – things. But to me it is more holistic than that. It is about prioritizing things that are important – and getting rid of the “noise”. The noise is all those things that pull you away from your priorities.
So when I’m asked to attend that after-work networking function, or that breakfast meeting, or that day at the races on a long weekend, my question is does this help me spend more quality time with my family? Does this add value to my life? Does doing this make me happy?
If not – then learn to say no.
3. Don’t beat yourself up.
I have Rushing Woman’s Syndrome.
Rushing Woman’s Syndrome describes the biochemical and emotional effects of always being in a hurry and the health consequences that urgency elicits. It doesn’t seem to matter if a woman has two things to do in her day or two hundred, she is in a pressing rush to do it all. She is often wound up like a tap, running herself ragged in a daily battle to keep up. There is always so much to do, and she very rarely feels like she wins, is in control and gets on top of things… “Rushing Woman’s Syndrome” (Dr Libby Weaver)
The book had a test. Score 1-4, you are not a Rushing Woman. Score 5-7, you are on your way. Score 7 or above, hello Rushing Woman! I scored 24 … and decided I didn’t have time to read the book!
So do I have Rushing Woman’s Syndrome? Absolutely. But honestly, who wouldn’t?
Sometimes labels are condescending, and sometimes we need to give ourselves a break from the guilt.
4. Get organised.
Our lives appear to be chaos. But it is extremely well organised chaos. There is no way we could survive as a family and continue to do everything that we do – if we weren’t organised.
We have a family diary. It is an actual paper diary sitting on the kitchen counter and we can all update it. When a school newsletter comes in I put the details in the diary, including “what to take”, when a payment is due, whether I’m helping etc. The original newsletter can then go in the rubbish – dealt with.
We can write notes to the nanny, and I can make a note about what is for dinner so the first person home (usually hubby) can get dinner started.
We also minimize cooking. Healthy living is essential – I’m not saying take shortcuts or don’t eat properly. What I’m saying is utilize your freezer. When we cook – we cook extra. Leftovers are put straight in a container destined for the freezer (before they can be eaten by scavengers looking for seconds). We then have a spare, healthy meal in the freezer for when one of us is away (yup, usually me).
Buy a slow cooker. So easy. The casserole or meat (or curry etc….) is in the slow cooker cooking away all day while you are at work. Imagine coming home after a long day at work, to a house smelling of a beautifully home cooked casserole. How organised do you feel now?
5. Accept help.
We have been blindly committed to our independence, to not asking others for help. We don’t have family around to help out with the kids. We don’t ask others to take our child to the soccer game or pick them up from swimming.
It turns out – we’ve made our lives extra difficult. And when a school Mum offers to have a child on a teacher’s only day, or the neighbor offers to watch a sick child, we are surprised and blessed and extremely grateful.
We are learning.
We also need to accept help from our significant others. I have been to so many “Woman in Business” seminars and talks over the years – and the question is always “how do you do it?”, “how do you have it all?”. And so many times these women have husbands at home, looking after the kids. So straight away I shut down. This isn’t my “reality”, it doesn’t talk to me. I don’t have this luxury – my husband also has a highly stressful and demanding management job. My thoughts were – so they’re just being the man in the relationship. Wouldn’t we all do well if we had a housewife?
But my thinking was wrong.
Woman’s rights have progressed so much that we can work in high level jobs historically reserved for males. We can have careers. And we can still be mothers. But having careers – and being mothers – and trying to run busy households, means we are trying to do it all. And we are stuck. We only have so much capacity, and so much time in a day. It just isn’t sustainable.
Which means the women’s revolution cannot move forward until there is a male revolution. Where it becomes acceptable for men to stay home and look after the children. Where the male contribution to the children and the home is valued.
Hubby and I are both still working away like beavers. But we have made changes. We were “tag team” parenting – we were both travelling for work. Our schedules were carefully aligned so that I would get home, and he could leave the next day. We had just enough time to do a quick handover before he would be out the door – tag team parenting. The children were well cared for, but our marriage, and ourselves – were completely neglected.
Hubby has now changed jobs, so that he no longer has to travel. Now I am away more often. And he is quickly becoming the primary caregiver. How do I feel about that? Not so comfortable ….
And as for the future? We have some decisions to make. And I mean “we”. Because if I want to take my career any further – Hubby will likely have to give up work. And I will have to accept it.
6. Consider medical help.
Personally I don’t want to take antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicine. But if you need them – get them. Why wouldn’t you?
My sister once said (about someone we both care about) “but he can’t be on antidepressants for the rest of his life”. Why can’t he? Isn’t that better than throwing himself under a bus? I can tell you I’d rather have him happy and with us and taking antidepressants over the alternative any day.
I do take vitamins and minerals to give me a little bit of help. Again this is a personal decision. My mother is a naturopath, my aunt a homeopath. We treated my father’s cancer naturally. My family is a little alternative. So I believe that my Executive B, St John’s Wart, my Clinicians Woman’s Hormone Support, and my Rescue Remedy Pastiles help to balance my mood and keep me on the happier side of the pendulum.
Do what you need to do to be happy. This is not a matter of judging. Stop judging.
7. Watch you vices.
A vice is OK. I have a number. I love coffee in the morning and I enjoy winding down at the end of the day with a glass of wine (if you read Rushing Woman’s Syndrome you will note this is a classic symptom of Rushing Woman’s Syndrome – hyping myself up with artificial energy at the start of the day and using alcohol for relaxation at the end of the day).
But watch it. You don’t want to end up reliant on caffeine (it defeats the purpose – you won’t get a buzz and it won’t give you the energy you are craving). You don’t want to end up an alcoholic. And you don’t want to end up with liver disease or cancer.
8. Don’t judge.
We all suffer Mum Guilt. My friends and I have made a joke of it – we have a friendly ranking system for “mother of the year moments” (we have some good ones!). But the reality is we are all our own worst critics. Don’t add to someone’s guilt by judging them.
As women we need to be there for each other and support each other – this is a hard gig!
One of my Rushing Woman’s Syndrome moments – a text conversation with my husband:
Me: What time do you finish your course?
Hubby: I finished ages ago. Back at work now.
Me: OK when do you think you’ll be home?
Me: I am very organised, I’ve put a load of washing in the machine.
Me: I put cat biscuits in instead of washing powder.
Me: I googled “cat biscuits in the washing machine” and it just bought up a blog about Alzheimer’s…
Me: I tried to find out if they are water-soluble but couldn’t find anything…turns out nobody else has needed to know.
Me: I haven’t turned it on.
Hubby [finally]: I think that is the funniest thing I have heard this week.
Me: That your wife has Alzheimer’s?? I’m going to take the clothes out and turn it on … the cat biscuits dissolve in [cat’s] water so they must be soluble…
The drainage water from the washing machine still has cat biscuit residue in it occasionally….