Finding My Balance: An Unvarnished Perspective from A Working Mother, with A Dual Career Home and Young Family
Bookshops and blogs are full of stories of working mums who have it all, sharing tips on how to maximize your career and family life, without sacrificing either. However the recent Guardian article, “Working mothers up to 40% more stressed,” sent a different message, one that both resonated with me and shocked me. A mother who is 40% more stressed isn’t ‘having it all.’ She’s stuffing more and more into an already very full life exerting more and more pressure on herself. That amount of pressure isn’t healthy for anyone and certainly not sustainable, so something has to change – and fast.
I’m a working mother with two children (four and one) and live in a dual career London home. I wrote this blog after being frustrated by all the stories of mums who say they find it easy to have a fantastic career and family life. I wanted to share a more unvarnished perspective: finding balance, with both work and life, is hard—a constant juggling act—but it’s worth it. I’ve met so many mothers struggling or soon-to-be-mums who’ve asked me for advice. So, on International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share my few ideas on how we can alleviate some pressure, help find our balance and make being a working mum that little bit easier.
- Define your own personal balance. The definition of balance is “a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” When your life is in balance, you have a sense of peace, you feel empowered and can achieve great things. Balance is an individual thing; everyone’s is different. As a working mother, you need to work through what balance means to you. My maternity coach, provided by Mars U.K., wisely advised me to write down what I think makes a great mother, wife, professional and friend. Then define your non-negotiables for each—and that’s the balance you should aim for. This has been my guide for achieving balance at home and at work.
- Support your fellow mums (and dads!). It’s true; it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a partner if you’re raising a family together, and it takes your team at work. I couldn’t do this without them. My husband and I have equal roles at home, taking on the same amount of life administration. For my teammates (you know who you are) who took on some of my responsibilities when I went on maternity leave and supported me with grace, thank you for not making me feel guiltier than I already did. The reality is being a working mother can be hard, having a great support network both at home and work helps hugely. Be it with your partner, friends, extended family, team mates or working mothers networks, we need that supportive community. We need the village to help us raise our children.
- Consider flexible working a real option. I am a firm believer from personal experience and talking to friends and colleagues that flexible working helps tremendously to alleviate working mum stress. Sometimes it is a real juggling act between mine and my husband’s full work calendars. Mars has been incredibly supportive in helping us manage our schedules through the option of flexible working hours or the ability to work remotely when required. One of the Mars Five Principles is Responsibility and the resulting culture of accountability enables a flexible approach to working. We trust each other to do a great job, regardless of where we’re doing it. And that flexibility gives me the freedom to thrive. In the U.K., where 86% of parents want to work flexibly, less than half of them feel it’s a genuine option in their workplace. And the U.K. is more progressive than other countries on this. I hope employers take this into consideration because I believe it’s the future of working culture.
- Make every day count. A wonderful lady from the World Resources Institute wrote me an email when I returned to work the second time around, advising me that being back at work with young children meant I needed to make every day count. That resonated with me both at home and work—make sure your work counts, gives you what you need, what your family needs. There’s nothing more productive than a working mother who knows she needs to leave at a certain time to collect her children. I prioritise and focus my time every day to ensure I can do a great job and spend some time with my family. And I make sure my time at home counts, too, by staying off my phone and being present with my children. It’s the quality of the time with children that counts.
- Know that there is no right or “wrong.” There are many days when I feel I’d be a better parent if I were at home all day with my children and not a working mum. But it’s important to remember there’s no wrong or right answer here. It helps to remind myself that numerous studies show the positive effect a working mother has on her kids. Research suggests that girls who grow up with working mothers are more likely to have careers themselves than those with stay at home mothers. These daughters are also more likely to have better, higher paying jobs. It also helps sons, who grow up to be more hands-on with household chores and caring for their children. And if I’m honest, the satisfaction I get from my job actually makes me a better mother when I’m with my children and appreciate the time I spend with them much more. There isn’t a right way to raise a child. You have to do what makes you a great mother.
I hope these ideas and encouraging a more open dialogue on what it’s really like to be a working mother will help reduce that stress and help each of us find our balance.
On International Women’s Day I raise a cup of cold tea to working mothers everywhere!