Mess, Guilt, Me-time: Balancing Work & Life

Whether you’re a working parent because you choose to be or because you’ve had to, finding that work-life balance is no easy task.

You could be a career mum, a part-time working mum, or a mum working from home – each requires that we find the right equation. Yep, welcome to modern motherhood.

Juggle: verb & noun. Definitions: 1) Perform feats of dexterity, especially by tossing objects in the air and catching them, keeping several in the air at the same time 2) Continue to deal with (several activities) at once, especially with ingenuity.

If this dictionary definition rings a bell it’s either because (a) you read it at the start of Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It or (b) like millions of women, you have not read it – frankly, who has time? – but instead, you are living it: madly juggling work and kids and regularly dropping balls all over the place.

Whether your answer was (a) or (b), make these your mantra: “The Super Woman is dead. Long live the Real Woman.”  And here are seven practical ways to lead a more balanced life:

Balancing work and life #1: Weigh up the benefits of working

The term ‘opportunity cost’ is never more relevant than to a working mum. If you stay at home, the opportunity cost is less money. If you go to work, the opportunity cost is less time with your kids. But the opportunity benefit is more money, more freedom and better financial prospects for your family.

Find out what’s best for you and your family – perhaps part-time is all you need or maybe full-time suits you. Think about what you need to feel fulfilled as an individual: full-time motherhood or full-time working mum doesn’t suit everyone. You may need to try different options before finding a balance you feel comfortable with.

“See yourself as a role model to your children, and tell them that women are an important part of society, working is part of reality and you enjoy working and contributing to the family. I know I would feel more mother guilt if I was not able to provide for my family, so have never felt guilty about working, I guess it’s a frame of mind.” Samantha, 43, mother of two.

Balancing work and life #2: Resolve that a bit of mess is OK

Unless you’re a single mum, your greatest asset is your partner. Use him! Together you need to get systems in place to ensure the smooth running of a household – it may not be spotless, but it will be happy, and your kids and your partner will feel pride for contributing to the way it runs.

“Try to be organised! Have a specific day a week that you do your groceries and plan your meals ahead if you can – make larger portions and freeze some small meals for the kids on the nights you work. And ask for help! Don’t assume housework will get done when you’re not around so ask your husband and kids to help by tidying the house when you’re out. Nothing is more stressful than coming home from work exhausted and finding the house is an absolute mess.” Kellie, 33, mother of two.

Everyone’s standard of cleanliness is different, discuss this with your partner and strike a deal – you may have to compromise. Perhaps getting a cleaner in once a fortnight is an option. And ask yourself what’s more important: Having a spotless house or having more family time.

Balancing work and life #3: Don’t sweat the small stuff

So what if you’re feeding your baby food from a jar? Many babies in parts of the world don’t have any food. So what if your work suit has a bit of dried drool on the lapel? At least you ironed it this morning! Turn your negative thoughts on their head and focus on the positives – you’ll be surprised at the powerful effect it has on your overall mood.

“Does it really matter if the beds are not made every day, if your husband buys the wrong brand of wipes or if you are late to work by eight minutes? Save your energy and worry about the bigger things in life – and in the meantime, enjoy motherhood, womanhood and all the great things you are surrounded by.” Christie Nicholas, mother of two, author of The Mum Who Roared: A Complete A-Z Guide To Loving Your Mind, Body And Attitude After Baby (Exisle Publishing, $29.99).

Balancing work and life #4: Make time for ‘me time’

Don’t try and be a martyr and do it all – it will only wear you out. As a working mum, you need to recharge your batteries so you have enough energy to deal with everything else! Whether it’s a candlelit bath, a pedicure, two hours browsing the shops by yourself or a weekend away with your best girlfriend – regular ‘me time’ is crucial. Not optional – crucial. Think of it as a deposit in your work-life bank account – the more regularly you put in, the more interest you will build up and the more you can splurge on your partner and kids.

“Make sure you have something in your week that is about you. I found a gym with a great creche and go at least three times a week. These times are written in my diary like any other appointment.” Roslyn, 41, mother of two.

Balancing work and life #5: Accept that you can’t have it all

Remember how I mentioned, in the beginning, to make this your mantra: “The Super Woman is dead. Long live the Real Woman.” The days of having and doing it all are over. Get real. It takes time, but the sooner you adjust to the fact that you can’t have it all, the better. And the less you focus on what you don’t have, the more energy you will have to pour into the fruits of your labour – your precious children.

“If you are breathing, walking and have your five senses, you have it all. Everything else is secondary. Life is what you make of it so let’s stop whining and worrying and make the best of what we have.” Sarah, mother of one.

Balancing work and life #6: Let go of mother guilt

Working mums have enough on their plates without a nice big side-serve of guilt to go with it. As Michelle, a 36-year-old mum of one from Adelaide says: “Allow yourself to be upset and angry that you can’t take forever off work with your child. It is only this generation where the expectation and financial requirement has been that mothers return to work so early, but that doesn’t mean that generations of emotions where nature bounds us physically to our children disappears. Always remember you are returning to work to provide a good future for your child.”

Feeling guilty about working, feeling guilty about not working and contributing to the family, feeling guilty about not making enough homemade dinners, feeling guilty about enjoying ‘me time’ – STOP IT RIGHT NOW! This kind of thinking is a waste of energy – energy you could be using more productively. So turn those thoughts around. You are choosing to work for a reason, you are choosing to spend time with your children for a reason, you are choosing ‘me time’ for a reason – resist wallowing in guilt.

“It sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but whenever I get an attack of mother-guilt I write it down on a piece of paper – things like, “I feel guilty for not getting home in time for my daughter’s bedtime tonight” – and then I literally put it into a shoebox. By the same token, I write down those moments when I feel like a genius, such as when I get my four-year-old and 18-month-old to nap at the same time, giving me two precious hours to myself. At the end of the week, I read them all and it always makes me feel better, never worse, because it reinforces to me that I am doing the very best job I can.” Kara, mother of two.

Balancing work and life #7: Read up

If you want more guidance on how to balance work and home life, these books contain real-life stories on how other mums face the challenge.

This article was written by Karen Fontaine for our sister company, in conjunction with Open Universities Australia, the leader in online learning.

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  1. felicity beets 30/06/2018 at 8:50 pm

    Doing something for yourself every week sounds like a great idea.- a time to recharge and would be something to look forward to every week.

  2. kymmage 28/06/2018 at 8:14 pm

    It can be a real balancing act, and as they get older the juggle changes. When my babies were little, daycare hours and days were so accommodating around work. Then the move to school changed things for us again, school holidays mean 12 weeks we have to cover in care outside of school. Plus after school programmes too. But in lots of ways my life is great because I work full-time too. I wasn’t made to be a full-time mum. But I have a lot of fun with my kids when they are with me. And they get to see their mum working on a career too. I have had big guilt many times, but its helpful to realise the negative feelings come from a good place – sometimes you have to really unpack what you are saying to yourself and why to get to the heart of it and see if you can do anything about it.

  3. MuddledUpMolly 25/06/2018 at 9:49 pm

    I can’t say I have had too much ‘mother guilt’ before but I will know I will have even less in the new year as I will be having my second baby and this time I plan to be on leave for alot longer than the first time as there will be hopefully be less financial pressure.

  4. Bevik1971 20/06/2018 at 11:06 am

    Gosh I have had the Mother guilt and issues balancing work time etc – because I earned more when I fell pregnant the decision was made for hubby to be stay at home Dad to our daughter. One of us was going to do it anyway. Due to being on 1 wage still and not really earning that much I need to work full time so hard to get a work/life balance for me, which is a bit hard as I also have health issues (need hip replacements). Luckily I got a really good job earlier in the year which is very close to where I live and a great boss!! There are some job prospects for hubby in the near future though so I’m hoping to be able to cut down the hours I do and have some more Mum/daughter time and a bit more of a rest for my weary bones 🙂

  5. Shorrty4life1 19/06/2018 at 7:40 pm

    Very interesting read. I liked reading people’s stories. I work with young mums and am always hearing them saying they feel guilty not being home with their kids and working. I myself have two children and work as a caregiver at a retirement village and absolutely love it. I find it good to have a break and be able to help other people while doing so. I tell my kids if mum doesn’t work we have no spending money and no savings for holidays or fun family outings or no movies with junk food. They completely understand that if we don’t have to wages then we can’t do much so they agree that it’s a good thing to do. I think it’s easier if you have understanding kids and hubby. In saying that I didn’t work until my kids turned two as I felt the first two years are the most important years with huge milestones I would have hated to miss. Everyone is different though each to their own.

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