Almost 21 months ago, I gave birth to my greatest inspiration, my son Corey. After a year's maternity leave (and NOT a year's holiday as hubby would have to believe) I was certain that the full-time job was not for me. So, I decided to embark on a freelance, writing career with the great expectation (albeit unrealistic!) that this was the key to achieving that perfect, work/life balance.
I mean, who wouldn't jump at the opportunity of spending more quality time with baby, not missing out on those milestones as well as being in control of your work schedule? I also felt begrudged at handing over a small fortune for private nursery fees so convinced myself I was being financially frugal. I was fortunate to have an understanding hubby who accepted that I had decided (without any consultation) not to return to my full-time job. And to help with my decision, I looked at my 'working mummy' friends who came home shattered after a hard days work at the office. Yet like a trooper, could not exactly 'clock off' when they had the dinners, baths, bedtimes (or head lice removal!) to contend with at home. As much as I admired their tenacity, I knew that this was not the exhaustive, option for me.
So, with this in mind, I armed myself with seemingly, rose-tinted glasses of how simple a working mum from home would be. I had an image of being a domestic goddess (Nigella eat your heart out!) perhaps taking up hobbies such as baking cupcakes or re-styling the home. Then I'd be working on my assignments on the laptop in the park or in a coffee shop, 'Sex and the City' style, before catching up with the other mums at Starbucks.
Fast-track to 12 months later and the only thing remotely 'simple' about working from home was the easy access to the fridge! Oh, how far-fetched was I in thinking that it would all be a walk (literally) in the park? I had not realised the enormity of being a 'working mum' from home and found it a much harder task than any eight hours in the office. While I started with such gusto by being ridiculously organised, slowly my meticulous planning started to unravel at the seams. I resorted to having a generic, 'to-do' checklist that literally was adhoc and I'd got to a stage of stealing time whenever my son would allow me to rather than the other way around. Then came that internal conflict of whether I was giving my son the appropriate attention or stimulation that he needed, before that sinking feeling of failure. Yes, that dreaded F word! There seems to be an unspoken pressure amongst mothers that we must not fail as a mother, a career woman or wife. No pressure! In other words, I questioned whether I had got the balance right after all.
Meanwhile, hubby would come home with that pitiful look of, 'so what have you been doing all day then'? Secretly envious that I can 'work from home' on a permanent basis or go 'shopping when I felt like it'. While I was secretly envious that he could read a book or magazine uninterrupted on his commute to work, have a full hour's lunch break and go to the toilet unaccompanied by an inquisitive toddler! For him, home was a safe haven from the office to switch off and unwind, for me, there was no distinction as work and home became messily merged into organised chaos.
All I needed was a reality check and that came from my own mother. Growing up in the early 80's, my mother decided to take a break from her flourishing, nursing career to became a stay at home mother. I suppose back then, it was almost a societal given as many mothers happily took on their 'maternal' duties while the fathers were typically the breadwinners. In addition, my parents had no extended family to support them but I recall my mum effortlessly transform into a 'superwoman'. She was the homemaker, nurturer, teacher and self-lessly looked after my father and I to the best of her abilities. In fact, looking back not once did I hear her complain or wear a frantic sweat on her brow. She was always so calm and collected despite whatever hardships they faced at the time.
And there I was with my constant worrying and feeling like a ticking bomb waiting to explode at any time. Compared to my own mother, I was in a fortunate position. I had the support from my family, in-laws and an understanding (yet long suffering) husband who expected nothing less of my determination to balance career and family. Also, the benefits of modern technology had helped immensely with baby forums, support groups and a plethora of information and tips for working mums.
Eventually, I learned to adapt to my 'new' working life and I realised that regardless of the nature of working patterns, a 'working mum' is exactly that! Whether it be full-time or part-time, we will all face the same concerns, fears or feelings of guilt from time to time. It is common to question our inadequacies but difficult to actually give ourselves some well-deserved praise! Being a working mother today is challenging but we must remind ourselves of all the positive reasons why we do what we do. Although, we may feel at our wits end juggling so many balls, it's ok to let a few go at times. It's re-assuring to know that we are not alone in our experiences and achieving that perfect, work/life balance is possible but it's not the 'be all or end all'!
Ironically, I had read the best-selling novel 'I don't know how she does it' which is all about the woes of juggling career and motherhood. I would always think that very question about my 'working mummy' friends before I became a mother. After going through the rigmarole myself, I eventually learned the answer. How do we do it? God only knows, but we just do!