Balancing my Family with my Career
In the past, women have often had to choose between having a family or having a career.
Many women are now choosing to have both and dual-career households are increasingly common.
But juggling the two can be a huge challenge. 3 in 4 mums are working in the UK, far less than 92.6% of men.
The pandemic has further added to the pressures on women, this Oct 2020 report on 50,000 women established that 90% had suffered a negative impact on their mental health and 7 in 10 had furlough requests turned down. Childcare and home-schooling were more often left to the mum whilst careers have been put on hold.
Anna Parker is a Hampshire mum who juggles a high profile job at a large corporation with being a mum to a happy toddler. I asked Anna for her advice on how to manage the pressures of being a mum and still doing a great job at work.
I’ve been back at work for 18 months since having my baby.
I’m a director of audit risk in a professional services firm. Work would normally be in London but currently, it’s from my study in a village near Winchester.
I’m lucky to enjoy my job and thrive in my company – I grew up there – I’ve been in one role or another since I graduated from university! I worked hard to get to where I am. Leaving it to someone else for my maternity leave was surreal, as was suddenly not being needed by people who always needed me to sort out audit issues.
Happily, I now have a little person who always needs me and my job was still there to return to but it felt very different. Being Mummy is more than a full-time job and throwing in another 40 hours of paid work certainly looks impossible on paper.
Having a career and a family is really difficult. Too many priorities, too many pulls on your time, so much pressure. There are times when it is really hard and I’d happily throw the towel in, but I chose to go back to work after maternity leave. Now, I am making it work… I think!
Here are some of the things I’ve learnt since I returned to work, which has helped me achieve that balance.
Ask others for advice
Going back to work I created time to speak to other mums, at work. The people that shared my new pressures in the same environment. It was so valuable.
And I discovered membership to a secret club – working parenting. Every member understands the challenges and will share tips and war stories! The best advice I got – use a sleep consultant if you can afford one. I got access to mien through my company benefits and oh my goodness, getting a child to sleep right 95% of the time is a game-changer for us all!
Find your lines in the sand
Knowing where your boundaries are is essential, especially in a job where you’re expected to go the extra mile, all the time, to help others. Countless people told me to work out what I could be flexible with. But more importantly, told me to be clear about what I hold sacrosanct.
It’s important because you need to be happy at work to be happy at home. For me, it’s taking time off on Tuesdays to ‘just’ be Mummy and doing nursery runs or having meals as a family. There are occasions this doesn’t work, but I protect the time well as it is important to me.
Share the parenting
If you can, share the load. It’s a strange time going from being the primary carer on mat leave to going back to work. I took KIT days and some SPLIT days as there was a project I wanted to do before my formal return.
My husband took parental leave and immersed himself in all things childcare. It set us both up well for my return – he was on top of all the baby stuff and I had an unpressured return to work through my KIT days. We worked out how to work and share the parenting for both of our careers.
Accept that people get ahead when you’re gone
A swathe of my peers were promoted to partner whilst I was off and others caught me up. It’s easy as an individual to feel a bit left behind and out of the loop. Life goes on and it’s best to get to grips with it as quickly as possible.
I’ve made priority choices for my family that will ultimately slow me down, but I don’t regret them for a moment. Becoming a Mummy was hard-fought for me and I don’t want to miss it.
Never apologise or feel guilty
Having a baby teaches you to always be nice, engaged and interested – a child can spot disinterest in a millisecond. I can now spot it in adults and I don’t want anyone to spot it in me. So be nice. But never apologise for having another priority. Never feel guilty, just be clear when you aren’t available.
Not long after returning to work, I apologised to a partner for being slow to reply on my day off. She called me and said never do it again. If I need to work on my day off, then I’m the only judge of when and who for.
Enjoy business travel
If it is part of your job then keep doing it, to the extent that works. I managed a few short trips before lockdown, and look forward to a time in India one day soon… Travel is good: for independence and operating without constant clock-watching. (Let’s not forget a good night’s sleep!)
My little one always seems to be ill when I travel, so my husband’s had it all on and I’ve been riddled with guilt. But as my boss said when we were sitting in a rooftop bar looking at the Acropolis in Athens and my husband was cleaning sick up at home – ‘you’ve earnt this, they’re fine, enjoy it not being you’!
A poorly baby
When a child is ill and not able to go to nursery it is nothing short of a nightmare – trying to do a day of work and trying to look after the poorly one. With a massive amount of mum guilt thrown in that you’re not able to just be Mummy. And then undoubtedly catching it and getting ill too.
I suspect it’s a little easier to manage now everyone has mastered agile working… But all I can say is prioritise: what has to be done, what can be delegated, what can actually wait.
Baby brain is a nightmare, and going back to work reminds you how switched off the mind has been compared to what work expects of it!
I sat in so many meetings with no idea what was going on – things were moving too fast, I didn’t understand what people were discussing and I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. And when I wanted to say something, I was suddenly nervous with a loss of confidence or I couldn’t remember the darn word or technicality that I needed.
Be kind to yourself. Everyone’s allowed a settling back in period and asking for help or reminders is the best way to get your mind back in gear quickly! That, together with writing notes and doing more meeting prep that I’ve had to do before!
Being able to work in an agile fashion around parenting comes with trust.
On my first day back at work, I’d caught conjunctivitis from the baby and couldn’t see to drive to the station, let alone work. We all laughed, at this, the ‘new Anna’, and forgot about it!
I still did what I needed to do from home – and thankfully it was before video calls! I find that if you’re on time and honour your commitments, then little hiccups won’t matter.
Break Things Down
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you start doing the ultimate juggle – work and parenting.
What I have learnt is that it is best to focus on getting the little things right rather than focusing on the end game. The same as a day with a toddler. And do the stuff you don’t like first so that you don’t find yourself doing it one evening when you’d rather be scrolling through photos of your child – or having a well deserved evening to yourself!
I thought I was busy before I had a baby – how disillusioned I was! I have never been so efficient and focussed, or so aware of what the time is!
Accept the balance, you may have to say no to things or miss an opportunity you might have taken before. But it doesn’t matter. The sooner you can accept it and work out the balance you want then the sooner it’ll work out well. Look after what is important to you at home with your child. The rest will follow. I love being back at work, I chose to go back and I’m glad I did. The good days far out-number the bad, I’ve got ‘me’ back and we’re all happy!
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