14th May 2020
Can We, Working Mothers Really Have-It-All?
I am a working mother to 2 young kids, Claire who is currently five and a half years old and Caydren who is turning 4 in two months’ time.
“Can We, Working Mothers Really Have-It-All?” This question has been weighing on my mind. We have read so much on the epitome of highly successful working mothers such as Sheryl Sandsberg who wrote Lean In and Laura Vanderkarm, the Time Management Guru and the author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.
However, I cannot help to feel that the reality is a far cry from these highly capable working mothers who seemingly can have-it-all. The brutal truth is that many of us are simply ordinary working mothers rather than Time Management Gurus.
Anne-Marie Slaughter who became the first woman director of policy planning at the US State Department working with Obama, deemed to be the role model of many women, published the article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” which highlighted her own personal struggles in managing family work-life balance. I resonat strongly with Anne-Marie’s viewpoints. I was in a corporate HR role for the past 11 years and switched out to turn self-employed this year. Back then certainly my job demands were not as high, complex or stressful as Anne-Marie’s given that she was concurrently the Professor and the Dean of Princeton.
My good Friend who knew that it was going to write this article and joked in jest and she said “I really hope your answer is no. Only change to yes if certain boxes are checked.”. And yes, I concur with her viewpoint that this is only possible if certain boxes (the following prerequisites) are met:
Marry the Right Partner.
Have Strong Family Support or External Help especially in terms of exigencies
Have a Job that Allows Us to Control and Manage Our Own Schedule
With the above prerequisites in place, I foresee the success rate of a working mother having-it-all is significantly higher as compared to a working mother lacking in any of these 3.
Compared to my other working mother friend who is based in overseas and do not have family parental support. It is extremely costly and logistically challenging to find back-up support such as stay at home nannies.
Personally for me, I am very blessed to be able to check off all these 3 prerequisites. To further increase the success rate of having-it-all, I also believe it is important for us as Working Mothers to strategically adopt any of the following recommended suggestions in accordance to your own situations:
Create and Adhere to Schedules. For me, this is a crucial step for me to remember both work appointments and important personal events such as school party dates, closure dates, dating time with husband, social activities. With so many daily competing demands, I no longer want to rely on my memory due to two main reasons. Firstly, it is to prevent any slip-ups due to occasional memory failure and secondly, I would rather leverage on my brain to do more analytical work than to recollect trivial details which can simply be stored on the schedule planner.
Learn to Delegate and Outsource.
Having been an Individual Contributor in most parts of my career, this is something which I am still grappling with but yet constantly reminding myself to do. In terms of domestic household chores, my Husband and I had recently engaged a domestic helper to relieve us of the day-to-day mundane chores so that more time can be freed up to spend good quality time with our kids. In terms of my own work context, I frequently find myself strapped with many multiple projects so I have learnt to outsource any part of the work, especially in areas which I am relatively weaker in (e.g PowerPoint presentation slides) to my very own competent team of administrative staff so that competitive advantage can be achieved for higher quality work and yet not engulfing too much of my precious limited time.
Learn to Compromise and do Trade-offs.
I first learnt this term “Trade-Offs” from Lynette Ng, a very dynamic and yet charismatic working Mother whom I admire a lot. I first met her more than 9 years ago. Back then Lynette was already a very successful working Mother and I was aspiring to work for her. Just last year we reconnected in a HR panel session and I asked her how did she seem to have-it-all? She told me the key is to do trade-offs and yet come to peace with ourselves. I have since internalised this tip and applied in my own context. My current job being a Financial Consultant requires me to meet up with clients usually after working-hours which could be weekday evenings or weekends. Afterall, these would be the prime hours when most of the people who are employed are available. Therefore I have learnt to compromise and do trade-offs. Yes, weekday evenings might be busier when I have appointments but I would try to keep weekends free as far as possible so that the kids know that Mummy is still there every Saturday and Sunday.
Learn to Look at Things In Perspective.
One good personal example to share was my decision to be an Exclusive-Pumping Working Mother instead of the conventional Latch-On-Demand Breastfeeding Mother. Back then, I would receive some lamenting comments that bottle-feeding the baby lacked the Mother-Baby nursing bond. For me, I had to learn to disregard and filter out the comments. Otherwise I would be completely overwhelmed by emotional guilt. I learnt to reframe, rationalise to look at things in perspective – The breastmilk and nutrients are the same. It is only a different form of feeding method but I chose to adopt this approach because I knew I would eventually return to work after the end of my maternity leave. And I did not want my babies to reject bottles and starve themselves until I returned home. On hindsight, I am glad to have made that compromise which resulted in me being able to successfully breastfed my babies fully until they turned one year old each.
Wake up at 5am Daily to Create Additional 2 Hours of Me-Time
I am highly guarded of these preciously morning hours. I started this habit more than 6 months ago so that I am able to make use of these additional 120 minutes to embark on activities which I had never been able to do so. I alternate among various activities such as reading, exercising, strategic business planning, journaling and writing articles. And yes, the first draft of this article was penned at 5am. The level of productivity and efficiency in the 2 hours between 5am and 7am is simply unrivalled compared to any other 2-hour block in any other parts of the day.
In summary, I would not proclaim that I have achieved the pinnacle of Having-It-All. I honestly still think it is extremely hard to achieve the optimal balance and it is a constant balancing act. Ultimately it also boils down to different individuals’ expectations of what it means to Have-It-All.
Each of us has different benchmarks and standards. What it means to successfully “Have-It-All” may also be different for you and me. And my Best Friend nailed it perfectly in her comments
Why need to it have it all? It is subjective. Some are happy being a SAHM and some are happy earning just enough and yet still able to spend time with their kids. There is no perfect answer that fits everybody. Just do what you think is perfect for your family!
For me, as years go by, I gradually reckon that to be able to have-it-all, it also requires ourselves to be contented, not to be so harsh on ourselves and and know what is most important to us so that we can do the necessary trade-offs when times call for it.
14th May 2020