Can you really be a great mum, have a great career and be a supportive partner?
Recently I have been struggling with how you do it all. Some people think you can, but I’m beginning to really wonder if it is at all possible. Let me explain.
I was lucky enough to fall into entrepreneurialism before I conceived my first child. I was also lucky enough to have a supportive husband, a good business, and a wonderful helper. Here in Singapore, we can have as much support as we want to achieve that elusive work-life balance. But I still struggled with the juggling act of parenthood: ask any woman what it’s like to go back to work after maternity leave and it’s comforting to know we’re all trying to keep it together in our own ways.
Last year I took a step back from the business, for two reasons: to spend more time with my kids (aged 18 months, 4.5 and 6.5), and also to give my husband a chance to focus on his career. I thought it would be easy. But it wasn’t so simple.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved working full-time. I love the lunches, the after-work drinks, the work wardrobe (and the requirement to get out of your PJs). I even enjoyed the peace and quiet of the commute (who doesn’t love time to think?). But I had that awful feeling that one day I would wake up and the kids would be teenagers, and I would wonder: ‘where did the time go?’. I didn’t want to regret working too hard, and sacrificing time with the kids for money in the bank account.
I also really enjoyed not working. Lots of people said: ‘Are you really going to be able to step back?’ but I found it easy to spend time at home. It was combined with lots of personal pursuits like re-decorating, shopping, travelling and exercising (a foreign concept to the previous time-poor me). I thought I would love it. And I did, for a while.
But then I found days when my kids were at school, and my youngest at a playgroup followed by a long nap – and I literally had nothing to do. Nothing to achieve, no boxes to tick. For someone who was used to managing a team of 30 staff, a massive workload, demanding clients, and three kids – the quiet was difficult.
So I tried my hand at part-time work. Writing a few articles here and there. This was okay, but I discovered I am an all-in or all-out kinda girl.
So, how do mums do it? I think it’s really hard to take your foot off the career pedal, and be a stay-at-home mum if you really love working. But then it’s really hard to have the patience for Year 3 maths homework as your main achievement each day, especially when you didn’t enjoy maths the first time round.
I suppose what I am really trying to say, is it’s hard. It’s hard to not have a career and not have that sense of achievement; it’s a real sacrifice of self.
And it’s just as hard to have a career and get home late and miss bedtime stories because a meeting ran late. Which happens.
I thought I had it all solved. But now having being a full-time career mum and a full-time mum-mum, I have to say I’m more confused and challenged than ever. Speaking to other mums out there, I have had some say ‘I’m really good at not working’ – and I was like, ‘tell me how?’, and they have rattled off all the things they do to fill in their day, whilst not becoming too committed to anything that would distract them from being a good mum and being home for the bus drop off. I’m just not sure I can do it.
Honestly, right now I think maybe this is as good as it gets. If you want to be there for the kids, and I mean there for breakfast, playgroups, bus drop-off, homework, dinner, and bedtime and just ‘there’ all the time – you really can’t have a career that is considerably demanding. But maybe I just need to make that self-sacrifice. Until I go crazy… And go back to work.