If you’re looking for a motivational account of a working mum who beat the odds, then look away - this isn’t the success story you’re looking for.
Once upon a time in my pre-motherhood days (which seemed like ages ago), I told a colleague that I probably wouldn’t cut it as a working mum. That I’ll probably work part-time, go freelance, or be a stay-at-home mum, depending on my family’s financial situation.
My colleague, a mum of three (now four), was not pleased with what I said.
“Women can work and take care of their kids at the same time. They don’t need to give up anything. Your mindset is the exact thing that’s holding women back from the workforce,” she said angrily.
Fast forward five years later, I’m coaxing my toddler to take another mouthful of his lunch while listening to a conference call. I’m on mute, of course.
Evidently, I didn’t follow through with what I said to my colleague years ago.
Am I doing well as a working mum? I don’t think so.
Every morning felt like the start of a mad rush
Mornings pass by in a hazy blur. My husband and I take turns attending meetings and feeding bub and then take turns getting ready while entertaining the little guy. By the time we reach Grandma’s, it’s almost time to prepare lunch. I try my best to reply to at least one email with every spoonful of lunch that bub is chewing. Then, it’s finally nap time. It couldn’t have come sooner, to be honest.
It’s during my Cute Little Terror’s naptime that I work on tasks that require more creative thinking. I’m the type of person who needs to work in a quiet environment, and the house is quietest during a toddler’s naptime. But time flies when you’re having fun – in this case when you’re most productive – and lo, behold, my boy is refreshed and ready for the next round of playtime.
Grandma and Grandpa take over while this busy mum continues to clear her to-do list. Did I also mention that I’m an expert at express bathtime? Once that’s out of the way, my husband takes over the Entertainer role while I wrap up the day’s work and prep dinner. We leave Grandma’s for home after that, let the Energizer Bunny tire himself out, and finally put him to bed. I spend the remainder of the night finishing up chores or work (if any), head to bed myself, and try to sleep before the day repeats itself again.
Every night felt like a report card day
Whenever I reflect on the last 24 hours, I can’t help but grade myself a glorious ‘F’ every night. There were a lot of tears in the past year as a working mum (mostly bub’s, occasionally mine) and a lot of could-have-done-betters.
As you’ve probably noticed in the section above, I spend painfully little time with my son aside from doing what I call the Necessities: feeding, cleaning, and putting him to sleep. My meal prep for him is also ridiculously simple, mostly consisting of steamed vegetables, grilled or stewed meat, and fruits. I do the bare minimum of chores, leaving the bulk of it to our monthly part-time cleaner.
With a supportive husband, parents and in-laws, understanding colleagues, and the extra help, I really shouldn’t be feeling the struggle. Every time I want to shout, “Working mum life is tough”, I’m instantly reminded of all the amazing working mums (the first Singapore Armed Forces’ female general is a mum of three and now a Minister of State) and mumpreneurs in the country (one of them is a supermum who runs five companies and a food bank while caring for four kids) who have way more on their plates than me. Closer to home, I’m also constantly amazed by how my CEO juggles her work and family. Oh, and let’s not forget these cool mums who can handle it all yet still look like the models during Fashion Week.
“If these mums can, why can’t I?”
This is a question I ask myself every day. Being so blessed to have all this support, I should really be busting KPIs at work and preparing delicious, Instagram-worthy meals for my son. Instead, I feel that I’m not as productive as a mum or an employee as I ought to be.
It begs the question: If life as a working mum feels so tough, why did I not follow what I said years ago and be a stay-at-home mum? The short answer is: I wasn’t exactly great at being a stay-at-home mum either. Despite being unemployed, I couldn’t even find time for more chores or to even cook a decent meal for my husband and I. This made me even more miserable as I felt I wasn’t cutting it even as a mother. Returning to work gave me some sense of worth, as I perceived the completion of every little campaign as a mini achievement. It made me feel that I was at least good at something.
So, what now?
Articles like these usually end with the author describing how they manage to overcome the obstacles they encounter. Unfortunately, you won’t find anything like this in this one. Every morning still feels like a mad rush, ending with an unfavourable report-card-day moment in the evening.
You’d think that I would have gotten the hang of it after working for close to a year and being a mother for more than one. I’ve yet to bust my KPI; I’ve still not done anything positive that’s worthy of being interviewed for. I guess I’ll just have to learn and accept my limitations.
To put a twist on the immortal Mean Girls line: I’m not like a cool mum or supermum; I’m a regular mum.
End note: If you’re a fellow working mum, I hope that reading this story makes you feel less alone. Success is subjective, and we’re our worst critics. Have that much needed me-time, read that book, have a cuppa (or a tipple), or just browse your social media accounts or the internet aimlessly. Remember, we’re all a work in progress.