Working Mums: Finding the Right Balance
Manage your time wisely and slot everything that's important to you in your weekly planner
IFyou’re pregnant or have recently welcomed your precious bundle of joy, and returning to your career is on the horizon, you’ve got quite a bit to consider and learn! They say us ladies wear the crown when it comes to multitasking, but even so, raising a child while earning a living is certainly not a task to be taken lightly. So, how does one embrace this challenging yet rewarding lifestyle? Jot down some critical tips from our guide to finding the balance, and see what the experts themselves had to say.
Figure out your definition of "the right balance"
Before you start setting guidelines for yourself in preparation for your return to work, define what a good balance is in your terms. Does it mean spending several hours each day with your family? Does it mean slotting in a massage appointment every other week? Does it mean going out for dinner with hubby every Friday evening?
The “right balance” is different for everyone and is achieved by successfully integrating everything that matters to YOU personally into your schedule: family, work, your partner, friends, hobbies, relaxation, errands and so on. However don’t get confused by the word “balance” - this isn’t to say that you should aim to embrace each aspect by allocating equal amounts of time to all (in fact, this is not even possible)! Also, keep in mind that with time comes continuous changes, so the right balance now may not be the right balance in two years’ time. It’s a very challenging task to tackle and it’s inevitable that at least one aspect will be neglected.
Shed the guilt
Most working mums worldwide carry the common burden of “mother guilt”, a horrible pang triggered by the reality of not dedicating all your time to your kids because of work commitments.
“It might be guilt from being at work and enjoying it, or missing your baby’s first steps, or leaving them with your helper all day - it’s endless,” according to Jeanne, who works full-time as an associate at a large law firm and welcomed her daughter last year.
But while guilt is sometimes inevitable for any parent, working or not, piggybacking it is unhealthy and masks a host of problems from the unnecessary self-blame and stress. So when negativity arises, try to focus on the reasons behind your motivation to work, trust yourself to make good choices for your family and reassure your mind with the benefits of working. For example: building your career, personal development, providing your kids with a privileges and a secure future, and setting an example for independence and success.
“I want to make sure I’m doing enough to lead by example, not by hovering,” points out Nashua, fellow mother to a boy and a girl (aged 7 and 5 respectively) who also works a full-time position as a marketing manager in the media sector.
Communicate clearly with your employer
As such a competitive commercial hub, it is particularly stressful to keep up with the demanding expectations and work culture of Hong Kong.
“When it comes to flexibility for working parents, Hong Kong does lag behind other countries like the UK and Australia,” says Jeanne. “After I returned to work, I felt I had to work extra hard to compensate for my extended maternity leave, and to prove to my boss and colleagues that I could still be good at my job even though I’d had a baby. With Hong Kong’s culture of long working hours, I would stay late and work overtime as I wanted to be seen as reliable.”
In hindsight, Jeanne realises how being upfront and discussing expectations and limits with her boss would have saved her a lot of fretting during the first few months back at work. Juggling a career with parenthood requires constant planning and a lot of drive - don’t overestimate what you’re capable of and don’t wear yourself down with expectations you cannot meet. Be honest and realistic with your boss and request your need, but be careful you don’t come across as demanding and always be willing to compromise!
Master the art of prioritising & organising
Taking on motherhood is one thing, but having a full-time job on top of that means your daily agenda is going to be absolutely hectic. That’s why to ensure you’re ready to tackle the tasks, unexpected problems and responsibilities, you’ve got to predict and organise things to a tee! A working mum’s best friends are diaries, calendars, alarms, post-it notes, to-do lists and so on.
“I have two lists, one at home and the other at work. If I don’t write down everything, I will forget. I action my lists daily without fail and nothing gets crossed off until it is completed,” says Anne-Maree, who works as a consultant at a headhunting firm and mothers of two little ones aged 2 and 4.
The key to prioritising is to think of each task individually and assess the importance of it, whether it’s urgent or can wait, and what / who will suffer if you don’t tend to it ASAP. Keep in mind that what is most important to you may not be vital to someone else, so there is no right or wrong answer. Be smart with time management and making decisions that may cost you quality time with you family. For example, save jobs like reading and replying to emails for your commute or after your baby and husband have hit the hay.
Make separate time for yourself and your partner
Communicate with your partner about their schedule and plan a rough weekly timetable to see when you can enjoy time together as a family, and when you can enjoy me-time by alternating babysitting duties. Use this time to go for a run, enjoy an after-work drink with friends, have a long bath or anything you like.
“It’s important to make time for your family but also for yourself too, otherwise you may build up resentment for being stuck at home or always with the baby, or for not having time to do your own things,” Jeanne insists.
Nashua reveals another reason why carving out personal time is vital, particularly as your kids get older: “We are raising children, but also people. We want our kids to be independent - they see that mum and dad have their own interests, friends and goals that we pursue beyond them, which encourages them to do the same.”
Incorporate as many time-saving techniques as you can
By just thinking ahead and minimising your tasks or workload for later by doing them now or when you have five minutes to spare, you are really making things more manageable for yourself. Be proactive and try the following tips and tricks to save time and avoid frantic running around:
- Intuition+: Mom's Personal Assistant
- Dragon Dictation
Pack your bags, make your lunch, choose your outfit and lay out your make-up, jewellery, accessories etc.
Make sure you keep an envelope of cash at home for those times you can’t make it to the ATM, or your card gets swallowed up
Stock your freezer with tupperware boxes or ziplock bags of soups, stews, pasta sauces, curries etc. that you can defrost and prepare in minutes for when you’re running late
Set up a whiteboard or a shopping list you can add to whenever you run out or think of something
Do some shopping or pick up your dry-cleaning on your lunch break so you can go straight home after work
Create checklists for different scenarios - (e.g.) things to pack when you head out with baby, list of bills you owe each month and all necessary info like account numbers, fee amount, due dates, customer service hotline number etc., the "essentials" to keep your fridge and pantry stocked up with at all times etc.
Group items together and organise in smaller pouches before putting them in your handbag; when you change bags, you won’t leave little bits in the side pockets and misplace things
- Always carry a spare phone battery or portable charger on you
Find a helper you trust your baby with and manage them effectively
Last but not least, this guide would not be complete without a section dedicated to the backbones of all working mums in Hong Kong - their trusty domestic helpers. Considering the fact that your baby (and your home) will be in the care of these ladies all throughout the week while you’re at work, it’s pretty obvious that spending the time and effort to find a competent helper you can trust, rely on and see eye-to-eye with is critical.
When it comes to building relationships with and managing your helper, seek the advice of experts like Conchita Amende. As the principal of Annerley’s Helpers’ Academy, she regularly facilitates courses specifically designed to train domestic helpers. Check out these valid points Conchita laid out for us…
Use your maternity leave wisely
Maternity leave in Hong Kong is very short (only 10 weeks!), so it’s important to use this limited time to build a trusting partnership with your helper(s) and train them yourself. This is tricky as first, you must get to know your baby and learn their personality, needs, habits and quirks before you figure out how to respond to them and pass this on to your helper.
Trust and frequent communication is vital
You want a relationship that encourages honesty and openness, and to make sure she’s not too scared to admit when she’s made a mistake, or when she’s not had much luck comforting your little one that day. She mustn’t feel bad when something doesn’t work and have the confidence to inform you so you can come up with alternatives.
- Conchita Amende
Health Visitor & Former Midwife,
Annerley the Midwives Clinic
Personally train your helper
Physically show your helper how to do things your way and gradually test her bit by bit. In the beginning, just let her observe and learn; then, let her try while you supervise; once you’re confident she’s capable, let her manage alone while you go out.
Religiously carry out "handover time"
Always set a few minutes for an elaborate chat with you helper when you arrive home from work, or whenever you’ve left your baby in her care for an extended period of time. The handover involves discussing in detail about that day’s events. What happened? Why did it happen? What activities or games did they play together? How did the baby react? Was it a success? What could be done differently? Did the baby cry? How did your helper comfort him / her? What needs to be addressed?
Give your helper breathing space and a manageable agenda
Don’t overload your helper with tasks, and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to priorities. Ask yourself “could I do it?” when delegating multiple chores, and set realistic to-do lists for her. Consider the size of your flat, the distance to and from places and other factors.
Cherish your family
In regards to “mother guilt”, as long as you make sufficient time and spend it together doing various things, your baby will hardly remember your absence, or treat you like a stranger. Remember: helpers come and go, but you are the constant!
Keep up with the changes
Finally, spend as much time with your baby as you possibly can. It’s natural for any working mum to feel jealous of the time your helper gets to spend with your baby while you slave away at work! This is why it’s crucial to ask your helper about everything and translate to your helper your urgency to know absolutely every last detail about your baby. Also, try to be sensitive about the fact that your helper also has a special bond with your baby, considering she spends all day, every day looking after him / her!