Work and motherhood: Five things I've learnt after 20 years and four kids | Women's Agenda

Work and motherhood: Five things I’ve learnt after 20 years and four kids

I’ve been a working mum for nearly 20 years and finally it feels like I’m getting it right.

I have tried so many different work-home configurations over the years. I’ve been a stay-at-home mum. I’ve done part time work (everything from 1 afternoon a week to 4 full on days). I’ve worked full-time. And I’m now running a business from home.

But whatever the combination it has felt like an impossible balance — as if no matter how hard I tried I’d always be getting it wrong. Looking at life as a war between competing values is bound to result in a no-win situation.

So lately I have started thinking differently. I’ve changed my perspective and found that I’ve actually been getting it right all along. So here’s how to do it:

Be authentic. Take the time to think about who you really are (as against who you think you should be). Working out your strengths and values makes it easier to make difficult decisions. Recently I was offered a “super job”. Very tempting. But it required me to be available 24/7 or even more often if possible. Less tempting. But whilst I’m prepared to work fulltime, I could never sacrifice the responsibility I have to my family for an all-encompassing job no matter how enticing. Thankfully I’d spent time thinking about my values and my boundaries were clear. So I turned it down. No regrets.

Think how knowing yourself and being more authentic could help you.

Find the benefits. However your work-home life is constructed, there are benefits that can be honoured in and of themselves. I have always found that working has been very good for my sense of well-being and happiness. And I value this as an enormous benefit to the whole family. A happy mum equals a happy family. And that is worth valuing in and of itself without bringing any other calculations to bear.

How can you value and honour the benefits you are getting from your own situation?

Be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself means nurturing yourself and giving yourself a break. And it means banishing blame and guilt. Accept that you have made your work-home decisions in good faith. As I’ve been practicing being kind to myself over recent months I can see more and more clearly that if there is no right decision about being a working mum, then there is no wrong decision either. We all make the best decisions we can with the available facts at the time – and that is a kind way to think.

Listen to your own self-talk. How could you be more kind to yourself?

Look for solutions. Often we are stuck in a situation and get caught up in the problem. We think about the problem, assign blame and feel guilty, but don’t move forward. A more positive approach when things get difficult is to look for solutions. Think where you want, or need, to be and what it is you can do to get there. Last year I resigned from full time employment and started consulting. This was a great solution to allow me the space to project manage a house renovation and interstate move. Yes the decision had drawbacks, but it worked to support our family in a difficult situation.

What solutions can you come up with to a current problem?

Value your achievements. Whatever your current work-home life looks like – I can guarantee you that you are making many achievements each day. Don’t only focus on the homework, swimming carnival, or mothers’ day stall you weren’t involved in. Think about all the things you were involved in and celebrate them. As I was writing this article my children came home from school and I was able to debrief their day with them. It doesn’t matter how many times I can’t do this – today I did and for that I’m happy and grateful.

What achievements have you made today that you can acknowledge?

I may don’t know who you are, or your work situation, but I’m pretty sure with a small shift in perspective you’ll see that you too are getting it right. And it feels pretty good. 

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