Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some of our favourite tips

Mia Freedman has a section on her website, 'Mamamia' (to which we contribute articles), which she calls 'group therapy'. Last week, a reader wrote in with the following problem:

"I haven’t been enjoying my job as much as I used to and last Sunday whilst brushing my daughter’s hair and thinking about making her lunch and all of the things I had awaiting for me this week, I had an anxiety attack which progressively got worse over the next few days. After speaking with a dear friend, she finally admitted to me that I hadn’t been myself since going back to work full time.

After many discussions with my husband (who is extremely supportive of me in every way), we came to the decision for me to quit my job and be a stay at home mum. Whilst doing this, I can also help him with his accounts (as he has his own business) and he can concentrate on doing the part of the business that he does best.

I however am feeling extremely guilty about not being able to handle working full-time and being a mum. I feel I should be able to handle it as so many other women do but then I also have extreme envy that I miss out on seeing my daughter run to the front door to greet me at the end of the day like she does with my husband when he gets home from work. As my friend said to me, “you only have the one child and you only get one chance at your and her life”. Financially we would be OK, obviously tightening the belt on things, so why is it so difficult to accept that it’s an easy decision to make?”

Here was our advice in response:

What you’re feeling – the angst, stress, confusion and guilt – is extremely common amongst mums, as I’m sure you’ll see in many of these responses.

I wrote a book on working motherhood a few years ago and now work with women to balance their lives in this area. I see women every day who struggle with this decision (and overcome it by making strong choices that are right for them and their families in their own particular contexts, as you have).

Feminism liberated us to ‘have it all’ and it’s great that we have choices. There is no one right way to live this out. Some women thrive on full-time work, others thrive on working part-time, others thrive as stay-at-home mums. What we choose to do now may not be the same as what we’ll choose to do in twelve months, or in five years (we’re not ‘locking ourselves in’, although we sometimes view our choices in that way, which isn’t helpful). The reality is that many women are so tired they can’t remember why we wanted it all in the first place!

One thing that is common to women I work with no matter what their circumstances (senior executives, stay-home mums, part-timers, full-timers, business owners etc) is a private fear that they are ‘not good enough’. This is compounded if they observe other women who appear to have it all together (these women rarely do – certainly not to the extent that it seems on face value).

It’s like that sense that we all have from time to time that we’re ‘floundering’ (in our jobs, mothering, combining the two) and that any minute now we’ll be ‘found out’ and exposed. We tend to think that this fear is unique to us – that everyone else is coping so much better than we are. This isn’t true! According to some research that I can’t put my finger on at the moment, the fear of ‘not being good enough’ is one of the top three fears that most people experience.

One of the questions I often ask people is ‘are you living fast, or deep?’ Most of us would love to answer that we’re living ‘deep’, but instead we feel a sense of dashing ‘fast’ between an onslaught of roles, commitments, responsibilities and relationships – on only a surface level. It’s exhausting and unsatisfying to live in a whirlwind of urgency, because you’ve taken on too much (not only at work, but outside it).

If you continue pushing through at a pace that is too ‘much’ for too long, something breaks. Tina, your decision – difficult though it has been to make – is guarding against that. As previous posters have said, the hardest part is making the decision – it gets easier after that.

As far as the feelings of guilt go, think of it this way – when you choose to say ‘no’ to something, you are giving more meaning to your ‘yes’.

You are saying ‘yes’ to your health and wellbeing, which will benefit your marriage and family for a long time to come. The adage, ‘happy mum = happy baby’ applies equally for those with older children (and, it could be said, with relationships between adults).

Life is a book. We are all writing our own stories (and how boring it would be if they were all the same). There’s no need for us to cram the entire plot into one chapter.

There will be plenty of time for other pursuits. Right now, you’ve made a great personal decision and it’s time to let go of how things were and to learn to love the new arrangement!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who makes your flexibility possible?

As a working mum, I've always been very grateful for flexible employers and family-friendly work environments. There's nothing more reassuring than working for a boss who appreciates your need to dash off to a school assembly, a dental appointment, or to rush to day care when the secretary phones reporting that your child has a hideous case of 'hand, foot and mouth' disease (as happened to my sister last week).

Who picks up the pieces at work if you have to care for sick kids?

Good teams will manage this well in a 'give and take' arrangement.

Sometimes, you'll be able to work from home.

Often it's those in the office who don't have children who tend to pick up the slack - particularly over school holidays. I received an email from someone about this recently. She is supportive of her staff who have
children, but there are times when she feels undervalued. She and her husband have demanding roles, work long hours, are active in the volunteer fire brigade, have a property and pets to look after and are actively involved with their nieces and nephews.

Is the workplace culture as supportive of her need for work-life balance as it is for parents?

Start today

If you enjoy support and flexibility at work, be aware of who is making it possible for you. Ensure that you're not taking this support for granted.

Think about the 'give and take' in your workplace. Is everyone's need for balance being catered for, or just the needs of a particular group?

When things are running smoothly in your life, ask what you can do for those around you who are supportive of your need for flexibility at other times. Creating a happy, flexible and fair workplace is everyone's responsibility.

Be the best partner

Valentine's Day. Like it or not, and whether you're in a relationship or you're single, it's a good time to reflect on the kind of partner you are. 

Not the kind of partner you want - the kind you are.

It's easy to see your partner's faults - to wish they were a little more of 'this' or a little less of 'that'.

Do you have in mind what the perfect relationship would look like?

Who do you need to be, and what do you need to do differently, to have that?

Start today

Take responsibility for the relationship you have, or the one that you want, and think of at least three things that you can do differently to make it happen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Urgency is the key

'To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time' (Leonard Bernstein)

Oh, how true this is!

I've been flat out this week finalising content for two workshops, preparing for an expert panel tonight on taking an idea and running with it and sending my 'baby' off to her first day in high school (today!)

My husband left for New Zealand yesterday, and I'm joining him for a 'mini-break' with baby Sebastian on Thursday, so my mind is full of all the tasks I have to do before I leave (it's also full of questions on how to get bottles of formula through security - subject of my nightmare last night!)

I'm keeping momentum going with my parenting articles (the latest is on whether helpful dads are more trouble than their worth) and don't get me started on the saga that was ballet enrolment for daughter No.2.  I can't decide if I'm feeling pumped or under the pump!

Start today

What might I have accomplished had I not had a plane to catch?  Lots more time on Facebook, probably.  Mooching around the shops?  Clicking 'send and receive' and wondering if email is down?  (Strange habit! Do you share it?  It will make me feel more normal!)  A bit of a lurk through Yahoo answers? (What am I?  Fifteen?)

Looming deadlines show us what we're made of.  They give us a taste of how we function at full productivity.  They prioritise for us.  

The key is to learn from the experience.