Hard Working Mums – New Year Resolutions!
I’ve had countless clients and friends speak to me about the pressures and challenges they face as working mums; the endless lists in their heads as they try and cover all bases with as much energy and precision as they can muster.
As a mum of three children between the ages of seven and eleven, these challenges are very much within my daily experience and the Christmas period, moving into the new year, offered me time to live and breathe the challenges - as well as reflect on them. To be clear, I love working and I love being a mum. Whilst there are of course differing complexities within each situation, the large majority of my clients and friends share the same perspective. There are many elements of the fast-paced juggle which are exhilarating, offering variety and fun. Completing a successful delivery for a new client and then sitting down with my children to hear about playground politics is a glorious contrast which I thoroughly appreciate and we need to explore how best to thrive within both ‘worlds’, without burning out.
As soon as December hit, I found myself juggling work commitments, children and school events to a point where I had so many balls in the air, it was inevitable a few would be dropped. Heading towards the end of term can be particularly overwhelming; remembering mufti days, various donations, nativity performances, assemblies, collections for the teachers’ gifts, being coaxed into helping at the school fair, all whilst trying to manage our busy work diaries.
I was craving time with the kids without the demands of their incessant routines and my work. Too often I’d be making dinner, reading emails and diffusing arguments simultaneously. I wanted to say ‘yes!’ rather than ‘in a minute, I’ve just got to….’ and I idealised what the Christmas holidays would look like.
Naturally, the idyllic scenario didn’t happen. Thankfully there were moments of exquisite happiness and there were moments when I felt I had failed.
I spoke to my Strevas colleague Nikki (also a mum of three) and we agreed that although December it isn’t the ‘norm’, it does highlight the relentless nature of balancing work with motherhood.
I also recognised that there are some common themes which crop up with many of our clients, which are helpful for me to remember. In short, practice what I preach! Here are three key areas to focus on – I’m challenging myself to start the year doing a few things differently:
Reframing the negative talk
Rather than focusing on what we’re failing to do and therefore framing things in the negative, try focusing on what we’re achieving. Also, try to understand why we feel we are failing; is it accurate or just a story we are telling ourselves? If we made a list of all the things we did achieve in a day/week/month, we’re likely to be pleasantly surprised.
In conversations with others
This negative self-talk can filter into the way we speak about ourselves to others. Often, I make small jokes or seemingly light-hearted comments about ‘mum-fails’. There could be various reasons for this; sometimes a defence mechanism, criticising myself before anyone else can. Or perhaps, it’s just a habit I’ve fallen into; the habit of being hard on myself. Endeavouring to be as kind to ourselves as we would be to a close friend can be a first step to cutting out the negative self-talk.
Personally, I am realising that although on the surface, these seemingly innocent jokes may do no harm, they are reinforcing an underlying belief that I am not doing well enough; that I am failing in some way. By replacing ‘I’m so last minute and disorganised’ with ‘I have too many things to organise and it’s difficult’, I might take a small step towards cutting out the negative self-talk.
Resist making comparisons
Often, our negative self-talk can stem from (or cause us to) fall into the trap of making comparisons with others’ perceived successes. It’s helpful to remember that we can’t possibly know everybody’s circumstances and we mostly likely aren’t comparing apples with apples. Work on the discipline of keeping the focus on your career and your family; we all have different strengths and different lives and comparisons really are the thief of joy.
Allow some time to think and plan
Gifting ourselves the permission to take half an hour or, ideally an hour, to take a step back and work out what we want our day or week to look like, can truly shift some of the pressure. This offers the opportunity to consider a) what do we want to achieve, b) what is actually manageable and c) identify the things that just aren’t working. Often, I strive to get so much done in a day, in my various guises, that by the end of the day I feel I haven’t achieved anything effectively.
By being realistic about what my day is going to look like, I’m already recognising the shift in my mood at 9am, from a feeling of slight overwhelm (or panic on a particularly busy day) to feeling motivated. I’ve committed to another small, yet significant change– I no longer attempt to work while the children have their dinner. That is time for me to stop completely and spend half an hour talking to them about their day and being completely present.
Of course, we all know that so often, promises made during January are broken by February, as they just aren’t sustainable, which in turn feeds the feeling of failure. By keeping these shifts small yet significant, realistic and manageable, it’s more likely they can carry us through 2024.