10 tips for the working parent on reducing stress – what I’ve learned about the balancing act and success.
I have just celebrated two years since joining Beca and being back at work after seven years at home as a stay at home mum. What a journey the last two years have been! I would like to share my story and all the things that I have learnt over this time about balancing work with family.
When I first joined Beca I was so excited and appreciative even to have an opportunity to wear nice clothes again, to ‘use my mind’, and generally to just have an aspect to my life that didn’t revolve around the household and kids (I have three primary aged). In some respects I think the first six months were more of a mental challenge for my husband and kids than for me – I was riding high on infatuation with working!
But after about nine months the honeymoon factor started wearing off and I started feeling stressed out. I was feeling the pressure from the job and from home to do everything perfectly – to keep up with the standards that I had set myself both at work and at home. My manager and team were very supportive during my stress-out moments which I started having more frequently. They always reminded me that I was doing a great job, to put my hand up for help, and that the world wouldn’t end if things weren’t done perfectly.
They also reminded me to check my capacity and to say no sometimes. But being relatively new to the company and being ambitious and curious, I wanted to be involved in whatever I could, and to be helpful to others. Overall, I was on a mission to prove myself. In order to keep up, I was not ever ‘switching off’ from work, was frequently checking emails at home, reading about the latest developments in my profession, and taking my laptop home almost every day. I was literally running on coffee, which was only raising my cortisol levels, affecting my sleep, and making me more tired and stressed.
At home, I started to feel mummy guilt around things like not having the time or energy to make my child the winning costume for the disco, or not cooking to my previous ‘masterchef’ standards. I guess I started to mourn for those nurturing kind of things I had to give up and that I took for granted pre-working. Don’t get me wrong, I was still loving the job immensely, but was not looking through rose-tinted glasses anymore.
In an effort to relieve the mummy guilt, I would wear myself out even more in the weekends by doing lots of special things for the kids. I thought that by cooking up a storm I was doing something creative that would refresh me. I was also spending a good deal of weekend time on housework. And then there was still my husband to share quality moments with (although they were becoming few and far between).
Something had to give, and my husband wasn’t in a position to offer much help with running the households or kids, as his job has no regular schedule and he has to travel often. I finally reached a point where I accepted that working mum’s can’t have it all, and that I had to make either career or family compromises.
I am now glad to say that I have turned a mental corner and now have a much healthier outlook on the balancing act. I am calmer at work, at home, I am sleeping better, and I now believe that I can mostly have it all! I have re-defined what success as a working mum would mean. Previously I was viewing it as having a super duper career and a perfectly happy family. But what was missing in that equation was myself. Success for me now is looking after No.1. It dawned on me that if you take care of yourself, being a great parent, spouse, and worker will follow.
I now prioritise some healthy habits and ‘me’ time to stay calm. I’m not saying I don’t ever get stressed – I’m only human, but I am in a much more centred place that I know will help me though when the going gets tough.
Here are my top tips for staying happy and feeling in control (generally but there will still be mental moments) as a working mum:
- Make time for yourself: No matter what, every week- this is not optional! And use that time to do something for yourself (not someone else).
- Put perfectionism to bed: Accept that doing everything perfectly is not benefiting you.
- Find something you are passionate about and that refreshes you: Make it a part of your life every week. For me it is fine arts – what would yours be? This has probably been the most important key to being able to switch off.
- Cut out (or down on) the coffee: I now mostly drink Green Tea and this helps me feel mentally alert and calms me. Best of all – it doesn’t affect my sleep!
- Walk: Walking gives you time to refresh your mind, to notice the world/nature and to breathe – all good for the body and soul.
- Speak up when you are overloaded: Both at home and at work – plan ahead when you know you are going to have an overscheduled week and get help from hubby, family, friends and your colleagues.
- Hire help: If you can afford it get a cleaner, or enlist hubby and the kids. Order groceries online.
- Get rid of the mummy guilt: Know that by working you are helping your children to be more adaptable and independent, and that you are a role model for working hard to meet your goals. Remind yourself that kids need quality not quantity time!
- Switch off: Turn off your devices, TV, radio – anything that distracts or interrupts your train of thought. Our worlds are noisy (especially with kids), so take some time for quietness to refresh your mind and sort through the noise in your head.
- Get enough sleep: Give in to tiredness – go to bed early.