Work-Life Balance – how to be me, and a mum, and a wife, and a breadwinner

I recently returned to work 3 days a week after a year’s maternity leave and have found it challenging in ways I was not expecting. Out of my mother’s group of 7, 1 returned to work full time when her baby was 6 months, 3 of us returned part time at 1 year, and 3 are still at home full time. Each of us have our own pressure points, but the consensus is mainly that unless you schedule in time for you to be an adult, a woman, and someone with your own interests, it is simply not going to happen.

Daycare dramas: Let’s start with who is watching your bundle of joy when you are at work or pursing your own interests. There is a culture of guilt in the U.S. about putting your child into daycare and although I don’t see it as much in Australia, I just see no need to look upon time socialising with other people as a bad thing. The first full day I had at work people kept asking me how I was feeling and whether I was calling to check in on her. Not at all. Granted Wave has an easy-going disposition and if I suspected she was crying all day long, I’d feel differently, but she needs to learn to be apart from me. With the tight governmental regulation here about ratios and curriculum I think you would be hard pressed to find a place where your child wasn’t learning important things every day.  Waverley has learned valuable things like waiting at the table for a meal patiently instead of banging her little fists on the table repeatedly, sharing with other children, playing independently (the one I am most thankful for), and new words. The first time she learned something I didn’t teach her made me feel like she was really growing up, but that’s a positive thing. Learning how to interact with other people thoughtfully might be one of life’s most valuable lessons, why shouldn’t it start now.

Balancing work time and home time:

  • Working part time can take many incarnations, but I chose Wed-Fri after some discussion with other working mums. I didn’t want to bring work home with me like I used to when I was full time, so I opted to work only from the office and then have closure on a Friday of winding down and just not think about it for the next 4 days. This is very hard for me in a number of ways. For the first time I’ve had to tell a client that I just don’t do Mondays, my manager that I just can’t fit in that assignment, a team member I just can’t meet that deadline because my child was sick and I missed a day. In the current economy I feel like my neck is sticking out every time one of these things occurs. On work days it’s a mad rush to get everyone dressed, dropped off at daycare, get through the workday, pickup from daycare, get through dinner when she is so tired she is opening her mouth whilst laying her head on the dining table, bath, storytime, bed, then start to think about your dinner when all you want to do is shower yourself and just stare at the TV to wind down, and then it’s time to sleep. Fellow mum K who works fulltime says she feels like she is always doing everything halfway because she doesn’t have enough energy to dedicate to any one thing.
  • And then home time gets pressure too. At least I can catch up on laundry and grocery shop on Mondays, otherwise I’d have to waste the weekend’s family time doing the endless tasks. But if you haven’t really played with your child for a few days you feel like you have to make it count when you may really want to just read the paper or go for a solo bike ride. How to fit it all in seems difficult and the brainspace to actually think and plan any activities outside your standard routine just never seems to happen with constant distractions. Especially for mums E, K & A who don’t work, they don’t even get the brief reprieve of a break from toddler antics. I returned to work at about the right time for me to continue to value my time with Wave without being annoyed at her emptying her clothes drawers 5 times a day. Those mums are starting to think about how to engineer such a break for themselves during the week. Some women successfully share time off through a rotating schedule where one mum looks after several kids for a couple hours on day a week, but it depends on your child and your situation.

Enjoying an artsy evening

Pursuing your own interests: I recently read a book that talked about how we all try to achieve balance and identifying yourself as just a mum or just as anything, really isn’t balanced. We all had varied interests that didn’t include parenting styles and nappy contents prior to having children and making time to continue those is really important. ‘Me’ time isn’t a selfish thing, it’s a way to develop yourself so you can give your child even more than love and attention, to give them a happy role model. This includes relationships as well. I’ve tried to stick to a recommendation I heard once from a maternity nurse that every fortnight I should spend time alone with my child as should my partner, we should all spend time together, time as a couple, and time each alone. It’s so hard to truly experience time alone because I always seem to be thinking about what I need to do next (for her) or what I can do now (while she is asleep), but it’s never just me anymore. Mum E is an artist (painter) and even when her partner is playing with her baby downstairs, it’s so hard to get into a creative mindset when you can only think about the laundry that needs to be done. I make a point once a fortnight to go to local art openings and leave after Wave is in bed. It gives me some “artsy” time as my partner calls it and gives him a chance to catch up on the TV boxed set of whatever war series I have no interest in watching. When my good friend planned her hen’s weekend in Melbourne the same weekend my partner had already booked a guy’s weekend he suggested I call up my cousin. As a mother of preteens who aren’t as keen on needing her anymore, she was happy to play with the baby for two days and I was confident she knew more than me about babies. Granted she didn’t sleep as well or eat as much, but it was an experience and was worth trying out. Last month I went away with a girlfriend for 4 days to go hiking in Tasmania for my “weaning weekend.” Although I had gradually gotten down to one breastfeed in the morning, we thought it would be better for my partner to establish a new routine without me around for temptation. It was so great in unexpected ways – I got full days to just be me without scheduling around naptimes, and in an unexpected turn of events gave my partner a chance to be the star. He says whenever I am around he feels ‘second string’ because that mother-baby bond is so strong, but he really felt good being able to dress her without me saying she looks like a boy, and generally be her whole world for a few days. Sometimes when I try to do everything, I end up making him feel less needed than he truly is. Trading off with my partner is the easiest way to make sure we both get “me” time, but we have to try a bit harder to get more ‘us’ time I think.

Hiking in Tasmania Girls Trip

Hiking in Tasmania Girls Trip

Enjoying an artsy evening

About the author:

I'm Tasmin, a photographer and the mother of a boisterous 2 yr old daughter Waverley and new baby boy Charleston. After doing (too much) research when I was first pregnant I became a Phil & Teds convert and love using all their toys to make my life as a mum easier. My partner and I love to travel and Waverley has 5 countries on her passport already! I have also co-founded Portrait Equality which loans instant cameras to travelling photographers so they can give out family portraits along their journey. Enjoy following us on our journeys as we share them with you and our families..