Dealing with the Pain of Being a Working Mummy
I am a mum to a lively young boy who loves to be with me and is always on the go. I also have my own marketing agency, a partner with his demands, not to mention my parents and friends. With all these things pulling at me, tugging at my heart strings and fighting over their slice of a finite amount of time, I always seem to be saying no, or failing to give as much as I feel I should to any one person or project.
No one warned me about this of course. When I fell pregnant, no one warned me that as well as all the other emotions that would bombard my system; love, fear, gratitude…, I would also have to deal with Mummy Guilt.
Being a working mother brings with it many practical situations for me to work around, but those I could handle. It was the guilt and feeling of utter failure I was not ready for. How was I supposed to successfully juggle a busy life with a child?
I have visions of my son on a shrink’s couch in 20 years’ time, discovering that all his insecurities and inability to commit come from his feelings of being rejected by his ‘working’ mum day after day. Scary thought!
It is no secret to any of us that children have a sixth sense about our weak points. I often catch my son reinforcing these feelings in funny but hurtful ways. Like the time when he was a mere 2 years old and ‘negotiating’ about going to bed. Who knew they learn those skills so early in life! My gorgeous boy actually said, “But Mummy I can’t go to bed, I have too much work to do on my computer.” Ouch, I wonder where he got that from?!
Or the time he asked me to play Mummies and Babies and said he would be the mummy and when I asked him to play with me he said that he couldn’t because he had some work to do, and went into the office with his toy laptop. Yep, that one stung just a little.
Or worse still when he recorded on a shooting star game that he wished his mummy never had to leave him to go to meetings! Ouch, an arrow right to the heart. Worse still, it is saved on that damn game just for posterity.
I know I can’t be the only one feeling like this. This is the classic working mum problem that even with a very supportive partner, loads of extra-curricular activities and a home office, I still seem to be struggling with.
But I am getting better, little by little and here’s how I’ve dealt with both the guilt and the hurtful behaviour.
I realised that when I was saying no to him when he got back from school, it was upsetting him and leading him to badger me for the rest of the day.
Nowadays I either book my off-site client meetings when he’s due to come back from school early, so I am out of sight and out of mind. Or, I make sure to give him half an hour of ‘Mummy Time’ and then go back to work when he’s had his fill – which generally works as long as he isn’t feeling too needy.
Basically, I set boundaries and show him that it isn’t always possible to have Mummy but that I still love him. It seems kids respond incredibly well to boundaries. Someone should tell the author of “The Mummy Bible” that. You know, that book we are all given the day we give birth… (let me have a copy of that if you come across it).
I also decided to speak to him seriously after he asked me for the tenth time why I couldn’t be there, or why I sometimes had to work at the weekends. I explained that Mummy had to work to earn the money if he wanted toys, to go out to restaurants and do fun stuff.
I explained that I love him and that I would always be there if he really needs me, but that he had to let me do some work as well. Boundaries again.
I had to explain this a few times, but amazingly it seems to have sunk in and he has since repeated my own words back to me a few times. He understands now that I have to work so he can have his toys. I am not sure if this is too early to learn this life lesson, but he doesn’t seem unhappy about it and he’s certainly taken the pressure off me for working, which is a huge relief.
I am now trying to give myself a break on all counts – delegate better at work and focus on what’s important, as well as not being afraid to tell clients that it would take longer for something to get done during the holidays, or if my son is unwell.
I was surprised how understanding everyone was when I did say I couldn’t do things right away, and so that has taken away a lot of the guilt and fear I was feeling on the work front.
I am now much smarter about managing my time. For example, I am writing this in the car whilst my son is at a sports’ class. I have picked him up from school, dropped him off at class and will be back again when he’s finished so he feels valued, meanwhile I still get to share these ramblings with you!
Being a working mum will always be a difficult and emotional thing to do, but I can also admit that I was certainly being a martyr at times, not asking for the help I needed as I thought that made me a bad Mum/Entrepreneur/Girlfriend/Friend. To my surprise, there are lots of people ready and happy to help without judgement; people who were actually just waiting to be asked.
We’re not superhuman and we’re all doing our best. Sometimes that means we miss a meeting (work or school) or our child is grumpy as we couldn’t go to that party with them, but as long as kids and clients feel loved then surely they can’t ask for much more?
Ladies please let’s support each other on this! I think too many people try to pretend that they have perfect lives, rather than telling the truth about the compromises, guilt and chaos. This pretence is doing our fellow mums a disservice, as they walk away feeling even worse about their failings and have even more guilt about what they are doing wrong in the face of all this apparent perfection. We are all doing the best job we can, under so much pressure to get it right, so let’s give ourselves – and each other – a break.
God knows what my son will say about me when he grows up, but I give him loads of love, affection, praise and encouragement and if I can be a role model and show him that you have to work hard to be a success, and you can do anything by putting your mind to it, then I will feel proud.
I love my work and I love my son and although that makes for a complicated life, I am coming to terms with being able to do everything well enough, and making sure that I give 100% focus to my boy when he really needs it… but not feel bad about working at the weekend if he’s just chilling in front of the TV.
I have committed to my partner to do a regular date night, so let’s see if I can get another tick in the box – I’ll let you know how that goes.
(Note from The Editor. Many thanks to Georgina Shaw for being so candid in her guest post. Georgina is Director and Founder of Shaw Marketing Services on the Costa del Sol in Spain, providing online and offline marketing, PR and design services, copywriting and blog writing. You can read more about Georgina and her business over on her Facebook or Twitter pages or author page here.)