There’s not a lot of downtime in the life of a busy mum. Whether you’re juggling the responsibility of a newborn or growing young family with the demands of running a home, or you’re a working mother with workplace and family commitments, it can be a challenge to manage your time – and maintain your sanity!
With a young family of her own, Sally Osman, General Manager, Emirates Home Nursing, tells it like it is. “I understand the guilt that a working mother might feel, questioning whether she is good enough at work, good enough as a mum or as a spouse.”
For Hannah Curran, Founder of plant-based nappy company, Pure Born, there isn’t one rule to fit all, as she explains: “You simply do your best, find what works for you and try not to mum guilt yourself along the way by focusing on the bigger vision – your child’s world of tomorrow.”
Planning is key to keeping life in check and that starts with a family calendar, whether it’s the shared Google/Outlook variety or a good old colour coded wall chart. We also recommend carrying a reminder journal – somewhere to jot down things for your to-do or don’t forget list, and review at the end of each day.
“Starting my day with writing everything down helps me think clearly and manage my time,” notes Sally, who also advocates setting realistic daily goals for yourself.
This one may have you rolling your eyes, but meal planning is essential for busy mums and simple tricks such as cooking double and freezing for later will easily free you up on those evenings when cooking is the last thing you want to do. Another great tip is to invest in a slow cooker for delicious one-pot meals you can come home to.
Divide and conquer is the way forward when it comes to help with household chores, especially if you don’t have someone employed at home. Keep on top of the basics and put on a laundry load before work and put it away in the evening, rather than letting it pile up for the weekend.
Helen Farmer, founder of award-winning parenting blog, The Mothership, says: “The game-changer for me as a working mum was getting help that I really trusted. Everyone needs the peace of mind that their children are in the best possible hands so you can concentrate at work – and return to happy kids!”
Adds Sally: “This has helped me a lot. As a starting point it’s important to draw up a a list of criteria that are important to you and then schedule time to interview qualified childcare providers – and that person should be someone with extensive experience, the right qualifications and reliable references.”
It’s also great to get the kids (and your spouse!) involved at home, both to take the burden off you and as a valuable life lesson (pus it’s great pocket money incentive).
Says Sally: “I try to let go and delegate more. I’ve learnt to know when to let someone else handle a task, whether it’s a colleague at work or my husband at home, plus it’s ok to ask for help.”
The Emirates Home Nursing team is a big fan of online grocery shopping and although the UAE has been slow to catch on, one-click services such as Carrefour, Kibsons and Trolley provide a time-positive alternative to post-work or weekend trawls around packed supermarket aisles.
Says Sally: “Apart from groceries, I buy everyday necessities such as toiletries, baby essentials and even last-minute gifts online.”
Children and that cycle of birthday parties invites an endless rotation of gift buying and wrapping. Stock up by buying ahead with gifts that you know will please, and don’t forget to add wrapping paper and cards to the list. Add it to your holiday to-do list as well, as toys and other gifts ae invariably cheaper in our home countries.
Your role as an unpaid chauffeur also equates to lost hours spent running offspring between endless extra-curricular activities. If you need to pop into the dry cleaner, visit the salon or head back to the office to finish up, try and establish a ‘golden triangle’ of neighbourhood stores and services so you’re not clocking up endless mileage.
In an office setting, Sally says that limiting external distractions leads to better time management, as she explains: “In the workplace, I avoid long lunches that cut into my productivity, which allows me to focus on other tasks and leave the office on time – minus the guilt.”
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and leanin.org founder hit the nail on the head when she said that “guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers.”
First and foremost, stop trying to be Superwoman and making things look easy or taking on too much. If you try to do everything all the time, then no-one else is going to jump in and help. It’s also important to learn to say ‘no’. Try it and see.
It’s also important to apply the same thinking – and action – to your job. Don’t guilt-trip about leaving the office at a reasonable time and set boundaries from the beginning when it comes to family.
Louise Karim, Managing Director of online recruitment company Mums@Work, is a firm believer that “emails can wait for an hour or two,” and recommends scheduling in technology downtime to be more present with the family
Helen adds: “I have been known to sit in the car outside my house and clear emails before going in – it sounds silly but at least then I’m not distracted when we’re together.”
Mums can all too easily be at the whim of the family and forget to take care of themselves, so schedule in some personal time every week, whether it’s ‘booking’ a Friday morning lie-in while your partner and kids cook breakfast or escaping to the park with a blanket and book for an hour.
“It’s important to remember that you are better placed to support everyone else when you are firing on all cylinders, so take an hour out for yourself every day, or whenever you can, to do something for yourself. For me, it’s a run or heading to the gym, which then gives me the energy to get everything done in my day,” elaborates Louise.
And, perhaps most importantly, make sure you have the support network of other mums. Not just to rely on to help ferry the kids around or step in when you’re stuck with a school project, but as a forum in which to whine, cry, laugh and celebrate.
Says Louise: “As well as other mums, your husband, nanny and friends are all key to being able to balance work and family life. It’s important to communicate the demands of your workload with your network and ask for support when you need it.”