Working Mums: A Survival Guide for This Tough Gig

Feel like you are going in to combat every day as you try to execute your morning ‘get out of the house’ plan to navigate your way through your working day and then return to the battlefield of homework, dinner and domestic mess at the end of the day? You need a survival plan for working mums!

Being a working mum is one tough gig, but it doesn’t have to be the near impossible struggle that many women feel it is.  With a plan, some well-tuned negotiation skills, a supportive tribe and some realistic expectations, being a working mum can be a fulfilling and very satisfying chapter in your career as well as a period of important role modelling for your family.

One of the most important elements to finding success as a working mum, is firstly determine what success looks like to you and your family.  This critical element is one that is often neglected resulting in forging ahead on a path that is unquestioned and a cause of stress and pressure.    Another point to note is that every women, work & financial situation, family values and needs of children will be different so your plan must be your own and designed to suit your unique circumstances.  What works for one household or employer, may not work for another, so learn from the examples of others but keep unhealthy comparisons at bay.

Here are 10 steps to help you to create your own working mums survival plan.

1.    Have realistic expectations.

I could write chapters on this point but to keep it succinct….you are not super woman!  Yes you are capable of great things but let’s keep the cape in the wardrobe for dress ups only.   I was once told that I could not “have it all” which was like waving a red flag in front of a bull (I’m a Taurus so stubborn and pig headed are my birthright) and I stormed ahead to prove that person wrong and in the process I burnt out and was miserable.  What I have come to understand is that I can have it all (whatever ‘all’ means to me) but maybe not all at the same time.  The baby and toddler years were a very short period of time in my career and it was ok to adjust my career goals during that time.  If only someone had told me that!!
Having realistic expectations also relates to getting clear with what I can and can’t do in a 24 hour day.  I know for sure that I can’t do 10 hours at work on the same day as doing a pump class, cook dinner, clean the bathroom, do 4 loads of washing, be attentive and calm during homework time, make cup-cakes for shared recess for the following day and prepare for an early morning meeting the next day.   It’s more likely to look something like this ….. grab take away on the way home, sit and try really hard not to touch my phone while I repeat calming mantras to myself while helping the kids do homework, throw the load of washing from the dryer on top of the mountain of clothes that are unlike to ever be put away, prepare for my meeting after the kids go to bed, do squats in the bathroom while I’m brushing my teeth, leave an extra $20 out for my cleaner the next time she comes and grab shared recess from the bakery the next morning on the way to school.

2.    Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

You don’t have to agree to carry on with things as they are or as they have always been.   Take your situation in to your own hands and negotiate a plan that is ideal for you and keep adjusting it as your career and needs of your family evolve.  My big tip here is negotiate on both fronts…domestically and professionally.

3.    Delegate & outsource

Assess your budget and consider the cost of your time as you decide what to do for yourself and what to outsource.   There are some fantastic services out there that can pretty much do most things for you for a fee.  Consider these: ironing services, cleaners, party planners, personal assistants or concierge services, caterers, meal delivery services, gardeners, dog walkers, personal organisers….and the list goes on.  Come along to the Working Mums Survival Expo to connect with some amazing support services just for working mums in Adelaide.  Want to learn more?  Click Here.

4.    Learn to ask for help

Asking for help doesn’t always come easy, but as a working mum its essential you get this one down to expert precision.  Consider things that you also have to offer in exchange for help from other mothers or co-workers.   It’s the old economy of you scratch my back and Ill scratch yours.

5.    Find your tribe

In my experience, the women who seem better able to deal with challenges associated with being a working mum and those who thrive in their careers during the transition back to work periods, are those who don’t go it alone.  There is no better source of knowledge and support than other working mums who are experiencing similar changes, challenges and lessons.

6.    Let go of perfectionism

Perfectionism is a killer of joy and satisfaction…..and it’s boring!  Seriously! Who wants to be a cookie cutter picture of bland perfection anyway?   Again, I could go on and on about this topic so, rather than do that, just get this book.  ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brene Brown.

7.    Self-care is a must

Looking after yourself so you can look after your children, your relationships, your home life and your career is not a nice to have or something to put on your to do list.  It’s an essential part of being a working mum.  You WILL burn out and you WILL work yourself in to a resentful, moaning, nagging and worn out friend, wife, mother and employee if you don’t take responsibility for giving a little bit of time to yourself for whatever allows you to refuel.   You have been told!

8.    Know your why & stop explaining, making excuses or seeking approval

Own your decision to be a working mum.  Your reasons are personal to you and your family and don’t require any explanation or justification to anyone.   You also don’t need approval from anyone to do what you believe is right for you, your career and your family.   By letting go of the need for approval, you are also able to let go of a lot of stress that comes from pre-conceived ideas that you may have regarding things you think you SHOULD be doing.   Try to be respectful of your own choices and those of other mums you know.

9.    Expect things to fall apart once in a while

Things won’t always go to plan and that’s ok.  Fortunately this is not the military so national security is not at stake.   You will be late to work once in a while, the kids will get sick, you will most likely miss a deadline or forget casual day at school and there may be weeks when you eat take away 3 nights in row.  It’s ok!  Give yourself a break.  The worst things any working mum can do when things fall apart is to continue to strive for perfection, pretend like everything is ok and put more pressure on top of an already pressured situation.   When things don’t go to plan, just stop, take stock, connect with your tribe and do your best.  Also pouring yourself a glass of wine at the end of the day almost always helps.

10.    Plan like a Project Manager

You may not be running the military, but planning as if you were isn’t a bad idea.  I aim to plan out my week on a Sunday night and it’s a strategy I have successfully adopted for a decade now.  My plans don’t always work out of course, but I enter the week with some structure and a schedule for everyone in the family.  It means we all get to do most of what we aim for.  I think all working mums are more than entitled to put at the top of their resume in big bold letters; HIGHLY DEVELOPED ORGANISATIONAL SKILLS.  It comes with the territory!

So there you have it.  A survival plan for working mums.
Want a little more guidance or support??  Come and see me at the Working Mums Survival Expo at the Prospect Town Hall on the 29th of Oct between 10:00am and 2:00pm.  Tickets are just $15 and are on sale here.

I hope to see you there!