14 years ago I was Director of European HR for a global computer games company headquartered in Los Angeles. Whilst 5 months pregnant I flew to our annual team meeting and compared data on both obstetrics and employees!
I was lucky to have a supportive husband, boss and colleagues and was senior enough to organise my work as needed; I had experience working internationally and was known and trusted to deliver positive outcomes for the business.
A Californian colleague was offered the opportunity to cover my maternity leave in London, and we duly arranged an apartment near my home. If needed, once my daughter was asleep, she’d pop over for ‘working dinners’ and we’d discuss the challenges and possible solutions to issues at hand.
Eight months later I was able to juggle working from the office with the odd day from home. With an international remit, as long as I was available, it didn’t matter where I was physically. I was also lucky that my husband’s company was truly supportive of working fathers; I didn’t have to worry about them paying lip service to their paternity policy and we were able to share childcare.
I’m now consulting with the flexibility that affords, and my daughter is in senior school so things are easier in terms of caring arrangements, although more complex in terms of juggling emotions and devices! She’s bright, healthy and hardworking, all that you can ask for really…
Reflecting on the past 13 years, here are my 7 tips for ditching the guilt as a working mum:
- Agree key outcomes with your boss – and deliver on them. Whether you’re working from the office or elsewhere, deliver on your promises to stakeholders. This will allow you the flexibility you need as a working mum. Focus on your results, not presenteeism.
- Spend quality time with family, friends, colleagues – and let them know you’ve got their back. I’ve found truly listening to and engaging with those around you will pay dividends. As long as they know you are 100% supportive of them, you don’t have to be with them all the time. Encouraging independence in your child, your direct reports and colleagues fosters autonomy, self-reflection and confidence so that when they’re with you it’s a quality interaction.
- Role model flexible working to others. I’ve always tried to highlight when I’d be late after school drop off, and when I had to leave early to attend a school meeting or a medical appointment. Life happens. It’s normal. Hopefully since the pandemic everyone understands this, but working parents, particularly those in senior positions, need to continue to role model healthy behaviours to ensure they are normalised across their organisations.
- Involve kids in everyday life. Chores such as making their bed, tidying up after themselves, helping you with the dishes, laundry etc are good life skills and teach children about being part of a team, pulling their weight and that life can’t be exciting all of the time! Taking children to help select new tiles for the bathroom, for example, helps them feel their opinion is valued and they are part of the family unit.
- Boredom is good sometimes – children don’t need entertaining 24/7. As a working parent your child will need to learn how to self-entertain – without a digital device! Learning to play games by themselves, drawing, reading and writing encourages creativity, self-reliance and empowerment. This is easier at home. When out and about, I keep pens and paper, magazines and puzzle books in my bag, or fun games on my mobile for emergencies. And always know where the local park is!
- Have a support network – it’s ok to ask for help. Having a support network, particularly of other working parents, is helpful. They get it, are in the same boat and can help out in emergencies. We had a group where one parent would SOS they’re stuck at work and another would step in to collect their child from school; invariably the favour would be repaid the following week. Similarly, we would host our child’s friend one weekend, so their parents could have a night away to celebrate an anniversary, and they would return the favour a subsequent weekend, allowing us a ‘grown up getaway’. In my experience children love these ‘sleepovers’ away from home, having an adventure!
- Time for yourself. My final tip is to remember to take time out for self-care. It’s easy to be so busy with the responsibilities of a full-on job, running the household, being a good partner, mother, daughter, friend, etc, that there is little time for you! Schedule time regularly for a walk, a massage or for whatever is a special treat – you deserve it.
A research paper by Kathleen McGinn and her colleagues for Harvard Business School found that working mothers are more likely to raise successful daughters and caring, empathetic sons – so we shouldn’t worry, even though we can’t help it!
What tips do you have?
If you’d like to discuss how to better balance your career with being a working mum, and feel some coaching might help you, please get in touch.
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