Recessions in the 1970s brought more mothers into the workforce, something that prior to that, wasn't done. Before then women worked until they got married, and then they stopped paid work to take care of the house and children. In the '80s, when many of us were kids, majority of mums were at home. Now we're the parents, and majority of us work. We spend 6 times more on childcare and generally, are the ones working part-time and flexible hours so that we can still manage 30 hours of housework and 30 hours of childcare a week. We're the first generation to be doing it like this. It’s a brave new world, with moments of exhaustion, frustration, pure joy, and satisfaction (rare, but real good). We asked six mums in various industries to tell us how they make work, well, work.
Sarah, Freelance Journalist and Digital Marketer
Before baby: I was a digital nomad (remember when that was a thing) travelling around the world and working as a freelance beauty, lifestyle and wellness journalist (for both mags and websites here, and in the US) and also running a small digital marketing agency with my partner for two years before I fell pregnant. I was lucky in that I had established a flexible freelance career beforehand, and had a couple of years to get used to the flow and (often) inconsistent pace of freelance life so I’d had all my meltdowns/ freakouts/ identity crises prior to the two blue lines.
Returning to work: I hit pause on the editorial work I’d been doing for a few months, but was back on the tools for our clients from about week two. My partner works alongside me, which also meant we had two sets of hands, so I was delusional enough to think that it would be fine to be back doing small bits of work so soon. Ha! I had not factored in the brain fog, the nomina asphasia (difficulty recalling nouns - it’s a real thing!) or the fact that I was so damn tired the words swam on the screen. Or even the fact that simply, especially in those early days my son just needed his mum more so I was going to do more of the work. I had headed into it an absolute rookie with all the confidence of someone who’d never had kids before. With my second, I got to makeup for that and worked ahead, giving myself three months off – and thank God I did because that entire time I was a hot mess.
Being a working mum: I think the ambition of making it “to the top” diffused. My priorities changed, but more importantly my idea of success changed too. I had been at the top before (I was the Editor of a magazine for 5 years), I had earned great money and none of that had made me happy. What success now looks like is being able to pursue my passions (which incidentally is what I get to do for work), while we both work to support our family, and also be there to watch them grow up. Now, with two boys, the challenge is the daily chaos! Whereas when I just had Yuki I would work a lot in nap times, but when Miko (now one) was born they weren’t on the same nap schedule so I was just working for a couple hours after bedtime. I fought it at first, and it would give me so much anxiety that I couldn’t get it done, but now I’ve accepted that this is my new normal. I might get 3-4 hours a day of work (if I’m lucky) but I also work on weekends, because I’m not in the standard 9-5. And my god do I make those hours count! I can’t believe I used to sit at a desk for 8 hours a day - what did I do with my time?! I’m so much more productive because I don’t have time for procrastination, I just need to get the shit done before I hear the first cry. Now that the boys are older, my partner and I will give each other work time during the day while the other looks after the kids, especially if either is on deadline so that definitely helps having another working parent there to share the load. I’m grateful to work with incredible clients (most, working mums themselves) who are cool with zooms interrupted by breastfeeding or little faces photobombing meetings. I also launched another business a couple weeks before Miko was born (It sounds crazy but I get super creative when pregnant) – a beauty newsletter called gloss etc, which I launched with another ex-Marie Claire beauty editor, and honestly my co-founder, Sherine is the most incredibly understanding and supportive human. She never blinks at the 3am WhatsApps or after-after hours, or the fact I often can’t string a sentence together. I couldn’t have done it without her. I guess the moral here is: surround yourself with good people. I don’t have time for those who don’t or won’t understand.
Working mum mantra: Find your new normal – whatever that looks like for you, and be ok with that. That includes your workload, how many hours you can work in a day, how much energy you can output, and even the type of work you take on. I now consciously only work with clients or projects that I feel aligned with, because if it’s going to take time away from my sons, it needs to be worth it. It may take time (it did for me) but you’ll get there. Things aren’t the same, and they never will be again, but that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a change. Don’t try and fit your old life into your new one – that’s like trying on your pre-preg jeans (why would you do it do yourself?!). Buy some new jeans, get them tailored to this life. Ten years ago if you told me this would be the way I was “doing it” I would’ve told you to get off the crack. But this version of my life works for our family. It was unexpected, but in the best way possible.