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What I’ve Learned About "The Balance" From Interviewing Working Mothers

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Disappointing statistics, wonderful wisdom and tactful tips.

Lucinda McKimm is the host of Ready or Not, a podcast for and about mothers (and all parents) who make work, work. Follow Ready or Not on Instagram here.

Photography by Alarna O’Connell

As a mother whose maternity leave time is nearly up, I’ve made it my business to interview mothers and parents on how they make work, work. While their stories, their relationships, and their careers look different, some key themes have emerged.

Here, I thread together some of the worst statistics, best advice, reflections, and takeaways from journalists, doulas, psychologists, authors, and leaders.

Women are still doing more household work than men in heterosexual relationships

“There’s a lot of research that shows the caring pattern that is set in the first year of a child’s life persists over the course of their life,” according to Georgie Dent, Executive Director of The Parenthood, a not-for-profit on a mission to make Australia the best place in the world to be a parent.

If we want to create more equal households and for mothers to feel more supported in workplaces, it all starts with parental leave, which at the moment, is geared towards keeping mothers in heterosexual relationships at home.

It will come as no surprise then, that according to a study published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, mothers’ household work doubles after the birth of their first baby, while the mean hours spent on housework remains consistent for men.

For the mother that returns to paid work, this tends to lead to an overwhelming weight on her shoulders if nothing has been done to divide the labour at home.

So, how do we divide the invisible load? Communication is key

Whether it is planning the week ahead or making sure your partner understands where you are emotionally and energetically, doula Charlotte Squires (The Living Doula) highlights the importance of communication in order to get the best out of our relationships and ourselves.

“Communication has always been a strength in our relationship and it’s important that we meet one another where we are at,” Squires says.

Psychologist Yara Heary (Life After Birth Psychology) notes that a great way to improve communication and share the load is to consider your family as a business.

“You can try and do every single thing in your business if you want to, but it won’t go very far because you can’t do everything,” Heary says.

Holding family meetings can be a great way to improve communication and delegation. Take turns in who holds the meetings, who writes the lists, and who executes the items on that list.

Find (and come back to) your why

Particularly during times of overwhelm, Charlotte Squires and Yara Heary touch on coming back to your why. Why does your work matter, or why does stepping away from work to be with your family feel right at this time? Finding and coming back to your why will help to focus on what’s important and re-assess how things are feeling in your life.

Enlisting support is important, because we were never meant to do it on our own

Our personal and financial differences mean that support will look different for everyone, but differences aside, a common thread among the mothers I’ve interviewed is the need to find and enlist support in a way that works for you and your family.

As Chief Strategy Officer of Mekanism, Ambika Gautam Pai puts it:

“I don't think anyone understands how our societal structure and the structure of the nuclear family and this myth of self-sufficiency and being independent and doing it all on your own is so damaging, because parenting was never meant to be done in this way.”

If your friends and family are not within reach, Charlotte Squires suggests observing and mirroring the way our kids interact with new friends in order to find and build your community.

In order to set expectations, Yara Heary suggests being realistic about who you can turn to for what. Some family members might be better for practical help, while some friends are better for emotional support. Identifying who you can turn to in different scenarios will make you feel more held while reducing potential disappointment.

Hating a lot of elements of mothering doesn’t mean you hate motherhood, and it’s okay to look forward to returning to work

Perinatal Counsellor Gemma Smith (Together Perinatal) knows all too well that taking the maximum amount of maternity leave doesn’t work for every single mum, because, as it turns out, she doesn’t love looking after babies.

“Nobody is putting their hand up saying, you know what's great? Waking up 700 times a night,” says Smith.

“Changing poo, getting spewed on, having mastitis, sitting down and looking at a thing roll around on the floor for two hours, holding screaming babies…a lot of it really sucks.”

Think of this as a sign to forgive yourself for not loving every moment and for looking forward to – or enjoying being back at – work.

I know. Everyone has told you that it goes fast and to savour every moment. But, guess what? Those people have the beauty of hindsight, and it’s not always possible to love every moment while you’re in the throes of parenting.

Repeat after us: you can really love being a mum and motherhood, and you can hate a lot of elements of mothering. You can really love being a mum and motherhood, and you can love getting away from it to focus on other passions.

Making time for yourself isn’t always easy, but it matters

As parents, finding time can ebb and flow depending on where your kids are at. Being realistic about what you can get will ultimately help you achieve carving out time, be that for rest, socialising, fitness, or business.

During Yara Heary’s early parenting days, that meant having a baby strapped to her chest often, but now that the kids are older, it looks like yoga and coffee with friends.

In a business sense, author, doula and founder of Gather Women Space Gabrielle Nancarrow says you have to make a conscious daily effort to do something if it really matters to you.

Continue to push for it, communicate why you need the time to do it and go easy on yourself. If pursuing a business idea currently looks like ten minutes here and another ten there, so be it. Be kind, go slow and acknowledge that life looks a little different for now.

Charlotte Squires agrees that you need to give yourself more time and that if it’s feasible, plan business or work around your kids’ milestones so that you’re not overwhelming yourself with too many moving parts at the same time.

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