This past month we (England) have been on our second lockdown. Now, I was still on maternity leave during the first lockdown, and yes we had to cancel our wedding. And our house purchase fell through. And I was made redundant. And I couldn’t go to the select few baby classes I had chosen to forebear for A’s sake. But all in all I must say, I had a marvellous time!
My partner N. was furloughed – after the initial panic of wondering whether we could survive so much contact (we both work in hospitality and since the advent of children get one night off to spend together a week. If we’re lucky. And the kids will inevitably wake up at some point) we actually relished the time we had together. N. got to eat 3 square meals a day, I no longer had to do bedtime on my own. The weather was glorious! And the rented house we were forced to take at the beginning of the year had a garden! With grass!
We are fortunate to live in an amazingly beautiful and rugged little corner of the world. We could wander into the countryside for a forage, or go for a play on the beach, all from our doorstep. We even found ourselves volunteering time for each other to be child free – before, freedom for oneself was a rationed commodity to be traded and bargained for. I practised yoga guilt free every day! Aside from missing my family and being unable to teach the kids to swim (A. has yet to realise that cold things can be fun i.e. ice lollies… or the sea) I have enjoyed 2020. There. I’ve said it. I knew it was an auspicious year when I picked it for our wedding date!
Fast forward 6 months and we are in lockdown again. But this time it’s different… E. has started school, and I have returned to work. Thankful to be offered an alternative role following my redundancy, I have found myself returning to work before I was ready. Leaving my squishy little man is still a bind, let alone getting thrown into a demanding, stressful, and busy worklife. Throw COVID into the hospitality mix and let’s just say post lockdown hasn’t been pretty.
So, lockdown mark II. N. has been furloughed again, but this time we are missing that precious gift of time. E. is still attending school (she absolutely loves school, and I am actually quite thankful that she didn’t have to miss out on her friendships, fun and her unquenchable thirst for knowledge) so I still have to do the school runs (40mins in the car thanks to the earlier house purchase debacle). And I’m still working. How do I balance my mum/work/home life? To be honest, I don’t think I’m doing that good a job of it right now…
I’m the kind of person who has to do something well. It’s all in or nothing. I would happily sacrifice hours to make sure a job was well done, and to leave my team in the best possible place in my absence. I’m a high achiever. I get stuff done. I wasn’t planning on having children when E. snuck into our lives (best surprise ever!), but as soon as she arrived my priorities changed. Returning to work was something I had to do for money, however I could no longer work the hours I had done previously.
I negotiated shorter shifts, a set rota, and actually ended up in a part time role that I loved. Pumping my milk makers half way through the day prompted me to actually take my lunch break for the first time in my working life. Not having family down here to rely on for childcare, meant me and N. tag teamed our daughter raising responsibilities – he got to spend precious time raising our daughter, and having E. waiting for me at the end of the work day meant I no longer worked over my set shift times. I was still productive. I still achieved wonderful things and surpassed expectations. But my life was balanced. I was happy at work, and at home.
Returning to work after having A. could not have been more different. Again, I could have easily stayed at home if we could have afforded it, but needs must and all that. My first day back was one week before the national lockdown lifted in July… anyone in the hospitality sector will understand what a complete sh*t show the next two months were; I was managing a new department, a new team, and constantly thinking on my feet to ensure we were complying with the latest government decision. (Remembering that people were coming to us to escape and have a much needed holiday, there was a constant battle to protect team anxieties, enforce what we thought was right, yet still provide an experience that held value.) This time I was scarfing lunch whilst operating my dual electric breast pump (no meant feat I can tell you!), checking my emails at home, and going to bed with a whole world of operational conundrums whirling around my brain.
Come September I felt that we had finally got a handle on it. I could take the odd lunch break or two, we knew what we were doing, and the government had nothing left to spring on us (i.e. what facilities I could open, and how many people I could have in one room at a time etc. etc.) I could leave work at work. I hadn’t managed to practice any yoga yet, but I was swimming in the sea when I could. I started a blog! I was finding my way back to that balanced state of a proactive and successful work-life, and an attentive, genuine momma life.
Then we lock down again and suddenly I’m fighting to innovate, develop and create revenue. If I don’t put the effort in now, then someone will be made redundant down the line. My brain is full. I’m back to looking at emails at home, and problem solving into the wee hours. I know I’m not present when N. asks me a question. My babies are running ahead into the world without me – they may be absolutely fine, but I want to be there!
So how do I break this cycle? I can’t switch off the care I have for work and I’m not going to beat myself up for being a working mum. I enjoy the challenge of work, and revel in problem solving, excelling at what I do. I am appreciative of having an active job and the creative freedom in my role. Although I would love to be a full time mum, I certainly wouldn’t want to put all the financial responsibility on N. working in a high-powered job with all the hours and stress. I love that we co-parent and raise our children together, and feel that E. and A. benefit greatly from having both of us in their lives. As always, there has to be balance.
Here are my top 5 ways to leave work at work, and create space in your mind for home life and personal sanity, time to reset, recharge and refocus;
1) Write stuff down. Whether you bullet journal, write lists, or scribble on the back of receipts - take time to decompress and get stuff out of your head. Write it down to tackle tomorrow or the next working day. DON'T OPEN YOUR EMAILS AT HOME - if you have things nagging at your mind, quickly note down what it is you need to say/send/respond too and it can be done when you're next in work.
2) Set your email auto responses in advance. A weirdly specific one, but I usually do this on my first day in, and set the time and day of my last working day/hour. This helps me to allocate and separate my work time. As I work part time, this allows for a set reply to manage any queries that come through during my time out of the office, and frees me of any need to monitor my inbox.
3) Get outside. No excuses. "There is no such thing as bad weather - just bad clothing" (our family motto). Embrace the seasons, drink in fresh air, find some horizons. Whether you use part of your lunch break to stretch your legs, or drag the kids out on a puddle splashing adventure, you will never regret heading outdoors. A physical shift can help to facilitate a mental one, when I'm immersed in the elements work doesn't even enter my mind.
4) Embrace the art of doing nothing. It may seem like I achieve a lot, but I also spend a lot of time "doing nothing". I like to watch my children play, to observe their interactions with the world. This fills me up in a way nothing else can. I also like to read. I mostly like to sleep. Work wears me out, and I know when I am tired or stressed I respond to my family differently. So, a couple of nights a week (sometimes more) I go to sleep when the kids do. I'm not a morning person, but when I do this I can get up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to make the most out of the day.
5) Prioritise. I can't set myself goals such as "take time out for yourself for 10 minutes every day". Like a sulky child I automatically retaliate by not wanting to do as I'm told. Then I get cross when I don't do it. Instead, I prioritise the things I want to do and have to do. If I prioritised doing 30 minutes of yoga each morning then I would get up and do it - instead I prioritise snuggles in bed, coffee and breakfast. And that's absolutely fine for me. It is when I look at my day and realise that I have prioritised an extra 30 minutes at work to finish one more thing that I 'needed' to do, that I question why I felt that was more important than something for myself, my children, or my partner. If you prioritise something you will make sure it gets done. Just make sure that you are prioritising the right stuff.
I know these may not work for everyone, but they certainly help me to be me – at work, at home, with my kids, and with my soon to be (hopefully) husband. This past week has highlighted how far I have tipped the balance in favour of work, and I plan to address this right now.
My thoughts have been written down. My auto response will go on first thing in the morning (after the school run). After a set 2 hours of work I will come home, have lunch with N. and A. and then take A. to find some epic puddles of the muddy swampy variety. I will go to bed early, happy in the knowledge that I have prioritised puddles over e-commerce.
#workingmomma #workingmum #mumlife #worklifebalance #lockdown