Its not easy being a fulltime working mother - not only do we have to cope with the pressures of work, but we also have a house and family to run and we live with the guilt that we're not doing any of it well enough. I'm sorry if you think the title of this post is a bit sexist - don't fathers need coping strategies too? Yes I'm sure they do, but I'm not a father, so I can’t comment on that. My husband works incredibly hard and he has his own coping strategies which are very different to mine. He works long hours and often 7 days a week in a very physically demanding job, so the running of the household (cleaning, cooking, shopping, washing and finances) is down to me as is the day-to-day sorting of the kids (remembering things for school, lifts to parties, activities, doctors appointments etc). Being a mother of 5 and running a house the size of a football pitch (no really, I'm not joking) is a fulltime job in itself - you have no idea how much washing my family generate for a start, so its a small miracle I manage to fit in working full time running our garden centre and landscaping business too. I give a snapshot of my life in this post A Day in the life of a Mother in France Oh, and then there's the gardening club we run and the students I find host families for from time to time and then of course I have our 3 holiday apartments to manage. No wonder I'm finding it difficult to squeeze a bit of blogging in too, oh and what's happened to my book… it’s a work in progress!
So, what's my secret? How do I manage to keep going without buckling under the pressure. Well I'm far from perfect and sometimes I do buckle - there are times when I snap and scream and very occasionally I get to the point where I think I can't take any more, but usually I carry on regardless and still manage to enjoy life on the way.
Manage your Time Wisely
One of my biggest coping strategies is planning ahead, prioritizing and saving time wherever possible. I write lists, lots of them. I have so many things to remember it would be impossible to recall them all without writing them down. I have a daily to do list for work and one for home. Then I have longer term to do lists - things that need doing but aren't urgent. Then I have a shopping list, meal planner list for the week and lots of specific project lists for work and home. I have them all listed on my blackberry so whenever something pops into my head that needs doing or perhaps a good idea about something, ill just add to the list or make a new one. I have about 14 lists on the go at the moment. Sometimes, if I've got time, I'll write the daily to do list on a notepad I keep in my handbag. I find it very satisfying crossing off the list and it helps me to keep referring to it throughout the day to keep me from getting side tracked onto something non essential. I explain a bit more about my Time Management Strategies in this post Step 10 - Use Your Time Wisely
Focus on the job in hand
Because I have so many roles, I have to try focus on whatever I'm doing fully. For instance, when I'm at work I have to forget about home and kids and concentrate fully on what I have to get done at the office. Come 6pm I have to switch into mother mode and start thinking about picking the kids up, shopping, what to make for tea etc. When I'm at home I have to try to switch off from work and concentrate on the house and family. It’s not easy, but I find its the only way I can get anything done.
Set yourself realistic goals and do the essentials first. Don't try to do too much. I'm a bit of a perfectionist in my work, but I have to accept that not everything can be perfect all the time. When you have too many things to do and not enough time to do them all, you have to put the most important and urgent first and the non essentials have to be left to when you have more time. (Sometimes I find if I leave them long enough, by the time I get round to doing them they don’t need doing any more!)
I'm not a great lover of routine, but I must admit that where there is routine in my life, things work out more smoothly. Particularly with a large family its important that everyone knows what they are doing and when. We have a daily routine which is more or less stuck too - that's not to say were rigid about it because it’s important to have some spontaneity in your life, but general routines help us to cope when there's a lot to do and children definitely respond better to routines.
Find time for yourself
If you’re working and running a family and home it’s difficult to find time to yourself but it's really important you try. I've found that by finding some time to do things I want to do rather than things I have to do, it helps me to cope better with everything. My husband takes the kids to school on his way to work most days which gives me a vital hour before I leave for work to tidy up and get myself prepared for the day. Monday is also my day off which gives me chance to catch on chores without the kids home and I always try to find some time during that day to do something I enjoy. (see my post Step 7 – Find Time for yourself.)
Ignore what's unimportant
My house is not spotless, my office is often messy, I've got papers piled up that need sorting and my washing baskets are always overflowing. I'm not super woman and I can't fit another thing into my day without collapsing with exhaustion. I've had to become blinkered to the non essential and stop worrying about what others think of me. There are times when it gets to me - especially when I get some criticism from someone who should know better. I do what I can with the time that I've got and if that's not enough, then tough!
Don't just cope, get help
Working mothers are the unsung heroes of society. We work, we cook, we clean, we manage our families, often the household finances and mostly single handedly (even if we do have partners). Not only do we usually do all these things unquestioningly but we also feel guilty about asking for help, like it makes us seem bad mothers or wives if we admit to the fact we need help. Why??? Yes its important to find coping strategies, but also we should be looking at ways of making our lives easier and reducing the load a little. If anyone offers help, accept it! If you can afford to get someone in to help with the housework, then do! Don't feel guilty - you’re trying to manage 2 fulltime jobs so you’re entitled to help! Get the kids and your partner to clear up after themselves and help out too. Don't be a doormat like me!!
Now I'm going to go off to make a list of all the ways my family could help instead of expecting me to do it all and moaning at me if its not done to their satisfaction! I feel a rota coming on.......