In my last two articles I presented the joys and the difficulties of being a work-at-home mother. With this article, I would like to introduce the different views of other working mothers, who also work from home or who are based in an office, starting with a few numbers and statistics.
You will maybe notice a difference in opinion between some of the mothers of different nationalities, but what they all have in common is the will to make their situation work, even if it is more difficult for some to deal with the strain of childcare and the cost of it. It is the common subject that all working mothers can share when they have pre-school aged children.
According to the British Office for National Statistics more working mums are working full time. More than ten years ago, in 1996, statistics showed that 23 % of mothers worked full time whereas, by the end of 2011, numbers had increased by 7 %. In March 2011 the numbers showed that there was then just less than 1% difference between mums who work and women without children who work.
At the beginning of the year numbers demonstrated that many women with small children were back into full time employment, partly due to the credit crunch. 150,000 more mothers with children under the age of five are working a five day week.
Between January and March 2013 official statistics show that the number of stay-at-home mothers has dropped: 40,000 fewer women were looking after their family and home with the wish to return to work after their maternity leave.
But a new trend has also been observed in the last few years: Yes, mothers want to get back in the saddle and resume their professional activities but more often than not they manage to find an agreement with their employer to work from home, at least part time. And in so doing mothers can still combine both professional and family life.
Finding the right work-family life balance
Amongst the mothers interviewed, I have gathered from their answers that they have all found the right balance between family and professional life when returning to work after their maternity leave. For some it is necessary to work, not just for financial reasons, but rather for their own good and happiness. Their wish to continue to have a professional activity is encouraged by the need to have their own independence, seeking personal achievement and fulfilment.
«I find real pleasure in working. A mother fulfilled at work is a happy mum with her children, her husband and her family», says Isabelle, working full-time from home as a planning manager. Just like Sylvie, also working full-time from home as a project coordinator, she really feels the need to work and was very happy to start «using her brain» again after her maternity leave: «I would never have imagined not working at all. I need to work to find the right balance between my family life and my professional life. Working is part of my own personal development.»
For most working mothers I know, this gives them a «sense of achievement», just as my good friend Jennifer tells me: «I like having to get out of the house, I like having to get dressed in smart office clothing and having to look presentable, and I like feeling a sense of achievement in the tasks I have accomplished during the day at work as planned, with the time necessary to concentrate on it without constant disruption!»
So all in all, for these working mothers, the fact of finding the right work-family life balance by sustaining a professional activity results in a happier family environment and quality time spent with their children and husbands.
Finding the time to separate both professional life and family life
Of course this kind of commitment, working, doesn’t go without difficulties. This is where the balancing act, which so many mothers play takes centre stage. For most it is a case of being able to juggle all responsibilities at once. As soon as you leave work, you have other tasks waiting for you at home. And the main difficulty shared with all mums is the lack of time to do everything. «My main difficulty is having the time to get home, get the dinner ready, spend time with my son and also finding the time to exercise» says Rachael, working three days a week for the ambulance service. And Sarah, working 4 days a week as an accountant shares her opinion: «the biggest difficulty is time management and working around problems now that my priorities have changed».
For the mums working from home one of the main difficulties they have is managing to separate professional life and family life. Sylvie thinks discipline is the key: «To manage to distinguish between the two you must follow a routine and respect it.» – With which I totally agree.
For Isabelle it is best to «be armed with patience, a dose of vitamins, courage and a smile. Otherwise, a conflict can quickly start.»
The strain and difficulties can differ for the mothers working in an office but they still struggle to manage both work and family life. The responsibilities are the same, but for Jennifer for example, working full time as a Personal Assistant to Directors, she says «when your child is sick, you feel bad and torn for not being there to fully care for your child and you feel bad about your work as you have to leave. You miss key steps in your child’s physical and intellectual development.»
Harmony in the household
When I asked the question: «How do you juggle the needs of your family with the never ending chores at home and work?» the answer became quite obvious to all: the chores must be equally shared.
«The roles in our family are pretty clear cut, with my husband and I both knowing what it is we each need to do in order for us to remain on top of our daily duties» says Sarah. As for Rachael «house work and chores are generally evenly shared at home».
For Isabelle «you must be organised and ask for the help of all members of the family. It is essential and vital for a better family environment.» And the same is said by Sylvie; all chores are equally shared between herself and her husband. She also adds with a laugh «I have transformed my coffee break to a washing break». Something that many other mums will most probably smile at, acknowledging they do the same. For others this can still remain a difficulty to overcome: «this is an area where I really struggle. I think we lack a routine» Jennifer confesses.
I would admit myself I do not find it easy to juggle everything and maybe I do not ask my partner enough for a little bit of help. But then again he is the one working the longest hours, and I would find it quite tricky to ask him to help with the cleaning for instance past ten o’clock in the evening.
It is maybe a relief to read, for us working mothers that all in all we are in the same boat. The struggle of the daily routine, and hoping to tick all the boxes of our to-do lists at the end of the week, is a common and shared feeling. And in the end, we manage and succeed. Just as Isabelle tells us, with a smile on her face, «we can do it!»