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Mental load of being a Working Mom

"We expect women to work as if they don't have children and raise children as if they don't work" – Anonymous

Mama of four little humans, two boys & two girls, girls born 18 months apart and boys born 15 months apart, I have spent the last 15 years striking that famous work-life balance that you hear about every now and again! Did I mention navigating a divorce and bravely holding the single mom fort along the way? It is nothing short of a miracle that I had the same extremely supportive manager every time I went on maternity leave. Can you believe it that we were re-united after 8yrs of doing different roles?

I returned to work six months after my first child was born. The guilt of leaving her at nursery was immense, but I also knew not working (on a paid job) was not an option. Let's be real- every mom is a working mom. Those not returning to a paid job struggle to 'prove' their worth as a stay-at-home-mom and those that do return to a paid role struggle to 'prove' their worth as a working mom. For the first few months, as soon as a meeting finished, I wondered if I had made any sense in it. Most of my brain space was consumed by diapers, feeds, and sterilising bottles at any given time of the day. My basic arithmetic skills pleasantly improved because of continuously working out how many bottles were sterilised or how many diapers I needed to pack for a 30min grocery shopping trip.

It was a pleasure to take 12 months off after my second child, although the days and nights blended into one big time zone. My oldest child offered a blessing in disguise by breaking her ankle, the day after her sister was born! The mental load of motherhood not only increased two-fold; the first six weeks were also spent at regular fracture clinic appointments. Upon returning to work, not only did I find myself juggling two children, but work-life balance took a different meaning altogether, whilst also juggling two part-time entirely different roles. My children were in a good routine, and I bestowed myself with the title of 'queen of multi-tasking'. I had to be super organised and ensure the meals were prepped at the weekend, have a menu for the week, kids' bags packed every night, and start the day on time. Having two different roles also meant, when I finished the working day, I was fully present at home. While I was at my second role, I did not feel guilty about what needed my attention a few days later at my other job.

As a working mom, how much guilt do you carry around daily?

A few years later, I found myself getting used to the role of a single mom. I was so grateful I had a decent job and an amazing and compassionate manager during this phase of my life. Work-life balance took on a different dimension and going to work gave me the consistency my life needed at this crossroad. I felt immensely supported by my team and the flexible working parameters I was able to operate in.

Not in a million years would I have thought that I would have another child. But the universe had other plans. After I got re-married, nine years after my oldest was born, I had my son. It felt surreal and as if I had become a first-time mom! My husband asked if I wanted to consider taking a break from working life to slow down a little. However, due to my previous experiences, I wanted to retain my financial autonomy and knew that I would not feel comfortable compromising it.

I was quite happy with being a mom of three, but just as I was due to return to work after maternity leave, I discovered another little bean was to join our family of five. My new-born had the blessing of having me at home for twenty-four months. I had my fourth child, another son and enjoyed a subsequent year of maternity leave. We considered shared parental leave this time around, but it was not a financially viable option. This year also saw my oldest starting secondary school. The art of balancing life with a new-born, a toddler, my oldest starting secondary school and second child preparing for grammar school entrance exams, was nothing short of fine art.

My workplace had had restructuring during second year of mat leave, and I was due to return to a new portfolio. I negotiated returning to work full time but working from home on Fridays. My husband's hospital had a nursery, and he took on the responsibility of dropping off and picking up boys. I had the responsibility to drop off and pick up the girls; one from primary and the second one from secondary school. The mental load of ensuring all the children had everything remained with me. I looked forward to Fridays when I had the boys with me and did the 'admin' part of my role from home. The juggling act continued, and, on some days, I was amazed at how everything was managed, as we had no extended family nearby to help with anything.

What I can say after 15yrs of being a working mom, is that women feel more exhausted as the mental load of parenting is primarily carried by them. Do you agree? What work-life balance means to one person will be quite different and unique to each working mom! Someone may crave to just get through the day and another woman may pray religiously to have smooth mornings or bedtime routine.

Being kind to yourself is a must and should never be compromised. I learnt early on in my motherhood journey that this is my journey, and I might as well get buckled up for a curvy ride.

As we start exploring university and higher education options, I can whole-heartedly say:

"The days and nights feel quite long, but the years are definitely short".

Enjoy every minute of it!

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