We’ve all seen her at the school gates: immaculate makeup, hair glossy and chic, pristine Shellac nails and not a crease in sight (forehead and clothes, that is). Somehow, while other working mums at the school gate seem to have their off days, this one particular working mother doesn’t ever seem to drop a ball – and she doesn’t even look like she’s trying.
So, what’s her secret? Well, the truth is, no one is perfect. What is presented at the school gate may be one thing, but if you could be a fly on her wall you’d soon see that there isn’t a whole lot to idolise. But the unflappable working mother knows how to pick her battles, and here are just some of them.
1. Become central to your home
It’s commonly suggested that when you work from home, as so many of us do full-time or one day a week, you have to hide yourself into a home office (if you’re blessed enough to afford one), or a tiny little corner where you roar at your child if he or she dares to even look in your direction while you take another important phone call.
However, in these secluded areas, we lose our purpose a little; which is that we are a force to be reckoned with at home. There’s something comforting about knowing that you’re making money, progressing through that to-do list, but still have some oversight of what your family is doing. You really don’t have to be completed secluded to make it work – how do you cope in the workplace with all the distractions? Scream blue murder? I don’t think so.
2. Keep your home life at home and your work at work
Years ago, I was asked by one of my team members why I didn’t have pictures of my children and husband on my desk. I could tell it had taken her a long time to get the courage to ask me – I also knew that it was peculiar to her to see how bare my desk was compared to other people’s pictures of their family, pets, favourite celebs (scantily cold if you walked over to the art designer’s desk). But I intentionally didn’t bring those pictures in – the same way I kept talking about my children to an absolute minimum. In the grand scheme of things, no one really cares about you outside the office – sorry if that sounds crass. Mostly, it’s just small talk, unless you form a lasting and genuine bond with a colleague or two who you keep in touch with when you leave, socialise with and have crossed the lines of colleague friendship to something that’s genuinely more lasting.
3. Create a haven at home where you can really relax and unwind
If you feel on edge at work and then go home to a place of chaos, then rinse and repeat it as many days as you work, it’s a no-brainer that you’ll be stressed after a while. Creating a haven at home can be as simple a way to mentally connect to that room or place as a signal of peace and harmony.
I love these cushions from Arthouse – cushions are cosy and with these designs, you can jazz up even the most clinical of places to help you create that haven of peace and calm. I teamed up the Meili Gunmetal Cushion with the Satoni Silver Metal Cushion to create a cosy thinking Haven on a simple armchair. You could try something more contemporary like the Girls Life Cushion – there’s something for all tastes and the quality means that the cushions are very hardwearing, so you don’t have to worry about little ones staining them.
It really doesn’t seem like much, but a Cushion or two in these bold prints do go a long way in helping to create that place of warmth and enjoyment.
4. Stop obsessing over every minute detail
It’s amazing the things humans can feel bad about, and obsess about, feeling that they are the centre of it all, when other people are not even moved by it. Unless it’s life-changing, take a breath and move one, everyone else has. And that goes for the mummy guilt – you going back to work won’t scar your child unless you put him or her into the hands of the worst childcare provider, which you won’t if you’re this obsessive. You not changing the colour scheme of your PowerPoint slides to match the office furniture won’t lose your department an important sale, unless they are your brand colours – go to bed, don’t lose anymore sleep over it. Really!
5. Use your gut instinct
There are so many ‘so-called’ experts telling us working mums that children who go to nursery are cognitively slow one minute, or social butterflies who are much more grounded the next. Or that working full-time stresses us out, but then being a stay-at-home mum leaves us feeling isolated. As a journalist, I can tell you that most of this research is carried out on a small pool of people – usually around the 100 mark and they are usually based on surveys, not long and detailed clinical research. Don’t lose sleep over it. So long as you’re doing your absolute best for your family, that’s really what counts.
6. Set your own boundaries
Working for yourself means you can decide when you work, but when you are employed by someone else, they’ll expect some flexibility – at least some of the time.
That said, thanks to technology, many employers don’t reprimand their staff for taking work home with them and so many sectors have a culture where you’re expected to at least answer emails like a 24-hour call centre, be contactable when you’re on annual leave and stay on during long-drawn out meetings that should have ended after the first ten minutes.
It can be so easy to feel like you don’t have a choice – but you do. So long as you get your work done – and to a high standard – you don’t need to follow the crowd like a sheep, just learn to work smart and efficiently. Go beyond the call of duty, over-deliver for your line manager, yes, that’s what you’re being paid to do, but don’t spend every single evening on your mobile and lose out on quality family time every day of the week (and sneakily at weekends) all the time. that is a sign of poor time management. If you need to leave at 5.30pm to make it home at a decent hour because you’ve been working since 8am then do it. Learn to speak up for yourself. In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook fame discusses the reasons why so many women are overlooked in the workplace: they simply don’t ask. That no asking means they are bypassed on promotions, pay rises and so many other things. Don’t be a statistical doormat – if you know your worth, ask!
7. Comparison is a disease
While the opener for this article was about the elusive working mum who turned up to the school gate looking like some sort of superhero, it doesn’t mean you should compare yourself to her or try to become her. You are the best version of yourself – fine tuning your schedule and routine to suit you and your family’s needs is a positive thing, trying to become another human being is not!
One sure way to knock your confidence is by comparing yourself to someone else – be confident in your own skin and be happy being you. After all, if we were all all meant to be the same, think the same, look the same etc, we would be clones.
Founder and editor of www.motherswhowork.co.uk, a mother of two wonderful children, wife, entrepreneur (check out www.geekschool.co.uk) and journalist.