A healthy balance
Family or career? This is a timeless argument for many mothers. In Malaysia, females make up about 50% of the total labour force, and it is indeed a very difficult decision for many women.
Prioritising the family ensures the proper care of the children but forsaking a source of income. Prioritising work means putting aside or postponing a family. Which will it be? For some women, this is an easy decision but for others, it may entail many sleepless nights.
Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to balance both a job and a family.
How did I manage this?
Balancing work life
For starters, how does one balance work and life? Motherhood is a big lifestyle adjustment regardless of a woman’s work discipline.
It is important that a company understands this need and provide benefits to support the employee.
Benefits such as flexiwork hours, medical, childcare and nursing facilities for breastfeeding mothers are things important to working mothers.
If your company does not have a written policy on these issues, it is important to establish a common understanding with your boss.
At my present workplace, the facilities here allow me the reassurance that I will be able to breastfeed my second child for at least two years while I returned to work.
For women, to ensure a productive work life is not disrupted when you start a family, draw up a list of career objectives. Identify your goal and prioritise tasks to achieve that goal. This way, office time can be dedicated to tasks that can maximise and achieve this career goal. Check your status at the end of every year. Are you reaching your goal?
When you have children, it is easy to get caught up with their activities and forget your own. As such, a working mother needs to be extra vigilant in keeping time. Get an organiser, and use it to write down important dates of meetings and deadlines of important assignments or projects.
There is no excuse for being tardy or forgetting a task completely. In this modern age, I find scheduling events easiest using the smartphone calendar.
Balancing home life
A reliable childcare support system is the biggest challenge for a working mother. While away at work, it is essential for mothers to fully concentrate on the work tasks at hand rather than worry about childcare issues.
In Malaysia, not many organisations provide in-house nursery or daycare, thus, a majority of working mothers will have to find alternative means.
The internet is a good place to start locating reliable child minders. With social media, many parenting forums have mushroomed providing mothers with invaluable advice about childcare centres and even neighbourhood baby sitters.
Of course, mothers should personally visit these facilities before sending their children there. Once decided, do have regular updates from the child minders regarding the child’s behaviour (i.e. social, eating and sleep habits).
Next, house chores are another obstacle to address. For some women, this can pose as a major argument topic with the husband. If you have children (below two years), do consider employing domestic helpers to assist with the chores.
Even a part-time cleaner can significantly assist in reducing the clutter at home.
Additionally, outsource the ironing too. Optimise your weekends with the children by not standing for hours over the ironing board.
The home includes the husband. It is easy to neglect the head of the household once the children arrive. Do schedule “marriage dates” with the husband to bring back the much-needed romance.
Plan for a quiet dinner for two, watch the latest blockbuster at the movies or work on a simple project together.
Arrange for a relative or friend to oversee the children on these occasions. I typically schedule a “marriage date” once bi-weekly. This gives me a reason to look my best too!
Childrearing is a partnership. It is essential to share and establish child disciplining practices from the onset with your spouse. As marriage is a union of two families, childrearing is also a union of two parenting philosophies.
As a new family unit, establish one form of disciplining method together with your husband. Do not wait until the children are schooling. Have discussions on good childrearing practices from the day your baby arrives. Raising a family involves open communication with each other.
Another useful tip to managing the household is to manage the children’s behaviour successfully. Set routines and praise the children often. Shower each child with individual attention.
Take turns with your husband to play with the children separately. By ensuring that they (the children) have your undivided attention now, you will find that they will continue to listen and confide in you when they are older.
Take time for yourself
Regardless of work or home, a working mother also needs to find time for herself. This means taking extra care of your health be it physically or emotionally.
Prevention is better than cure, thus, regular exercise (something as simple as walking) and a balanced diet (occasional fast food is allowed) will ensure that you are fit to attend to work and the physical needs of the family.
I have a simple practice of parking my car 10 minutes away from my workplace to meet my daily exercise requirement.
Secondly, yearly medical check-ups are just as important to monitor your health status. As for emotional needs, a woman needs some alone time to herself once in a while.
Book yourself a massage or pedicure session to give yourself an emotional lift. If you prefer company, have a girls’ night out with friends. Personally, I treasure my solitude, thus I have made short solo trips to recharge my batteries.
Motherhood is a role for life, I wish all mothers a happy and healthy journey in balancing work and family. Happy Women’s Day!
Elaine Yong is a lecturer and developmental psychologist with Sunway University. She is a mother of two; a five-year-old boy and a four-month-old baby girl. She lectures in the area of Developmental and Educational Psychology. Besides lecturing, she enjoys giving talks on parenting to assist new parents with parenthood. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with her. For more Women and Career articles, click here.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 14 March 2015