25 November 2013, by Tan Yi Lin
Once in a while, some of my female colleagues and I will organise what we’ve lazily and most uncreatively named a “mummies’ lunch”.
A group of 4 or 5 of us, each one a mother to a litter of 1 or 2 young children, gather to share and swap stories about work and motherhood over a meal. Our gatherings are not just a platform to update one another about the latest discounts on Pampers, or fret about each child’s dietary preferences or to wax lyrical about their wonderful accomplishments – conversation topics that no doubt would send non-parent lunch partners snoring into their spaghetti.
Our time together is more than that. Much more.
It’s a shared space for voicing our fear – of ignorance and inadequacy – when it comes to juggling this hot-potato combination of career and family.
It’s about receiving reassurance that yes, you – Woman, are sane and normal to be thinking and feeling like you do.
It’s about building a circle of support and encouragement around one another – and knowing that while every other working mum struts around the office with the confident air of a female corporate warrior, under the sharp worksuit and business-like exterior, there is a regular girl worrying about getting off work on time to rush back to be with her little one/s before nightfall.
Through our mummies’ lunches, I’ve realised that, as diverse as we are in our choice of our lunch dishes, in our chosen area of work, in our parenting ideals for our children – we all dream the same dream, and want the same thing (Belinda Carlisle, anyone?)
Working mums, raise your hand (or two) if you:
1. Are practically rotting from guilt inside
Guilt of choosing to work. Of choosing to be away from your children. Of not devoting the majority of your waking hours to your beloved offspring – you know, the ones you claim to love more than anything in the world. Of not cooking wholesome, balanced meals for them because you’re at work. Of not being a SAHM.
Guilt of reporting to work 30 min late. Of leaving at 6 pm on the dot as far as possible. Of spending hours outside the office reading ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’ for the Nth time instead of nourishing your brain with insightful market analysis reports and world news.
2. Want to get promoted (but are secretly afraid to be)
Promotion is a double-edge sword. I am torn between feeling envious that female colleagues my age have been given the fast-track to Director positions, and yet horrified at the thought of having to manage an entire department of staff – on top of raising a family. Dan commented that it was an opportunity that he would have jumped at, whereas the first thought that crossed my mind was “Would my children suffer if I were to accept a similar offer?”
3. Feel sorely inadequate in all areas of life
That it’s not good enough to do a weekly supermarket run at NTUC because other working mums make the effort to visit the wet market at 7 a.m. before starting work. Or trek to the fruit stalls at Tanjong Pagar and Chinatown during lunch to get fresh fruit for their kids.
That it’s not good enough to spend a measly hour in the morning with your kids before you hurriedly kiss them goodbye. Nor devote your entire self to being with them for another 3 lousy hours when you get home after sundown. Because other mums spend more time with their kids.
That you are only meeting expectations at work – and not exceeding them. Because you really should try harder to nail that A ranking – like some of the other working mums do. Also, you want to be a Somebody whom your children can be proud of.
4. Schedule your lunch hours around your children (even if they’re not physically there)
To a working mum, THE WEEKEND = UNCONDITIONAL FAMILY TIME. Thus, you feel horribly guilty and selfish for taking 2 hours on the weekend to indulge in a pedicure, or facial or session at the hairdressers’ because HOW COULD YOU NOT WANT TO SPEND EVERY WAKING HOUR WITH YOUR CHILDREN, WHOM YOU HARDLY SEE DURING THE WEEK, YOU HORRIBLE WOMAN. And no, you can’t do any of these after office hours either – that’s eating into weekday family time. Tsk.
So you squeeze in a pedicure, massage session, gym workout or a spot of shopping over lunch hour (even if it’s just at Watsons). I’ve bought pedicure packages at the nail salon across the road and signed up at a gym near my workplace for this reason alone. True story.
As for using your vacation leave for that couple getaway that you and your man badly need? Gasp. What kind of mother leaves her babies behind after already being away from them for a good part of the day?! Tsk.
5. Are afraid that your children are losing out on parent-child bonding time
Because you’re not there with them, creating meaningful and fun craft projects like DIY cardboard cars. Because you worry that your baby is not getting sufficient mental stimulation from staring at that same old boring lion hanging on the play gym while the helper is busy with the housework. Because the 1:6 teacher-ward ratio at infant care centres pales vastly in comparison with the 1-on-1 attention that YOU could be giving him – by being a SAHM.
Maybe I’m being melodramatic. Or am making a mountain out of a molehill – women feel like this all the time *shrug* Maybe it’s just been a blah day. Still, there are days when the slightest reproach from a superior, or the sight of an empty fridge, or hearing a pitiful “Mummy, don’t go to work please?” is enough to send a working woman spiralling into a vortex of fear and self-beating.
That being said, I’m already fortunate that my workplace has a once-per-fortnight Work Away From Office scheme and ever since my mum retired, I have been able to go to work in peace, knowing that the girls are well looked after. (Someone should do a story on how great SAHGMs are someday.)
Of course, there’s a bright side to being a working mum too: the satisfaction of contributing towards the family income; the pride of being financially independent; the accomplishments at the workplace and the rewards that follow; the fulfilment from doing meaningful work; the daily company of friends and colleagues; the opportunities for growth in knowledge and personal development; the freedom to jet off for a break while knowing that your next salary will cover the vacation bills; even the little perks – like reading in peace on the commute to work, enjoying uninterrupted adult conversation over a proper sit-down meal, and being able to schedule wellness treatments in your own time (even if it means wolfing down a takeaway lunch at your desk while replying emails.)
Which is why, our little circle of office mums is so precious in reminding one another that we’re not alone in trying to juggle the demands of work and motherhood, and that being a working mum is a blessing, and not a detriment to family life.
I was in awe when I learned that a female colleague, a mother to 2 young children – just like me, was rotated to another department and immediately got bumped up to a Director position. I dropped her a note to say that she was so courageous to be accepting the opportunities – and challenges – that life was throwing at her, and that she was an amazing woman for Doing It All and was nothing short of an inspiration to other working mums.
She replied, “Thank you for your kind words. It’s not easy and I’m really stressed and also scared….”
“…Every woman needs to hear these words of encouragement and support.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Because we all dream the same dream; and want the same thing.