26 May 2014, by Tan Yi Lin

The Things Left Unsaid

I had the privilege of participating in the Maybe Baby Dialogue Session held last Saturday.  The session zoomed in on work-life matters and the conversation centred around 3 main questions:

(1) How would you define work-life success?

(2) How is your workplace supportive of work-life?

(3) What are you considerations for starting a family?

Ensconced in our cosy private tearoom at Bliss House @ The Central, the participants (a profile of dating couples; married couples without children; and expectant, new and seasoned parents) opened up readily and shared their honest and heartfelt thoughts and questions about marrying career and family – and how to achieve success in both areas.

It was wonderful how willingly everyone shared about their work, relationship, family or family plans, dreams and values – topics that are no doubt personal and close to heart. Through the conversation, the organisers and participants exchanged insights, experiences and advice on career, marriage and parenthood. As I listened intently to what the rest were saying, the dialogue also made me look within myself for the answers to the 3 questions.

Everyone had an opportunity to share their answer to the first question on work-life success. It was heartening to hear that almost everyone cited work-life balance as a measure of success in this area (although in reality, it’s more of a constant process of balancing than achieving an exact 50-50 proportion of the two.)  I was the last person to finish writing my answer and “pass up” my contribution because it took my muddy-mummy brain so long just to cough up my personal take that, “Work-life success is contributing and serving in a meaningful and fulfilling job, while realising dreams and personal achievements in areas outside of work” (e.g. hobbies, discovering new places and people, attaining knowledge, family, travel, community work) In fact, in an ideal situation, your job actually enables you to enjoy all this too e.g. by providing the renumeration that finances your travel and supports your family, the friendships at work, deep knowledge in your area of expertise.

With all that honest sharing, the conversation really took off and soon everyone was eager to talk more about flexible work arrangements (FWAs) at their workplace or if FWAs were lacking, then their wishlist for more support from their employers e.g. a work culture where employees aren’t generally expected to be on call outside of official office hours, a childcare centre within the office compound, etc. I shared briefly about the FWAs offered by my employer and wanted to offer some tips on how to get your boss to say ‘yes’ to FWAs but didn’t want to hog the session, which is what this entry really is for – for me to continue talking even though the session has already ended!

I had blogged quite a few times about managing work and baby, specifically on going back to work upon the end of maternity leave, work-life balance, managing working-mom guilt, telecommunicating, getting your boss to agree to a request for FWAs, the motherhood vs work debate, and juggling increased responsibilities both in the office and at home. I didn’t manage to share all this within the short span of Saturday’s session so I hope some of what I had written in the past can address my fellow participants’ concerns on this topic.

Another area of concern that many ladies repeatedly voiced was the worry that having a baby meant the abolishment of any ‘me’ time whatsoever. I shared about how I used to be incredibly stingy with my vacation leave and saved it all for baby-related activities like family holidays or spending every waking hour with them, and how I’ve since learnt to focus more on my own well-being and not feel guilty for doing so. On the advice of experienced mothers at the workplace, I’ve been taking the occasional afternoon off to treat myself to a massage, pedicure, hair spas, a spot of shopping, a leisurely meal, a good book or even just an afternoon nap. In fact, they specifically said, “Don’t go home to your children. It’s just for an afternoon.”

I did forget to add one thing though: you need to make an effort to plan and schedule for ‘me’ time. It’s an oxymoron, I know, to have to ‘work’ to make yourself relax. As a busy parent, ‘me’ time isn’t going to happen just like that. Your kids aren’t going to magically doze off for 3 hours one afternoon, leaving you free to pop into a hair salon for a much-needed wash-&-blow. Don’t forget – you still have emails to reply to and hairdressers aren’t necessarily free just because you are. It’s rare that the stars will align and bless you with any personal time without any prior planning. Make a plan, stick to it (as much as possible – because life does throw you some curveballs now and then) and enjoy it – guilt-free.

One of the participants, who was expecting her first child, asked about travelling with baby and when we first traveled with ours. The MaybeBaby folks assured her that it was possible to travel with young infant in tow but of course, there were preparations and concessions to be made. For example, allocating majority of your luggage space to diapers and baby paraphernalia, and selecting less ‘exciting’ travel destinations and itineraries. One thing to consider was whether it was wise to even bring baby along in the first place – to which different participants had their own views on. Dan and I have had a taste of both – and as with all things in life, we enjoy having a mixture of travel experiences without our children with us and also with us. I would have loved to share our tips on traveling with young kids e.g. selecting a nearby destination in the same timezone as home, but didn’t get to – so here are the links to our entries on preparing for the first flight/trip, choosing a kid-friendly destination, our travel experience with a difficult toddler, 2nd baby moons, our first long-haul flight/trip, and traveling on impulse!

Finally,  I also heard a few ladies express their worry of not knowing how to be a mum. The typical advice from women who have “been there” is, “Don’t worry. It will come.” I’d beg to differ though (just slightly!) It was exactly because of the ‘standard reply’ that I was taken aback by how challenging motherhood really is – and this is despite reading parenting books and websites, and attending antenatal classes. I didn’t even know why my own baby was crying her head off – much less know how to help her. The first night home with Coco, I sat up all night clutching a tiny infant to my chest wondering what the heck did I just do to myself – and my entire life ahead – by having a child. And that breastfeeding thing, y’know the one that EVERYONE said would come naturally? Well, it turned out to be pretty darn challenging and a steep learning curve for both mother and baby. The learning never ends. Of course, some things get easier with experience and with each subsequent child, but not without much effort, practice and mistakes. Drawing from personal experience, if an expectant or new mother – or even a mum to older children – shares her concern of not knowing how to care for her child, I would instead invite her to share her fears and worries, and try to tailor my insights to address her concerns. Motherhood may be the most natural thing on earth, but the art of mothering doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all.

Last Saturday’s session may be well over but the dialogue never ends. This blog is always open to anyone who has a question on parenthood – and it’s not limited to just work-life 🙂

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