This Is Your Life


The Hectic Life of a Working Mother

Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

- Ann Landers, "Things I've Learned in 50 Years"

Consciousness: that annoying time between naps.

- Somewhere on the Web

by Lisa Mulitalo

What is a working mother?  Most people would say a woman with children who works, and I guess they would be right.

But what spurs a woman to re-enter the workforce, balance a household, find childcare and forge a place for herself away from the kids in the workplace?

Women's magazines often portray successful and powerful mothers with high-profile careers (Rachael Hunter, Joanna Paul, Hine Elder etc) as supermums.  So I set out to find out where the real supermums are, the ones without nannies, housekeepers and bank balances over a million dollars.

I don't class myself as a supermum - more a mother with a job.  My children are 3 and 5.  My husband is on a fulltime chef-training course and works part-time on the weekend.  An average week in our household can sometimes be hair-pulling, disorganised chaos.  But somehow we all get through it and survive.  I'd like to say we are a well-oiled unit with a great routine, but that would be a lie.  The unfolded, clean washing has been on the dining room table for 5 weeks.  Dinner quite often consists of takeaways, with some vegetables chucked in to erase my guilt.  Nana and Poppa, who own their own business, help more often than not, especially on school holidays and when the children are sick.

I asked three other women if they were as disorganised as me, and I think I learnt a few things along the way.

Raewyn Girling-McLean, 35, (pictured below) is a mother of three and a business women.

Raewyn and her husband Jeremy own Fettuccinis Cafe in Masterton.  Three nights a week she runs the front part of the cafe.  She also does all the cafe's bookwork, and is responsible for ordering the stock.  The rest of her time is spent organising her household and being mum to Sam, 12, Christopher, 7, and Tim, 3.

Raewyn says the key to running her household is being organised.  "I have to be organised and know exactly what I'm doing week to week - it's really for my sanity," she said.  Raewyn employs a girl, Amanda, to look after the boys while she is working, and Tim goes to a creche a couple of hours a week so she can catch on up her bookwork.

Raewyn estimates she spends between $120 and $150 on childcare each week.  "I have to work for financial reasons.  I don't know if we would survive if we had to pay wages to someone for what I do.  But I enjoy working and, even if I didn't have too, I still would.  There are some days when I'm running to get out of the house, just to get away from the kids.  The flexibility of owning our own business means I also get to do the fun things, like swimming sports and the athletic days."

But Raewyn says her hectic life means by Sunday she's feeling pretty "grotty".  Weekdays start with getting the children up and ready for school.  "Getting myself organised and figuring out what I've got to do is the hardest part.  "Tim is strong-willed and he can be pretty hard work.  The other day Jeremy had to break him out of the toilets at work after he locked himself in there."

Raewyn says she has only ever had a few problems with childcare, but when it does happen, having an emergency plan is the only solution.  "We've had a few times where people (babysitter or staff) have let us down, and by the time I've got to work, I'm really wound up."  This month Raewyn plans to take up yoga as a form of relaxation, and she's determined it will become part of her routine.

Life for Therese McMaster is a whirlwind and she says that, even though her teenagers are just about adults, life is just as hectic.  Therese, 41, is a Victim Support manager and mother to Jade, 18, and Genna, 16.  Husband Stuart is a computer software salesman who spends three nights a week in Wellington.

Therese returned to full-time work 5 years ago and says that although she's never had to organise childcare, maintaining sanity in her household is just as tough.  "We try to keep the anxiety levels down by letting each other know what the other is doing.  Everybody has to pull their own weight, and we have to plan well in advance what we are doing.  My decision to return to work meant the kids have had to adapt to me just having to get up and leave if I'm called out."

An average day in the McMaster household is frantic, to say the least.  "We have a shower routine and our day starts at 6.30am.  We have to be out of the house by 7.30am, and in that hour we have to feed the animals (two cats, two birds and a dog), have breakfast and tidy up."  Therese has meetings at work most mornings, so a bad start can cause her day to degenerate into chaos.  "We used to have a family breakfast, but that's gone now."

The girls have to leave with Therese every morning so they get a ride to Masterton.  Jade goes to polytech in Masterton and Genna is a Chanel College student.  Getting home at night is just as chaotic.  The girls make their way to Therese's office, and from there they head to the supermarket and home for dinner.  Therese says their dinner is simple and quick, as she has meetings four nights a week.  Wednesday nights Jade stays in Masterton because of night classes.

"If we remember to put the washing on in the morning, we hang it out at night.  But that's only if we remember.  "The meals tend to get worse as the week goes on.  We try to start off good."

Therese says that by the time the weekend arrives, she spends most of it catching up on sleep and organising who will take the girls to their sporting commitments.  Saturday night is usually spent together, with the McMaster family going to the movies or watching a video.  "We are a very close family.  We try to spend as much time together as we can, which can be unusual when you have teenagers."

Diane Oakly, 35, (pictured below) is mum to Brett, 7, Christopher, 5, and Jenna, 4.

Describing Diane's life as hectic is an under-statement - especially when you are organising two full-time working adults and three children under 7 years old.  Diane is the administration manager for Radio Wairarapa, and when she's not organising her household she's organising the professional lives of the 6 staff.

Brett and Christopher go to Totara Drive School and Jenna attends a daycare centre.  Di estimates she spends $160 a week on childcare and anything up to $200 in the school holidays.  Both boys are picked up by the YMCA Oscar programme for after-school care, and they attend their school holiday programmes.

Husband Roger is a carpet and lino layer, and Diane says he helps to keep the house running smoothly.  Diane returned to full-time work in 1996 and says there's only been a few hiccups along the way.  "When Brett was younger, Roger once forgot to pick him up from the daycare centre.  He came home and was pottering around when he remembered he had forgotten something."

Her decision to return to work was a personal and a financial one.  "I like the contact with adults.  I think my kids benefit from me working and I think they are a lot more stimulated now than what they were when I was at home.  Having two wages also means they get a lot more things than when we were on one wage."

Diane says her routine is the same generally from Monday to Friday, and she likes to start her day with a cup of coffee and some time to herself.  After that her day continues with almost military precision.  "Christopher is usually the first to get up and demands his breakfast.  You can't presume what he wants, you have to ask.  "Roger says he takes after me.  Apparently I'm always in a foul mood," she said, laughing.  Then I hang the washing out, and by then the other two are usually up and in front of the television.  I make the beds, make Roger's lunch, have breakfast and we are out the door by 8.15 am."

Night-time is done in much the same fashion.  "We get home just after 5pm, have a snack, do homework, have dinner, bathe the kids and have them in bed by 7.30pm."  Diane says her days usually end about 10pm.  "Roger does the dishes and I do the ironing."

Diane's military-style running of her household means the family get to spend most weekends at their caravan at Castlepoint.  "That's where we relax and have fun.  Roger loves fishing and it's our family time."  She says help from extended family, with sick children and emergencies, means it's pretty smooth sailing in her household.  "Quite often I come home and Mum has brought my washing in.  A good employer helps as well.  If I have any problems Mark is great, and there have been a few times where the kids have spent a few hours at work."

So you might be asking yourself: "Why do these women work?"  Why do they do it to themselves, who knows?  But all three women say no matter how much money they had, they would still work.

Source: Wairarapa Times Age online weekly feature - 18 April 1998

I found it of interest that none of the children appear to have been interviewed for this article.  Does it matter what they think?

See also:

bulletSo What's the Big Deal? (in the Lifestyles section) - Welcome to the new virtuous.  Those now vast numbers of people who try to work as hard as they can, climb the career ladder and parent on a wafer thin quality-time budget so they can have it all.  Whatever "it" is...
bulletHigh Stakes (in the Lifestyles section) - Then there are the moms themselves.  One reported her guilt was minimised by wearing a locket with her children's pictures in it.  Another took her favourite photo of her daughter and had it made into a computer mouse pad.  But somehow I doubt these strategies help a child feel closer to her mother...
bulletTime Bind (in the Lifestyles section) - ...these employees rarely took parental leave, worked flexible hours or availed themselves of any of the other family-friendly policies on offer.  Instead they spent ever longer hours at work, often putting in a lot of overtime on top of their standard hours.  Sometime they really needed their overtime earnings.  But more often, confronted with a choice between stress at work and stress at home, both men and women chose work, where at least they enjoyed the contact with colleagues, were taken seriously, and got paid for their pains...
bulletBefore Her Prime (in the section on Wellington) - any parent of young children will tell you - if they are being totally honest - a bit of time away lets you focus, it's a bit of a luxury...

Work's a Pain...

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Great Moments in Multi-Tasking

Source: Funny Times May 2001 M Wuerker

Hooked Up

If the promise of the well-wired telecommuter is unfulfilled, the possibilities of the hyperconnected motorist are just emerging.  This is going to give conniptions to places such as New York state, where lawmakers this week banned the use of handheld ceIIphones by drivers.

Talk about a losing battle.  If ceIIphones are a problem, consider what's arriving next: vehicles equipped with everything from TVs and VCRs to wireless tools that let drivers check stock prices, look up sports scores and review e-mail.  Later this summer, motorists will even be able to trade stocks.  When the driver of the SUV in the next Jane starts selling hog bellies short, you'd better buckle up.

Some experts warn that turning cars into home-office rec rooms poses other problems.  Families will tune each other out.  Parents will miss opportunities to talk with their kids.  Car life will be easier - more productive, less whiney.  But connectedness comes at a price.  And as the telecommuting world knows, the price is disconnection.

Source: USA Today Thursday 28 June 2001

For articles related to working including why, which career, bosses, time constraints, focus, trends, gender issues, pay differentials, getting laid off, getting re-hired, dependents, part-time work and balancing work and values click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this section on Working.

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