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Working Mothers on the Myth of Having it All

I started working at Speakers Corner a very long time ago now and I am in the unique position of having done every job in the company.

In celebration of Mother’s Day, we chatted to two of our speakers, Victoria Milligan and Vikie Shanks, and our very own Office Manager, Louise Wafer, as we admire their ability to find balance in life. They shared their words of advice on managing motherhood alongside the busy demands of a working life, how they cope with life’s challenges and tips they find useful for managing stress when life throws you a curveball.

Vikie Shanks shared her thoughts on the value of prioritisation.

As a single, working mother of seven special needs children I’m only too well aware of the pitfalls and challenges related to running a home, caring for children and running a business or working.

Finding a balance can seem impossible, but the key is being organised! If you’re not a naturally organised person (I’m definitely not!), then you might have to work on this one, but your life will be so much simpler if you can find short cuts and strategies to assist.

Striving for perfection in everything is going to make you feel useless if you fail, prioritise the REALLY important things, nutrition, health, personal care, education etc… and know that everything else is incidental. I focus on the big questions like “Are my children thriving and happy?” so then the little things like the mess on the landing doesn’t take top slot anymore.

And work really hard on ditching the GUILT, we’re spinning plates, a lot of plates, make sure you’re keeping the right ones up and worry less about the things that aren’t life threatening. I had so many strategies for making life simpler and making the mundane really efficient, children are very hardy and resilient, they will survive and thrive with the right input.

A wise psychologist once told me that we have three areas in our lives, THREAT (knowing to avoid danger), DRIVE (the ability to get up and strive for what we want and need in life) and SOOTHING, the one we all forget. Cavemen would sit around the fire and just ‘be’ with the rest of the tribe and family after the stress of hunting and then eating, take time out to soothe yourself and everyone else in your home.

Lastly, I’d say when your child wants to talk to you, stop, listen and give them your full attention. Try to be mindful when interacting with them and let them know that what they are saying is valid, building their self-esteem is critically important for their future.

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"When your child wants to talk to you, stop, listen and give them your full attention"

Vikie is right, we are all spinning plates, so we need to cut ourselves a bit of slack once in a while. There is a lot of pressure and expectation to always have it all, often we think people give the impression they are managing everything, but there is more going on under the surface. Victoria Milligan touched on this idea as she enlightened us on her thoughts on having it all.

We have been told we can have it all, but can we? I am sure that many of us read about Helena Morrisey recently, the successful city businesswoman who also happens to have 9 children. She is obviously a hugely talented lady who credits much of her success to her incredibly supportive stay at home husband. I have recently gone back to full time work for the first time in 16 years. I unfortunately do not have a supportive husband at home, he died 5 years ago, in a tragic boat accident which also took from me my 8-year-old daughter, lower left leg and future that I had planned.  When we married and had children, we took the decision that I would stay at home to look after them, we had 4 pretty close together, a decision I don’t regret for a minute, especially in hindsight as I would have regretted not spending every precious minute with Emily for the 8 years I had her for.

I have survived trauma, overcome the pain of grief and have lived with a life changing injury, how scary could it be going back to work after a long break? Very, is the answer, but also satisfying, exciting, interesting and challenging. My mental health has improved as has my feeling of self-worth, I am more organised and I don’t have time to worry or angst about the minutiae of life. It is refreshing being known for me and the value I bring to my job rather than being known as ‘speedboat widow’.  Of course, times have changed since I was last in the work place and there is more focus on agile working and getting the right work life balance, if I need to work from home then I do.

Louise "For me as a working mother, it often feels like I am living two lives. Two lives which are sometimes so different, it's hard to get my head around what’s going on where!"

Being a sole working parent is a challenge, if the right resource and help is put in place then everything works smoothly for 80% of the time, it is the other 20% that I sometimes struggle with and I do feel guilty during the school holidays that I am not there as much as I used to be. But for me the pros outweigh the cons, not only in how I feel but also in my relationship with my children. I feel proud that I am a good role model for them, it is important for them to see that life is rarely going to work out as you plan it, but to know that we can do anything if we are brave and strong enough. They have become more independent, more appreciative of me, and me of them. We have more to talk about and bond over having to go ‘back to school’ on a Monday morning, work/school pressures, being the new person and having to make friends, they have really opened up to me as they know I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone on a daily basis too.

It is difficult for any parent to be present all the time, Louise speaks about the challenges of balancing the two lives of work and home, she shares how she finds the juggling act.

Being a parent is hard, that is a fact. Working out of the home or being a stay at home mum (I say mum as I am one, I know there are a stay at home dads too) brings different challenges. I work 4 days a week and most of the time, it is great, but one of the things that makes your life much easier as a working mum is having a flexible employer. I am very fortunate that my boss worked with me to find a working pattern that would suit both me and the business. In my case, I work 3 days over 4, so I’m able to pick my boys up from school 3 days a week, but I am still in the office for 4 days a week.

For me as a working mother, it often feels like I am living two lives. Two lives which are sometimes so different, its hard to get my head around what’s going on where! At 10am, I’m sitting in a meeting deciding which new speakers to add to our database and at 3.30pm I can be having a conversation about sorting out playdates and what my fussy 5-year-old will eat for tea. I often feel like I’m doing half a job at both things, but actually most of the time in reality I’m doing a good enough job at both.

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"You can have some of it all, some of the time and that’s about enough for me."

You can have some of it all, some of the time and that’s about enough for me. As Vikie mentioned above, for me the key to at least giving the impression that things are under control is being organised. I get all the clothes out the night before, snack bags are packed and by the front door, washing is all done by Monday afternoon ready for the rest of the week. This means that when something happens like one of the boys tells me he needs to have a costume for school the next day, I’m able to remain relatively calm! I have a plan for the week, what everyone will be eating, where everyone is all the time and we have a google calendar that everything goes in. If it’s not in there, it doesn’t happen!

I should mention because otherwise it gives a false impression, and puts yet more pressure on women, that I do have help. As I said before, I have a very understanding boss who trusts me to run my diary as I need too, I also have a fairly understanding husband who will if pushed move things around to help out and I also have someone who helps me look after the boys when I am not there. We find this works well for our family and I wouldn’t be able to have the career that I have without her.

I do feel guilt about not being there every day to drop off and pick up my kids from school. My children attend a school where a lot of the other families have one parent that stays at home and there have been many nights where they are tearfully (and fair amounts of tantrums too) asking me “why can't you pick me up” but I remind them, as gently as I can, that Mummy has to go to work so we can do nice things like go to swimming lessons, football club and go on holiday”. It is important for them to know that all the extra things are not a given and you have to work for the things you want in life.

It’s a myth to think you can have it all, you can’t. You can have some of it all, some of the time and that’s about enough for me. 

Thanks to Vikie, Victoria and Louise for your valued comments. 

For further information or to book a speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070+44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk.

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