Some days as a working mum, you just want to put an ‘out of order’ sticker on your head and go back to bed. But then sanity returns because you have priorities and commitments. Trisha Hughes reports
Above: Jennifer Atepolikhine with Leah, 6, Maxim, 12 , and husband Sasha
Working mothers know that no day is ever the same. Forrest Gump was right when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Either you have nothing scheduled at all, or you have everything happening all at once. Balancing a busy work life and the challenges of a family schedule is never easy. In fact, it can be a nightmarish circus at times, as you juggle priorities and needs. There always seems to be something to do and never enough time to do it in.
It’s been quite a while since I was in this situation but the memory is still vivid in my mind. What I remember more than anything is the uncertainty. Am I doing the right thing? Is my family happy? Am I really managing? What I know now, in retrospect, is that these guilty emotions are just part of the whole trip and the worst thing you can do is compare yourself to other mothers, working or not.
What is important is to be able to talk to other working mums and learn from their experiences. This can also, of course, help with getting that all-important job in the first place.
As two-year Cheung Sha resident and mother of one, Marie Swarbreck says: “Becoming a mum changed my priorities and career path; I started looking for a flexible job, which I couldn’t find. After speaking to many mums around Hong Kong, I quickly realised that I wasn’t the only one in this situation.” Faced with this dilemma, Marie set up FLEXImums in mid-2015 to empower and connect professional mums with companies who are looking for flexible resources and value work-life balance.
“Mothers have a broad skillset. Nobody juggles as many responsibilities as a mum does; we are the queens of time-management,” says Marie. “Lots of SMEs and large corporations realise this and are looking to get mums back on board.
“One thing I have found is that a mum is only successful at her job when she really enjoys what she does,” Marie adds. “Going back to work is never easy and it takes time to adjust but in the end it gives you a feeling of fulfilment and accomplishment.”
Above: Marie Swarbreck with Arabelle, 2 and husband Sebastian
Sometimes being a working mum is frustrating and challenging. Other times, all you need is a kiss and a hug to know that you’ve absolutely made the right choice. You’re teaching a hard life lesson to your children – that you don’t get anything without working for it. Everything has to be earned by work and persistence, and through that hard work come the rewards. But along with that glow of satisfaction, comes weariness. There’s always weariness.
What most women forget is that they need to think of themselves every now and then. A car can only run on fumes for so long. It needs to be refilled or it stops running altogether. You as a mother can’t continue to be everything to everyone because eventually you will break down too. Take time for yourself, to rejuvenate, to make sure you are not lost, like that one sock in every single wash, while you try to hold everything together. Trust me, almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.
As often as not, helpers are the circuit breakers that can make life so much easier in a world that sometimes feels like it is spinning out of control. They release you from some of the burdensome tasks and leave you with the part that your kids will look back on in the future, knowing that everything you did for them was fuelled by love.
Mother of two, Jennifer Atepolikhine grew up in Hong Kong and has been a DB resident on and off for 20 years. “Having a loving and trusted helper at home has made all the difference, it would be impossible to work full time and raise young children without one,” she says. “I’ve been able to travel on business trips and spend long days in the office confident the children will be well taken care of.”
Jenn has been a working mum since her first child was born in 2004, and her current job, promoting E racing, is turning out to be the best fit yet. “I get a lot out of my job as it’s social and it stimulates me intellectually,” she says. “Working with race teams and the race organisers is incredibly challenging and interesting. The guilt of not spending enough time with your children never leaves you though, as well as the feeling that you’re not spending enough time on work. Finding the balance between the two is the hardest part.”
Speaking of balancing acts, mother of one Jessie Yue Wright, a four-year DB resident, is currently managing a home, while preparing to take a Master’s degree in psychology at the University of Hong Kong. She also runs a home-grown business, Woodable, with neighbour Kristy Yeung. The friends work with artists across Hong Kong to create bespoke furniture, decorative pieces and pottery.
“I love what I do and I’m extremely proud of the things I make and find. Expanding is always on my mind but until I find more help, I also need to balance my time being a mum and student,” Jessie says. “Many times, when I think of stepping forward in my career, guilt slinks in. Am I doing enough for my daughter? Am I too greedy and selfish if I want to build something for myself and a happy family at the same time? Am I a bad mother? Do I measure up to other parents? These are the frequent guests that visit my mind, especially when I put my need and desire first.”
Above: Jessie Yue Wright with Evelyn Bella, 6, and husband Franklin
Whether you are pursuing a career out of financial necessity or personal choice, being a working mother can be all about guilt. When your child acts out or doesn’t cooperate, or if he cries when you call him from your office, it’s very easy to think that you are doing something wrong. Happily though, this tends to get easier as children get that little bit older.
“I find now that my daughter actually looks up to me. I share my dreams with her and she is proud of me,” Jessie says. “A little tip: don’t hide your guilt and need. It might sound clichéd but a problem shared is a problem solved. It’s nice to want things for yourself. Once in a while put yourself first. Go ahead and take the first bite. It will only make things yummier. Be busy and share your passion. You will raise motivated minds just like your own.”
So for all you working mums out there, remember the Doe Zantamata maxim: ‘Some days are better. Some days are worse. Look for the blessing instead of the curse. Be positive, stay strong, and get enough rest. You can’t do it all, but you can do your best.’
Be proud of yourselves. You do everything you can because you want your children to know that those dreams you dared to dream are not just ‘somewhere over the rainbow’. They are real and they do come true.