Sher-li Torrey, Mummailto:Mums@Work (Singapore)

[On balancing work and family life] “I suffer the same guilt.  I constantly worry I am coming up short.  It is the same thing every working mother copes with.  We all cope exactly the same way, which is with pride, with anxiety, with disappointment, with failure and small victories.  I deal with it like everyone else.”- SARAH JESSICA PARKER

Someone asked me recently, “How did you do it? What made you decide to take the plunge?” She wasn’t referring to my choice to get married. She was talking about how I came to make my decision of giving up a full-time managerial role, with a fairly decent pay and a bright career path visibly ahead of me, to be a flexiwork Mumpreneur.

In answering that question, I realized that many of the member-mums of Mums@Work have a similar dilemma. It is tough to be a mum who has stayed at home for some time but is now choosing to go back into the workforce. But that is largely due to the difficulty of finding a job or gearing up your self-esteem to venture back out to the working-world.

BUT if from a career standpoint, you had it all.

And then you had your little one.

Can you let go of your generous pay-packet? Can you let go of the adrenaline rush from your work achievements? Can you find the balance?

It’s just as difficult, if not more challenging to take the plunge. Often, when Mothers ask me this question, I find that I don’t have a universal solution or suggestion for them.

Quite frankly, the simple “I want to spend more time with my kids.” is not the best motivation behind a woman’s decision to quit a full-time role and choose to either stay-at-home or work flexibly. As a woman, you are mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, employee, boss and above everything else, a human being. You have dreams, goals and values, which, through the years have shaped you to become who you are.

No two women are the same. And for that reason, there are a few questions that you might want to ask yourself before you come to a decision.

1)    What type of working role did your own mother play? Was she a working mother? Was she a stay-at-home-mum? Was she  a flexi-working mum?

My mother was a teacher. Singapore in the 80’s allowed teachers to work ¾ of a day only. I have fond memories of her picking me up from school, and the 2 of us sitting at the park, talking about my day. She never stopped work (except for the 3 years my family was based in London) during my childhood years. Despite the fact that we had a domestic helper in the home, we had a strong relationship and still do.

Later, as we grew older, she would have certain afternoons free on weekdays to pick us up from enrichment classes. School holidays were fun, because she had a lot of time with us and took us on excursions or overseas trips (Sometimes, without my dad)

Watching her as a child, I always assumed that mothers went to work for half a day, but would be home the rest of the day to spend time with their kids. Based on that assumption, I wanted to be that kind of mother: Sort of like a mid-way between a stay-at-home-mum and a full-time working mum.

Reflecting on your relationship with your mum would give you an indication of what you perceive as being the ideal role a mum should play in her child’s life. Not one single choice is better than the other but sometimes the role models we have as children can determine what we see as being best (or sometime worst) for our own kids, when we become parents.

2)    Before you had your first kid, what was your dream?

I always knew I wanted to have a successful career AND be a good mother. To me, there was no compromise. I thought I could do both (Although no one warned me of so many sleepless nights) and I just kept pushing for it.

I ask mothers to think about this question, because among all the stakeholders in our lives (spouse, kids, parents, bosses etc), the most important stakeholder is YOU. When you are 65 (or whenever the government decides our final retiring age to be), what are the achievements in your life that you think you will be proud of? Did you achieve the dream you wanted?

Is being a major fixture in your children’s life a part of that dream?

3)    Are you seeing this “time-away” from your professional career as a permanent fixture?

Sometimes Mothers talk about this ‘time away’ to move into flexible work arrangement has being a long term thing. Many seem to perceive it as “no turning back”. But that’s not true.

If I told you that looking into a crystal ball, I see you in a flexible work arrangement for the next 4 years. Then when junior turns into a teen, you successfully find a full-time position again, as your angst teenager starts to spend less and less time at home. Would the thought of flexible work arrangement be less scary to you?

Look at your options 2 year down the road – if you can see choices that allow you to move swiftly and easily back into the workforce when you are ready to rejoin, does the prospect of taking this “time away” still be so scary?

4)    Is being with your child the real reason why you want to leave your job?

Sometimes we try to find a easier way to sort out our own thoughts and fears. I have heard of mothers who tell me that they want to leave their current role because they want to spend more time with their children. Then, in a softer voice, they add. “Also, because I don’t like my current firm.”

If your child is the sole reason why you want to leave your existing position, there is a higher chance that when you do, you are going to be happier about it.

No single arrangement is ideal for all of us. And sometimes, even after we find the right balance between work and family, we still have problems.

In the end, it’s about who you are and who you envisioned yourself to be that’s probably most important in helping you make the right decision.

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