From the Frontlines: juggling motherhood and work

July 22nd, 2020 by Rebecca Mihalic 5 minutes read

In the latest instalment of ‘Conversations over coffee’, I caught up with Aly Garrett, founder of All in Advisory and one of our Top 50 Women in Accounting, to discuss the challenges of juggling work and motherhood during these exceptional times.

Whilst for some, things have started to return to a new normal, many others are facing a second round of lockdown and there is no doubt that we still have a bit of battle ahead of us. But no matter the challenges we face, the issues that Aly and I discuss — and the insights that we gleaned from chatting to one another—are always relevant to working mums who are looking to successfully juggle their neverending personal and professional responsibilities.

An unexpected challenge

2020 is unlike any other year in living memory. Around the world, people have been forced to abide by months-long lockdowns—meaning that working mums have had to simultaneously continue two full-time jobs: being a mother, and being a businesswoman.

For people like Aly and I, who run their own businesses, this has been particularly challenging: Aly, a mother of three clearly defined the shock of the initial lock down, “All of a sudden, everything that I’d ever outsourced had literally just come home. On top of that, I was now working from home—so I’d basically brought my kids into the office full-time!”

I’m in an incredibly similar boat with my two kids. I’ve been working full-time ever since my second child was three months old, so this was definitely a major disruption to my normal routine. As fantastic as it’s been to be home and to spend all this time with them, it’s definitely been a learning experience in patience and empathy.

Aly agreed with this wholeheartedly: “It's hard. You’re the type of person who normally, like me, functions at a really high capacity and you have a lot of things in order. Then all of a sudden, when all of those things that are there to support you are no longer there, you're inhibited. It’s a real shock to the system”.

Changing expectations

Not only does the constant juggling act wear down on you mentally, but it can also leave you feeling like you’re always letting someone down. Your child might want to play and spend some quality time with you, but you’re aware that one of your clients desperately needs something completed by the end of the day. It has become harder than ever to determine priorities when the physical boundaries that usually define our days have been torn down.

Aly highlights that it’s important to redefine your own expectations: “I think we have to be fair to ourselves and not kick ourselves down. You can't be everything to everyone. You can't be the school teacher and the home mum and the leader of an accounting firm all at the same time—it’s just not possible.”

Aly initially decided to try and strike a very clear balance between work time and home time. “I literally scheduled all of my live calls and Zoom calls for after my two-year old had gone to bed. God forbid that she actually woke up before or after she was supposed to, because all hell suddenly broke loose. But this didn’t last long. It was nearly impossible as I was completely exhausted every day; totally and utterly drained”.

Daily disruption

Like Aly, the majority of working mums might find themselves trying to squeeze their daily tasks into small pockets throughout the day. “There was a Facebook meme going around with Dolly Parton on it and it was like ‘Working 9:00 to 9:05, 9:30 to 9:47, 10:10 to 10:15’, and that was literally my life. I was working in these tiny pockets and it was completely unsustainable”.

That’s not all. Even when you have scheduled some time to sit down and do some work, or jump on a call, not everybody will always be on the same page. “There's something about family and not respecting boundaries. If we were at work and we said, ‘I'm going into a meeting’, nobody would interrupt us. At home, if you say, ‘I'm going into a meeting’, expect interruptions galore. There's no boundaries at home and I think that that's the struggle because they're not looking at you as the owner of an accounting firm that has a job to do—they're looking at you as mum. To them, that's all you are.”

Biding our time

Things will eventually return to normal, or at least a new version of normal. As such, it might be easy to simply try and do what we need to get through these times. But no matter what, we need to remember one crucial lesson: balance is key.

The end of a lockdown doesn’t mean that you’ll no longer be a working mother. It might make things easier, but you’ll still constantly be juggling your professional and personal lives as best as you can. So what’s the answer?

To find balance. Fill your life with things you enjoy doing and people you love seeing and commit yourself to giving them time and it’ll make those difficult days that much easier to manage.

Of course, things will eventually return back to normal. In the meantime, however, it’s important to remember that balance is key. Everybody is in the same situation, and I genuinely believe that this period has made everyone more aware and more empathetic. It’s hard to constantly be torn in different directions and to feel like you’re never giving anything your full commitment. However, we all need to bide our time and just do the best that we can until it’s all over—that’s all anyone can ever expect.

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