Like an acrobat balancing multiple spinning plates on sticks, I have been trying to juggle child-raising, housekeeping and working from home for six years. Last year, I developed repetitive strain injury in both hands and all my “plates” came crashing down.
Unable to even lift a spoon without pain, I was forced to take a break for several months. During this time, I had the opportunity to reflect and reassess my priorities as a work-at-home-mum (WAHM). With the encouragement and advice from other WAHMs, and support of my loving husband, I am slowly finding my balance again.
The “Lost Years”
Knowing that I could not successfully juggle career and family, and firmly believing in raising my children personally, I hung up my career hat upon the birth of my son and started writing from home.
Overnight, I went from “Ma’am” to “Mum”. I watched as ex-colleagues got promoted and opportunities passed me by. As I progressively cleared my cupboard of old university notes, I struggled with a deep sense of having thrown away all that I had worked for and wasting my education.
I was heartened when I met Mrs S. Bosman, 37, a WAHM who has two Masters degrees. With three young children aged five, two, and 10 months, the freelance writer and editor had found it hard to get much work done over the past two years.
“Sometimes I struggle with giving up my career and wonder why I obtained all these degrees only to nurse babies,” Mrs Bosman shared. “However, I’ve learned that there will be a season when my kids are no longer babies, and after I’ve given them a strong foundation, I can start utilising my brain beyond the home.”
Mrs Bosman believes that “giving kids a start in life that is full of joy, security and love will prevent a lot of negative developments and ensure their future”. Therefore, each time she struggles, she reminds herself to “look at the joy in the faces of my kids.”
Utilising One’s Training
WAHMs need not let their education go to waste if they can use it to work from home, encourages Mdm S. Goh, 45. Armed with a Masters degree and 11 years of work experience prior to the birth of her first child, the freelance designer networked with her contacts in the industry as soon as she started working from home.
“I am thankful that I do not have to look for projects as they come through recommendations from my contacts,” shares Mdm Goh. She keeps herself updated with industry practices by attending relevant courses and talks.
Occupation or Pre-occupation?
I started working from home while my infant son was still waking for night feeds. Amidst diapering, feeding, cooking and cleaning, I had to find time to complete my assignments.
As the years went by, I became so absorbed by my work that it ate into my family time and I felt like a part-time mother. I also ended up burdening my husband with most of the housework.
After developing the strain injury, I used a speech recognition software in a desperate attempt to complete my assignments. It was only when I told my son to “scroll down” rather than to “get down” from the high chair that I realised I had been talking too much to the computer! I had tipped the work-life balance to the point of having no life.
The traditionalists around me laid the guilt on thickly, telling me to quit working altogether so that I could be a “good wife and mother”. The pragmatists, on the other hand, suggested that I leave my son in the care of others and work full-time in order to earn more.
Striking a Balance
I asked Mdm Goh how she managed to balance her work with her responsibilities as a wife and mother. She advised, “There is a season for everything. When you quit your job to be a stay-home mum, stay focused to do what you have decided to do, and do it well. Set your priorities right and constantly remind yourself that you are first a mother, then a working person. We may grumble when we are drained, but remember that these are the precious growing up years of our children.”
To relieve mothers of the pressure to supplement the family’s income, Mdm Goh suggests planning the family budget around the husband’s income only. This gives a WAHM the flexibility to adjust her workload at each life stage.
She shared that in the early years, while caring for her ailing father-in-law and young children, she worked less. As her children grew, she gradually took on more and larger scale projects. Even though her children are now nine and 13, she limits herself to four projects a year and works mainly when they are in school or asleep “so that it would not rob me of my time with my children”.
Working fast, staying focused on her tasks and keeping to a disciplined schedule have helped her to meet the demands of each day. Maintaining a positive outlook helps her to deal with stress.
Living on Less
With the arrival of my second child and an increase in expenses, I struggled with my loss of potential earnings. While an ex-classmate (a working mum) had already purchased her second private property, I was still calculating whether I could afford to replace my dying laptop!
It pained me to refuse my son some of the luxuries which working mothers could provide for their children. Thankfully, he was understanding and happy to make do with cheaper alternatives.
Recalling a similar experience, Mrs Bosman shared: “The first time my eldest child got jealous of a friend’s toy, I felt bad and wanted to get it for him, but it was too expensive. I had to learn to be realistic and explain to him what is important.”
Mrs Bosman stretches her dollar by purchasing second-hand toys from Ebay or thrift shops. In addition, she plans her menu around discounted food items at the supermarket and keeps to a strict budget.
One day, after I had cut my son’s hair, he abruptly announced, “Mummy, when you are old, I will cut your hair too.”
With surprising maturity, my then-four-year-old explained, “Because I appreciate your sacrifice in staying home to look after me and I want to show that I love you too by looking after you when you are old.”
My heart melted. If I were to list some things which my family members had done without in exchange for me staying home, it would read like a credit card advertisement: “A centrally located Build-To-Order flat: $500,000. A small car with the Certificate of Entitlement: $130,000. Doctoral studies in the United Kingdom: $90,000. Knowing that my children appreciate my sacrifice and love me in return: Priceless.”