The ULTIMATE 12-step (guilt-free) guide to being a working mum
So, you’re a parent to a small child or two, and you work outside the home. You are literally busier than you’ve ever been in your life. This is not an abuse of the word "literally" – unless you used to be Obama or Sheryl Sandberg, this is. This is the busy time.
And you could do with some tips on how to make life easier, right? Here are some that I use, and some provided by other working mums – all geared towards giving you a little bit of breathing space every now and then.
1. Cheat on the laundry
There’s no quick fix for laundry, but you can build up some supplies so that you don’t run out of kids’ socks and underwear while you’re waiting to find time to attack the mountain. Admittedly in the long run, this actually creates more laundry, but if it means nobody has to go to school stocking-less, stock up on socks.
2. Take some cleaning short-cuts
Have a pack of disposable wipes in the bathroom and use them to clean around the surfaces every couple of days. It takes less than a minute, but makes you feel like the bathroom is sparkling. And if you can, take the ultimate short-cut by investing in a cleaner. Guilt often precludes us from doing this, but really, if it means more time with the kids at the weekend, it’s worth the cost of a take-away.
3. Multi-task your bathing
If your toddler needs a bath, why not bring him into the shower with you instead – it saves time, and it saves water. Or if you do go ahead with his bath, bring some laundry to fold while you’re supervising – just keep it clear of the splashes.
4. Mealtime tips
For some, cooking after a long day at work is the ultimate therapy (or way to let off steam with a chopping knife, depending on how your day has gone). For others, it eats into that small window of time between work and bed. If you’re in the latter category, try batch cooking at the weekend, or do what mum-of-three and Management Consultant Yvonne does: “I got a slow-cooker so I can put dinner on in the morning, leave it to cook all day, and have a nice warm dinner when we get home.”
If you’re hiring a childminder to come to your home, look for one who is prepared to cook a family dinner every day, or if you use crèche, perhaps you don’t need to cook at night – if the kids have eaten already, you could have dinner at lunch-time too. And if some days dinner is beans on toast, so be it.
5. Stash the spares
Running out of something as you’re rushing to school or work can be a nightmare, so think about what’s critical to the smooth running of your house, and invest in some spares. For me, that means a bag in the glove compartment of the car with hair bobbins, plasters, pens, Vaseline, wipes, tissues, Sellotape and scissors (for when we’re wrapping presents en route to a party – I’m not the only one who does this, am I?)
At work, I have an emergency stash of wipes, tights and make-up, and at home, for those days when I realise at 10pm that there’s no bread, I have emergency lunchbox supplies, like rice cakes and raisins (I know, poor kids.)
6. Do EVERYTHING the night before
Putting your kids to bed already wearing tomorrow’s clothes might be a step too far, but you can do pretty much everything else. Choose their outfits, choose your own, locate shoes, make school lunches, set the table and sign the homework. Yes, it’s hard to do when all you want is to flop on the couch, but tasks that take five minutes each at night seem almost impossible when you’re rushing and late in the morning.
7. Supermarket sweep
If you’re at work all week, spending precious weekend time grocery shopping isn’t appealing. But staring at an empty fridge at dinnertime is not ideal either. Maybe one adult could have some (ahem) me-time at the supermarket, or one child could go along for some one-on-one time (all one-on-one time is lovely, even if it’s just helping with groceries.) Or skip it altogether and do your shopping online – the extra few euro for delivery may be offset by savings, because apparently you buy less when you’re not physically present in the supermarket.
8. Make lunchtime work for you
There are loads of things you can do during your lunch-break at work that can save you time in the evenings and at the weekend – online banking, online shopping, booking appointments for the kids, filling out forms, filing, or getting a haircut. Or do something that’s just for you – take a class, go for a walk, or sit and read a book.
9. Get some help from the little people
You’re busy. You need help. And you have some small people in your house who are very capable. Now, I’m not saying turn your house into a sweat-shop, but it’s good for kids to help out with chores, and in turn, the clean-up takes (arguably) less time. You could try what Scientist and mum of three Naomi does: “For each little task they do, they put a coloured bead in their own personal jar, and they know once they have six beads by 6pm, they can have their screen time.” The nice thing about this is that there’s no punishment element – if a child has only five beads at 6pm, she can quickly do something helpful to earn the sixth one.
If your children are small or just more of a hindrance than a help, try doing what Optometrist and mother of four Elizabeth does: “Getting up half an hour earlier than the kids is a lifesaver – I get so much done and it prevents the morning turning into chaos.”
“For me it’s all about trying to get to bed a bit earlier, instead of being on social media past bedtime,” says Career Coach and mum of four Dearbhalla. And yes, getting up early is probably only doable if you go to bed at a reasonable hour too.
10. Time out
Turn down the pressure every now and then if you can. Tracey, a social care worker and mother of two, says, “I make sure to have a ‘be nice to myself’ day every week, where it’s OK to not put on a wash, stay in a tracksuit, go for coffee and cake, let the kids have a bit more TV.”
Sinead, a Solicitor and mother of three, suggests taking a day off every six weeks or so, if there are no bank holidays to break things up. “I used to just bring the kids to the playground or something similar – they looked forward to it, and I think it saved me,” she says.
11. Build a network
Whether you work outside the home or not, as a parent, you need people who can help you when things go wrong. It might be the neighbour who can watch your children for ten minutes while you take a critical work-call. Or the school-gate mum who can pick up your child if you’re running late. Or the work friend who can pass you the meeting update if you have to leave early. It’s not easy, but having support makes it work. And knowing that others are going through the same juggle makes it easier – safety in numbers.
12. Take the path of least resistance
It’s great to have routine and structure – and if you have a job, and particularly if you have kids in school, you have no choice. And it’s great to try to give everyone five a day, and to drink eight glasses of water, and to cut down on screen-time, and not shout, and never ignore, and put down the phone, and cook from scratch. But it’s not possible to do it every day.
So if you need to allow some extra TV, or to give them eggs on toast for dinner, just do it.
The world won’t end, and you might just get the downtime you desperately need to get your game-face on for tomorrow.
Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working in financial services, or looking after the kids, Elissa, 7, Nia, 5 and Matthew, 3, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog, officemum.ie