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Working moms: When the juggle becomes a struggle

Giving yourself a break and not comparing yourself to other parents who seem to be winning in all areas is key

Eve Dugdale

Published: Updated:

Most nights before I sleep I write a to-do list.

It may only consist of a short shopping list or additional chores but still, reaching for a notebook is something I never see my partner do at bedtime.

Instead, while I struggle to relax, my brain focused on the day ahead, he plays games on his iPhone or browses Netflix.

I’ve spoken to other moms and dads and realized it’s something that happens often, particularly with women. We want to be fantastic mothers as well as employees but trying to be the perfect all-rounder is destroying us.

Indeed, even celebrities - who have access to even more help than the rest of us - struggle to pull off two roles.

British model Yasmin Le Bon recently revealed how she suffered a breakdown when the strain of motherhood and juggling a career proved too much for her.

Telling the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper how she would stand in the bathroom crying and felt like she was in a “dark place,” Yasmin says she felt emotionally drained.

It’s something I can relate to. I’ve stood in bathrooms, kitchens, lounges, supermarkets and restaurant toilets with “something in my eye” more times than I care to remember.

Sometimes it all seems too much.

But don’t panic fellow stressed moms, we’re not alone. And it is high time we gave ourselves a break says Devika Singh-Mankani.

As both a mom and the Chief Positive Psychologist at Dubai’s Sunmarke School, she knows a thing or two about the pressure-facing parents.

She believes that often, when you feel like you’re failing, it’s a sign you could be doing too much.

She says: “Some women feel like they should be able to do it all and I believe it’s valuable to explore where this expectation comes from. Sometimes it stems from their personal experiences growing up, other times it stems from a growing need for validation. It’s not uncommon to hear some women say it seems like everyone else is doing it all so why can’t I? But when you dig beneath the surface, you find that the women who seem to be doing it all are either distressed or getting a lot of help. With a few rare exceptions of course.

This internal state is referred to as role conflict and describes the feeling that many women have when they place an emphasis on one role and feel torn between that and another role.”

When it comes to advising women who are struggling to juggle their many roles, Devika says it’s very straightforward and starts with women being kinder to themselves. However, that’s something many moms struggle to do.

She adds: “Get to know yourself and treat yourself with compassion. Much of the need to do too much comes from a lack of awareness of how much you can comfortably do - this is where knowing yourself comes in. However, sometimes even when a woman has the insight that she’s pushing her own boundaries, she may continue to do so because something is driving her to do so. I like to ask:

“What is driving you to do so much". What would happen if you did less, or asked someone else to help?”

Someone who has realized that asking for help is essential if you want to function as a mother and a worker is Dubai mom and founder of a successful PR agency, Kiera. She says she couldn’t survive without support.

She explains: “I’m very lucky as I have an amazing nanny who works for me during the week and makes my lunches and essentially is the husband I never had! The community of other mothers is a life saver as well. As an expat without family here, having other moms who don’t work and appreciate their relative freedom, are so wonderful in terms of supporting me with pick-ups and helping if my nanny is sick.”

Kiera says it’s difficult to be a working mom and feeling inadequate is something she’s just come to accept.

“It’s the never ending guilt dichotomy of Fail at work or fail at mom - and that’s not taking into account failing at wife and being a bad friend. It’s rare to feel like you’re nailing it all and I do think women have it harder. No one ever asks a man on a business trip who’s looking after his kids and then gives the pity look. For some reason the guilt seems less for men.”

Devika says she meets increasingly more fathers who are struggling with their two roles and believes anyone struggling to accept help needs to put themselves in another’s shoes. If your friend or relative was struggling, you would want the opportunity to help them – so don’t stop others helping you.

She adds: “I’m a mom who juggles a lot yet I struggle to ask for help and often think nobody can do the job as well as me, so how do women like me delegate and accept help? Sometimes it’s harder to receive than to give. Accepting help can trigger feelings of vulnerability, thoughts of deficiency and can be uncomfortable for some people. A healthy balanced relationship requires some vulnerability, or reciprocity where both people give in some way. Remind yourself that it feels good to give so allow others the opportunity to do so.”

All in all, giving yourself a break and not comparing yourself to other moms who seem to be winning in all areas is key. Remember that for every happy shot of a family laughing on Facebook, there’s a million uncaptured moments of rows and spat-out meals. And sometimes, when the 51st tantrum of the day is sending you over the edge, it’s OK to ask for help.

Make life easier

It seems that accepting that you can’t do it all is key if you want to thrive in the home and in the workplace. And there are things you can do to save time on the chores and make family life easier.

We spoke to three working moms about the little things that help their lives run smoother:

Dee: “Be kind to yourself. You can only do so much and don’t get hung up on the small stuff. Get help, like a cleaner or someone to do the ironing. The freezer is probably my biggest time saver. I cook extra and freeze it – that way we always have nice food even if we’re busy.”

Kiera: “For organization I have a nerdy fridge magnet food planner that I got from Martha Stewart which I love and I have a list of shopping that I print out every week with everything on it and delete as necessary rather than trying to start a new list each week. Homework is getting harder now that it’s regular and tested so that’s what car journeys are for – spellings and quizzes, as well as weekend homework and lots of reading before bed.”

Adelle: “I have a list of jobs I have to do each day so the house is clean when it comes to weekend and we have plenty of time to chill out with the children and don’t have any cleaning, cooking or washing. Every Monday I do all the house work and do on line shopping, make sure I have had a look on the BBC’s website for healthy meal recipes I can cook in the slow cooker to save time.”