For working mothers with no nannies, life is like the circus. So if you’re tightrope walking and spinning plates, Alex Galbinski has some survival tips to stop you feeling like a clown
I recently came across an interesting looking article in The Times entitled Rushing Woman’s Syndrome. I say it looked interesting because I never had the time to read it. I was too busy… rushing! And, thankfully, it’s not just me.
A friend once recounted the story of her colleague, who would come flying in to work late and breathless, her hair in disarray and carrying lots of shopping. She was a mother who was trying to juggle work and family life. My friend, then in her early twenties, couldn’t understand her predicament. “Now,” she says, “I am her.” And yet there are other mums who don’t have any paid childcare (no nannies, au pairs or mother’s help) who are to be envied for the way they manage to hold down a job while making sure little Miriam is wearing the right-sized shoes and her family are all eating the required portions of fruit and veg a day. Here are their tips for keeping all the balls in the air…
Organisation, organisation, organisation!
Lisa Catto, 44, an entrepreneur who owns three companies, including Marvel Plumbing says: “The key to being able to juggle everything is organisation. I’m not a naturally organised person and have the memory of a goldfish, so I have shared diaries with my ex-husband, children and colleagues, and everything from school pickup times, kids’ swimming and dog walks goes in there.” Isabelle Bohn, a mother-of-two who runs Tata Isa interactive French music group for pre-schoolers agrees, saying: “Being ridiculously organised is a must. I have lists, reminders around the house and I leave myself voice messages.”
Bohn, who also co-runs a small catering company, says she batch cooks at the weekend and has meals prepared for the week. “I’ve learnt to cook fast, nutritious easy dishes. The kids always eat the same as us and there’s usually one dinner time and we have grilled fish or meat and sautéed or steamed veg.”
Mother of two and FRS Kindergarten room leader Catherine Levy, 30, agrees: “Meal planning is the only way. It takes out all the pain of deciding what to make, shopping and kids moaning. If the list is on the wall, they have been warned and have less opportunity to complain.” She pauses and laughs: “I’m making it sound like my family live in the army! Should I be worried?!” Catto advocates leaving nothing to chance. “Ensure that as much stuff as possible is done in advance. The school uniform, sports kits and homework – all ready the night before.”
Mother-of-three and copywriter Fiona Mocatta, 40, who runs The Mocatta Consultancy from home mostly during school hours, schedules everything and is super-organised. “But know that your perfect planning can fall apart with one phone call from school, “ she sighs. “So, always factor in the need to expect the unexpected.” Indeed, Mocatta makes clear that even with the best schedules in the world, sometimes things fall through the holes. “I once turned up to help on a school trip 24 hours before the trip took place. Things go wrong often but are usually rectifiable. It’s got easier as the children get older as they remember things that I’ve forgotten!”
Surround yourself with supportive people
Many of the mothers I spoke to mentioned how supportive their husbands are.
Indeed, family life is – or should be – a team effort. Freelance PR consultant Kim Swead, 38, who has two boys and usually works from home from 10am to 3pm, and then from 11pm to 1am if necessary, says: “If my role stopped at my lovely job where I get to be my own boss and still get to do all the mum stuff, too, I think it would be perfect – but it’s the ‘other stuff’ that gets in the way…the food shopping, the cooking, the clearing away, the washing, the buying of presents, kids’ activities… How do I do it all? Well, I have a supportive husband and amazing parents and in-laws, who certainly make all the juggling a little more doable.”
And this team effort includes children. Bohn, 42, explains: “My children are trained to fill the dishwasher and make their beds before we leave home in the morning. I explained to the gang that if they wanted a happy Mummy, they needed to help!”
Use your time wisely
Many of the mothers recommended online shopping. “The internet is my best friend,” says mother-of-two and market researcher Jackie Miller, 46.“I buy groceries and clothes online and I buy spare uniform, stationery and food in bulk.” Suzi Philip, a mother-of-three who co-owns interiors company FOLDS and is head of her children’s school PTA and vice chairman of Finchley Reform Synagogue, uses ‘dead time’ to make dents in her to-do list. “I work three days a week and evenings and take work to places I know I’ll be sitting doing nothing, such as the kids’ dance and football classes,” the 47-year-old explains. “Last year, I went to Mexico for a wedding and updated our website while the kids were sleeping and this year did the same when we were in Israel.”
Ask for – and give – help
Bohn is a firm believer in not trying to do it all yourself. “My biggest tip is to never be embarrassed to ask for help,” she says. Indeed, many people rely on family or friends. Consider a rota, or organise play dates and activities for after school or in the holidays.
Look after yourself
Catto says it is important to learn to say no. “Don’t overwhelm or push yourself too far that you’re a wreck.” “Try to remember what you’re doing well, and don’t dwell on things that have gone wrong,” says Mocatta. “And most importantly, get enough rest,” she adds. “Lack of sleep turns me in to a monster who barks instructions at my children and has no sense of humour.” Schedule in R & R time for yourself. One friend, who didn’t want to be named, says: “I have really long showers; I can’t hear anyone – it’s lovely.” As for me, I showed this list of tips to my husband. He snorted and said: “I’m going to stick it on the fridge for you!”