Business 'almost' as usual for a working mum

Told by our founder, Abi Selby

The journey of a working parent in isolation

“The obligation for working parents is the feeling that one ought to work as if you don’t have children, while raising children as if you don’t have a job,” - Abi Selby, founder of Spabreaks.com

For so many of us, it feels like ‘normal’ life is on hold right now and our old daily routines seem a distant memory. Everyone is facing their own isolation challenge in one way or another, particularly the working parents who are currently juggling that perfect work/life balance. Abi, our founder, is no exception of this and has been adapting to running her business, household and temporary classroom from her own home.

Ever the optimist, Abi quickly discovered some positive, valuable lessons to take away from this new challenge. Here, she shares her journey, revelations and top survival tips for other working mums and dads, trying to navigate their new normal.

Stage 1: This is like being on holiday

Many mum bosses currently find themselves in the unprecedented situation of moving entire teams to home-based working and with schools closing and rumours that children won’t be going back until September there is now a further dynamic to manage. After the initial panic I adopted the ‘we’ve got this’ approach and enjoyed having the children around to share meal times and conversations. Notwithstanding the juggle, it did feel a bit like we were all on holiday together.

Learning: I love having my children around day to day

Stage 2: Teachers are seriously underpaid

The holiday feeling was short-lived. I realised never again would I give any of my children’s teachers a hard time. In fact, I’ve already started investing in teacher presents for the future (shopping online, of course)! Psychologists and education experts are warning of a mental health crisis if parents force children to study too much while juggling homeschooling with their own work commitments and that’s certainly true in our household. The honeymoon is over and one member of our family experiences tears, daily.

Learning: To feel gratitude for key workers that have long gone underappreciated.

Stage 3: The realisation: missing out on motherhood

The lament is one we’ve heard many times before: successful woman realises, all too late, that her many achievements no longer mean quite as much as family.

It’s a well-worn argument, and one I’ve always dismissed, firmly believing that my journey back to the office nine days after having babies allowed me to skip what many of my peers suffered by way of baby blues.

So why is it that over the last few weeks there has been a persistent whisper in my head as I learn more about my children - that perhaps, just possibly, my work life balance has been skewed in the wrong direction. I’m still processing these feelings, but I’m also wondering whether other people experience this? Don’t get me wrong, they are driving me mad and no-one who has children is buying into the emergence of a new baby boom, but this time with them is going to mark an important milestone in all our lives.

Learning: Use this time together as a family to appreciate what you have on both sides of the work/family equation.

Stage 4: Making time

Until now, like many others, I spent my commute on the phone, replying to emails, making every second count before making my children my primary focus in the evening. It’s only now I realise not only how important that time was for unwinding to allow me to be genuinely present for my kids, but also - how integral this was to allow me to plan the day. I still need time to plan. I still need time for me. No-one is going to offer me this time - it’s time I have to schedule or steal for myself, or it doesn’t happen.

Learning: Do your best work, follow your passions and be confident in your experience and voice.

Abi's working mum survival guide

  1. Look after your emotions - the fear of C-19 is real. Emotionally many of us are unmoored and overwhelmed. It’s important that we each take at least twenty minutes every day to process personal feelings and look after wellbeing.
  2. Keep to a routine - increasingly, I’ve recognised that creating a sense of order amidst the chaos is important. Daily I get up and put my make-up on, take a 30 minute walk alone and leave a message for a close friend. These small things keep me sane.
  3. Scheduling upheavals - I have found in the past I can be the queen of resentment without actually asking for what I need. It’s very easy to play the martyr but I’m also learning to make sure that while we are all adapting to the ‘new normal,’ the bulk of the heavy lifting doesn’t fall on any one person.
  4. Parenting labour - Similarly, dealing with the worry work that often comes with having children at home 24-7 can be exhausting, and as a result needs to be navigated in the same way as household chores like cleaning or putting the bins out. Equally shared if at all possible with periods of respite for those that can’t.
  5. Find a way to relieve the stress - there is no point avoiding it. We’re all under more stress than normal and as a result we need to be finding healthy ways to navigate these unprecedented times. Easy ways including meditation, exercise and walking in nature (as part of your daily exercise allowance) and talking therapy are all worth considering.
  6. Lower your standards - I had to take a deep breath as I wrote this as a perfectionist but the reality is to survive these times we’re going to have to sometimes compromise or shortcut our ‘old normal’ standards. Things are not going to run to plan and the sooner we accept that the easier coping will become.
  7. Noise-cancelling headphones - you may think I’m joking but actually taking some space each day to yourself is imperative for mental health and sometimes in busy households where we aren’t allowed outside, we have to find creative ways to do this. Headphones can be a godsend for shutting out the world.
  8. Consider the opportunity - what do you have time to learn and change? Set yourself a challenge and chart your progress daily. Humans thrive with purpose.
  9. Connect - whilst many of us can’t physically be with each other at the moment I have seen numerous family reunions online, and even friends who haven’t spoken for years are realising that life is too short to stay distanced mentally and physically and are instead coming back together through the power of modern technology. Now is a time to connect and with so many video conferencing apps available for free, it’s an ideal way to (re)establish and stay connected.
  10. Garden, grow and cook immunity-building meals - there is no better time to focus on the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ - there is time to plan and consider mealtimes as important markers in every day. The better more creative the food you eat, whatever your budget, the healthier your mind will be. Embrace it.