As someone who recently returned to work after my second maternity leave, I have always looked up to women who can truly juggle it all. I spoke with many of them, read articles and books written by great women leaders who seemed to have what it takes to climb the corporate ladder while staying grounded as wife, mother and daughter. How did they do it all?
The reality is, work-life balance is hard, and this is especially true for working mothers during the current COVID-19 era. While I have been fortunate to be able to work from home and to have a team that fully supports my transition as I come back from my maternity leave, the challenge of trying to keep my four-month-old baby well-fed while entertaining my other four-year-old, plus managing work responsibilities and keeping the house running, is a never-ending task.
My husband and I joked about how easy it would be for me to come back to work for the second time round as we would all be home living the so-called “quarantine life.” Little did I know that I had to actually spend my time at home, painfully listening to my four-year-old crying through her online class, while watching the baby cam hoping the other one takes an extra hour nap as I was still stuck on a call. I remember how helpless I felt as I couldn’t be there for any of them, even though I was just in another room next door.
And I realize I’m not alone. For most working mothers, it’s about juggling childcare challenges with workplace responsibilities, especially during the pandemic. In fact, the data shows the pandemic has upended the work-life balance of many working women, affecting their physical and mental health with some questioning their current and long-term career prospects. Some have also indicated working longer hours because of the pandemic and having to juggle extra caregiving duties while working full-time.
I learned how real the challenge is when my family caught COVID-19. In an instant, I lost all my support system and became the main care-giver in the house. I took it upon myself to juggle it all -- caring for those isolating at home, childcare, a full-time job and everything else in between -- because after all, isn’t this what working mothers are made for?
I literally ran around the house moving from one role to another, or sometimes played both at the same time. I woke up extra early to prepare my day and caught up with work at night once both kids were asleep. I moved my work table next to my daughter’s study table so I could be at work and her online class at the same time and set-up a play area nearby for my son to crawl around.
On one particular afternoon, as I sat at my desk thinking about the next action item to tackle, my daughter who just finished her online class looked at me and said, “Mommy, it’s OK. I give you 100 minutes to do your work and we can play after.” I laughed because not only did she just learn how to count 1 to 100, this little girl knew her mom had a lot to clear, which meant less time to play with her.
I soon realized my pursuit to juggle it all was impossible, especially in a time such as this. I simply did not have enough time, nor the energy, to balance it all. And striving for the perfect balance wore me out, since there was no way for me to be present for everything, or everyone for that matter, at the same time.
Just like how my daughter pointed out it’s OK to focus on work when you need to, coming out of COVID-19, I somehow learned to embrace the imbalance. On some days, I might focus more on work, while on other days I might have more time and energy to take a long morning walk with my husband or spend the entire afternoon entertaining two kids at once. I may not be able to do it all simultaneously, but that’s OK as long as I’m fully present wherever I’m needed.
I truly believe you can love your work and your family and that while it doesn’t have to be either/or, it also does not mean you will have it all. Instead of striving for the ultimate balance, we should aim to do the best that we can in the moment we have, while being clear on our priorities. And for once, let’s not beat ourselves up for not having it all together.
Natashia has more than a decade of experience in PR with a career that spans across the U.S., Indonesia and Singapore. As the regional lead for clients, such as Waze and TikTok, Natashia currently drives APAC-wide communications programs from strategy development to in-markets coordination. She also works on a diverse set of corporate and technology clients, such as Anaplan, Lark, Teradata and Qualcomm.