Strug­gling with the pres­sure of work­ing moth­er­hood

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family - John Sharry Send your queries to health@irish­times.com John Sharry is founder of the Par­ents Plus Char­ity and an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the UCD School of Psy­chol­ogy.

QI am a work­ing mother with a beau­ti­ful five-year-old son, but I am find­ing my­self strug­gling to get ev­ery­thing done, es­pe­cially in the evenings. I have a pres­surised job that is hard for me to leave on time. I rush out the door to col­lect my son from the creche.

I get there by 5.45pm on a good day when I am not late (my hus­band takes him in the morn­ing to school), then we get home af­ter 6pm and there is so much to do.

I have to pre­pare din­ner, get his home­work done, not to men­tion all the house­hold chores that have to be done. Of­ten we end up in a fight, par­tic­u­larly around his home­work as he is tired. Some­times, I just give up and then I feel bad that I am not help­ing with his school work.

He goes to bed at 8.30pm usu­ally, but re­cently he has been want­ing to stay up late, though he is tired. So bed­time has be­come a bat­tle too.

It is all stress­ful.

An­swer: Work­ing par­ents read­ing your ques­tion will iden­tify with your strug­gle. Get­ting all the im­por­tant things done in a tight time win­dow is big chal­lenge. This is es­pe­cially so when you are deal­ing with work and com­mut­ing stresses, which can eat into your home time and this be­fore you have to face the “nor­mal” stresses of par­ent­ing a young child.

Fo­cus on cre­at­ing a re­laxed evening rou­tine

In your ques­tion you talk about try­ing to get ev­ery­thing done in the evenings, and I would sug­gest you shift this fo­cus to get­ting the most im­por­tant things done in­stead. From a par­ent­ing per­spec­tive, the most im­por­tant pri­or­ity is to cre­ate a stress-free re­laxed evening rou­tine for you and your son.

This ide­ally should in­clude fun play and con­nect­ing time to­gether, a re­lax­ing bed­time rou­tine and then some per­sonal time for you to re­lax with your part­ner af­ter your son has gone to bed.

Re­view your pri­or­i­ties in the evening

To achieve a more re­laxed rou­tine, you need to be very clear what are the pri­or­i­ties each evening and to let go or change those that aren’t im­por­tant. In your ques­tion, you list pri­or­i­ties such as house­hold chores, pre­par­ing din­ner, do­ing home­work and so on. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Do house­hold chores have to be done in the time that your son is awake, when this could be stress­ing you and tak­ing away time from be­ing to­gether?

Are there other ways of man­ag­ing these? Also, is there any way you can cre­ate rou­tine around din­ner that makes it more re­laxed? In my view, the key pri­or­ity here is hav­ing time to sit with your son and eat to­gether in a re­laxed way.

Could you pre-pre­pare din­ners or some evening snacks that can be avail­able eas­ily in the evening? This might mean mak­ing sure he has his main meal at the creche.

You also are pri­ori­tis­ing home­work on the list, when I would say this is a low pri­or­ity when he is only five (please see my ar­ti­cle last week on the same sub­ject) es­pe­cially if it is caus­ing stress.

At 6pm he is in­deed likely to be tired do­ing home­work, and this might be best done ear­lier in the creche. In the evening you can fo­cus on lis­ten­ing to how he got on in school dur­ing the day, re­view­ing his school books for a minute or two and then pri­ori­tis­ing read­ing a bed­time story with him.

Ad­dress­ing ex­ter­nal work stresses

Do what you can to ad­dress the ex­ter­nal stresses that are af­fect­ing your fam­ily life. I don’t know your cir­cum­stances or what freedom you have in your work­ing life, but this might mean ne­go­ti­at­ing with your em­ployer that you leave 15-30 min­utes early to miss rush traf­fic (re­plac­ing this time by com­ing in ear­lier or work­ing one evening from home and so on).

It might also mean that you learn to sep­a­rate work stresses from home, so that you can ar­rive to col­lect your son in a more re­laxed way.

This could in­clude or­gan­is­ing your day so you have a de­brief­ing or wind-down pe­riod at the end or cre­at­ing a clear tran­si­tion by lis­ten­ing to mu­sic in the car as you travel to col­lect your son.

One par­ent I worked with or­gan­ised to leave work a lit­tle early so he could do 10 min­utes’ mind­ful­ness in the car be­fore he col­lected his children. This al­lowed to him to be less stressed and more re­laxed for them.

Be re­ally or­gan­ised

When you are time poor at home in the evening, the key is to be re­ally or­gan­ised to make sure you re­ally cover the most im­por­tant things. This might mean writ­ing out a de­tailed rou­tine that you aim for each evening that might in­clude el­e­ments such as:

Ar­riv­ing at creche 10 min­utes ahead of time.

Tak­ing time to talk to his min­der about the day.

Ar­rang­ing a re­laxed time in car with op­tion of play­ing mu­sic.

Sit­ting with your son to have din­ner/ light sup­per and hav­ing a rit­ual of shar­ing news.

Re­view­ing your son’s home­work (done ear­lier), com­ment­ing on what he has done well.

Have a play time for 15 min­utes, let­ting your child choose the ac­tiv­i­ties.

Set your son up with quiet play­time by him­self while you get some chores done

Start the bed­time rou­tine to fin­ish with a bed­time story at the end.

Plan some qual­ity per­sonal time, read­ing, watch­ing a movie with part­ner and so on.

You may not get ev­ery­thing done ev­ery day but at least you know the pri­or­i­ties and what you are aim­ing for.

From a par­ent­ing per­spec­tive, the most im­por­tant pri­or­ity is to cre­ate a stress-free re­laxed evening rou­tine for you and your son

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