When I was younger, I remember writing lists of things I wanted to achieve in life. One of the last lists I remember writing was when I was a teenager, of what I anticipated would be long-term goals for my soon-to-be adulthood: finish high school, go to university and get a degree, get a job, buy a new car, get married, buy a house and one day, have a family.
I had clear pathways on how I was going to obtain my education and for finding a job, as well as making the different purchases, so I went through my young adulthood ticking things off my list. I didn’t put much thought to the last item on my list however: having children. Even after I got married, I never really contemplated what life would look like once we went from two to three.
Of course, we were excited when we learned we were going to be parents. By this time, I had been working full-time for a few years as a school-based speech pathologist. Working with children didn’t come without its challenges, so I was looking forward to taking a break and doing something different for a while. My husband had a full-time job that he enjoyed and it seemed like we were going to follow the traditional family model I was surrounded by when growing up, where mum stays at home while dad goes to work.
We embraced the arrival of our son, as well as our new roles. After the initial excitement settled, our new routines emerged more clearly. But this new lifestyle was very foreign to me. After a couple of months, I found myself struggling with being a full-time, stay-at-home mum. It seemed that every day was a blur of feeding, changing nappies and not getting to have a shower until late in the afternoon. As I continued to struggle with my new reality, we decided something had to change.
When our son was around four months old, I returned to the workforce for two days a week. We were blessed with support from our family, who offered to help out with babysitting. I found that having regular work days, interactions with other adults and regaining my professional work identity brought a level of balance to my life. It helped to re-establish our routines as well as bring back a part of my identity. It seemed like we had found a great work-life balance (and the extra cash was helpful too!).
After a couple of years, my husband returned to university as a full-time student. This had an impact on my identity once again, as I went from being a part-time working mum to being the primary breadwinner. I was juggling being a mum, working professionally for four days a week and running a small online business.
The lifestyle of a full-time working mum runs to its own hectic schedule and comes with its own challenges. You feel like time is constantly working against you. At times, you feel like you are just rushing through life without having the ability to be a part of it.
And then there are the emotional challenges. The times when you start comparing yourself to other mums—especially those who are free from professional work pressures—and wish you were one of them, at least for a short while. You get the feelings of guilt when your child asks to spend time with you, but you have to rush off to work. You constantly seem to be balancing your work demands while trying to ensure that your family’s needs are met.
You need to function as a unit and that means doing things for the best of the family.
Being a mum has challenged and changed me in many ways. It has made me realise the sacrifices other mums have made for their families. It has caused me to evaluate my values and recognise what is truly important to me. It has added a layer of depth to my spiritual life and given me a deeper understanding of who God is and how He relates to us.
I have come to see my relationship with my son as a reflection of how God relates to me. The love I have towards my son simply exists—it is not something he needs to earn or work for.
As a parent, I only want the very best for my son, although sometimes our definitions of what is “best” differ significantly. If he had his way, he would eat junk food and play with his toys all day long. But I know in order for him to grow into a responsible human being, he needs to eat wholesome food, go to bed at a decent hour as well as learn a range of skills.
In order to be a successful person, he needs to develop character traits such as love, empathy, honesty, resilience, a spirit of sharing and good decision-making skills. I want him to realise that even though I love him to bits, his needs and wants are not always a priority in the scheme of things.
I feel that God has used parenthood as a practical way of teaching me specific lessons. There have been many times when I said something to my son only to realise, as the words were leaving my mouth, that these were the exact messages God wanted to say to me.
One day, I was in the kitchen and my son was asking me to do something that I knew he was fully capable of doing himself. Wanting to encourage his independence, I said, “You do what you can and I will do what you can’t.”
As I was speaking, I heard my own words. It was as if God was telling me He had equipped me with specific skills and abilities that He wanted me to use for the projects placed before me. But He was also reassuring me that when I would encounter things beyond my ability, He would be there to take over.
I have been a full-time working mum for almost seven years now. I still have times when I struggle with balancing things, but over time I have come to realise that all families have their own blueprint. You need to function as a unit and that means doing things for the best of the family. The traditional “dad goes to work and mum stays at home” model is not every family’s reality. And that is OK. I am learning to be more intentional with how I use my time, to ensure I have sufficient time for things that truly matter to me.
If I could give any advice to my younger self it would be this: Don’t compare yourself or your life journey to others. Your child will not come with a manual and your parenting experience will be unique. You will be challenged and will learn lots along the way. You will question and analyse your decisions. At times you will have more questions than answers, but don’t try to solve them all yourself. Your journey may take unexpected turns, so put your trust in God and seek His wisdom. Enjoy discovering and learning things along the way and do not feel like you need to be a “perfect” parent. There is no such thing.
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