Career vs Baby – is it one or the other?

As a working mum – is it really possible to “have it all”? The women that we work with at Mumager are often concerned about how they can balance having a fulfilling career and quality family time. Many mums have worked really hard to get to where they are and are reluctant to let all their efforts fall by the wayside.   Yet when they have a family they are no longer willing or able to do the hours that they feel is expected of them to be able to advance in their careers.

At the end of 2014 we were invited to attend a discussion on Prime Time about gender quotas for women in the workplace. What struck us was that on the panel of speakers, one woman had given up her career as a barrister to be at home with her children. The other worked full time and her husband was a stay-at-home dad.   For us at Mumager, this summed up perfectly the two extreme choices that the majority of women are facing today in Ireland.

A recent report by the Corporate Leadership Council found that the ratio of males to females is 50:50 in general employees. However by the time you’re looking at being a manager or department head, the ratio has shifted to almost 70% male and 30% female. At executive level the number of women falls to just 20%.

This raises some interesting questions. Is it that women are opting out and taking themselves out of the running because of their family? Is it discrimination against women? Or is it because of a lack of flexible work opportunities?

According to Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook and author of ‘Lean In’ its because we “hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” Whereas journalist and writer Lisa Miller in her article “Stop Blaming Women for Holding Themselves Back at Work” believes that women don’t achieve as much as men in their career simply because they are women and that companies need to try harder to support them. Hillary Clinton is another passionate advocate of working mums and has spoken out recently that “women shouldn’t have to choose between their careers and motherhood…..we still have a lot of cultural, customary, even attitudinal, psychological barriers to equality

More heartening are recent findings from the Harvard Business Review. Following research that spanned three generations and 25,000 graduates of Harvard Business School they found “no correlation at all between career success and decisions an individual makes to accommodate family, by limiting travel, choosing more flexible hours, or moving laterally within a company”.  In fact the research found that successful individuals had actually demanded more from work in terms of flexibility.

Here in Ireland there seems to be limited opportunities to work flexibly. Many employers are reluctant to even discuss the possibility of it – forcing many women to make the choice between their family and their career – in effect saying ‘no – you can’t have it all’?

But this doesn’t have to be the case.   At Mumager we believe you can have both. There are much larger economic issues such as affordable childcare and paid maternity leave have a big impact on the choices that women make about their careers. There’s also the issue of deep-rooted culture and traditions that dictate how we should be working.    Taking on the culture of the company that you work in can seem daunting.   But as an individual you are the culture of where you work – and the country you live in.   We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to find a way of working that means we can have a fulfilling career and be there for our families too.

So to help us have it all, here are some practical things to think about:

 

  • Don’t apologise. For being pregnant. For taking time off to go to hospital appointments. For going on maternity leave. For using your parental leave to do reduced hours.   Its not money that makes the world go round, its people. And as women we play a crucial role in that.

 

  1. Define what ‘having it all’ means for you. There’s no one size fits all. Once you know what this means for you and your family you can make choices about the boundaries that you have around work and home and what you’re willing to do. Be confident in the choices you’ve made and avoid comparing yourself with other mums.
  2. Be realistic and manage expectations. It’s unlikely that you’re going to be made senior partner in your firm by working a 3-day week, term-time only. There are certain roles or positions that will require you to show your commitment, and that often equates to hours as well as output. Think about what is going to work for you and your boss, and then what that means for you.
  3. Focus and be present. Whether at home or at work be fully there in mind, body and spirit. Many women say that they feel torn and are often thinking about work when at home, and sometimes vice versa. Make the most of where you are in each moment.
  4. Think of your career as a long-term project. The choices that you make in the next few years don’t have to define your whole career. When your children are very young, it’s easy to think that life will always be this way. As we know they grow up so fast. When they start school you may find that you have some more time, energy and flexibility to work differently.
  5. Ask for flexibility. HBR found that those people (men and women) who had achieved senior positions had demanded more flexibility in their roles.   If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Present a compelling case that showcases your value to the company.
  6. Avoid projecting about the future and the impact of your choices. Worrying is pointless and delays action. Often we imagine worse case scenarios – all the things that might happen if we ask for x or y. Force yourself to think about the best case scenario too. It’s likely that things will never work out at badly as you’ve feared.
  7. Build up contacts – in and out of work. This helps with career choices, support networks and is vital to opening up your eyes to the new possibilities. Look for role models that you can ask for advice e.g. how they got their boss to say yes to flexible working, or how they balance work and home.
  8. Keep your online profile up to date. You never know what new opportunities may arise by having a strong profile on sites like LinkedIn.
  9. Be a leader. If you are in a position at work to support others get flexible working then stand up and be counted. Just because your organisation ‘never did this before’ it doesn’t mean they can’t change. Take an active role in supporting or mentoring other women and highlight issues and challenges to senior management.
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Re-establishing relationships at work

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One of the biggest questions that the mums who come along to our Mumager workshops have is how to manage relationships with their boss and colleagues when they return to work.

A recent survey showed that the average office worker clocks in an extra 10 hours a week – that’s an additional 3 months a year. Many of us fall into this pattern without even thinking. It’s just what we, and everyone else ‘does’. Unless we have a compelling reason to leave work on time, often there are no clear boundaries around our working hours. That’s until you have a very compelling reason to leave on time – a baby.

It’s at this time, as mums return to work, that their working hours often become an issue. Many mums just aren’t able or willing to put in the hours that they used to. This can be for very practical reasons – they have to pick up their children from crèche or a child-minder at a specific time. Or, it may be that priorities have shifted and they want to get a better balance between work and home.
This can often cause tensions with bosses and co-workers. Research by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) found that over 31% of new mums said that their relationship with their boss had deteriorated once they came back from maternity leave. Additionally another study found that 64% of parents feel childless colleagues are unsympathetic to the juggle they face. Tensions in relationships can be challenging to deal with at the best of times. Add in the fact that a third of mums said they felt less confident going back to work – and suddenly it can feel like a major problem.

Before we get into solution mode and start to look at what we can do, let’s take a step back and look at the situation. Chances are that before you had your baby you were willing or able to do whatever hours you needed to. Maybe you were usually one of the last people to leave at night and could always be relied on to respond immediately to emails? Now your job may no longer be your priority, leaving your boss or colleagues wondering where they stand. It may feel that the old you has been hi-jacked and replaced by a different person. Some of the bosses that we work with have said that they’re not sure how best to handle mums who have just returned. Some mums want to be treated exactly as they were before, whereas others welcome some recognition of their changed circumstances, which can be tricky for a line manager to get right. So what can you do to manage expectations and make sure you continue to have good relationships with the people you work with? Here are just a few of our suggestions.

1. Be clear on your values. What is most important to you right now? You may be the main earner in your family, or you may decide that now is the time to ‘lean in’ as you want to reach a certain level in your career. So perhaps for you you’re willing to do whatever it is you have to do. Or you may decide that you want to ‘lean out’. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up work – it can mean being happy with the level you’re at and not actively seeking advancements right now. Or, you may decide that you’re ‘leaning sideways’. You still have career goals and ambitions but are limiting the time you’re investing in the right now, and are accepting of the fact that they may take a bit longer to realise.

2. Set realistic boundaries. Once you know what you value, decide what you are and aren’t willing to do. What hours are you going to work? Are you contactable in the evening or on your day off? Think about what is going to work for you in your job and how responsive you need to be e.g. if you have an important project at work you may agree that you will need to do some work in the evening.

3. Manage your boundaries. No-one else will manage them for you so make sure you start as you mean to go on by leaving on time and only checking emails out of work if you’re expecting something urgent. If you are going to work in the evenings set clear parameters and agree these with your partner. Many people find setting a timer for 30mins helps them to focus on urgent tasks and then reminds them to stop and step away from their phone or laptop and be present at home.

4. Be upfront. It can be a minefield of assumptions when you return to work. Some people may assume that you’re not as ambitious as you were pre-baby. Some may assume that you can still do the hours that you did before. Share with your boss the boundaries that you have e.g. if you have to leave at a certain time. Pre-empt any objections and share what you will do to work around this e.g. you’ll be in earlier, or will check emails at night at an agreed time to pick up anything urgent. Agree with your boss and colleagues what constitutes ‘urgent’.

5. Be confident. Avoid apologising for leaving the office on time. If you show people that you are confident that you can complete your work in reasonable hours, then it will help them trust you. You’ll also be a good role model for others in the office too.

6. Show your commitment. Many working mums say that they are so much more productive when they return to work – so show that to people. Talk about what you’re achieving – something that many of us aren’t good at. If you’re in early, send emails to remind people that whilst you leave on time you’ve been in long before they’re having their first coffee of the day.

7. Give and take. Are you the type of mum who automatically expects everyone to make way for you just because you’re pushing a pram? Don’t be that person at work. As far as some of your co-workers are concerned you’ve chosen to have children so therefore have to deal with the consequences. So think in advance what you’re going to do if your child is ill – will you and your partner share responsibility? What back up do you have in place? If you do end up taking time off (which you inevitably will) be upfront and agree what you can do to cover your workload rather than someone else having to pick it up for you.

8. Be patient. It’s likely that it took you and your partner some time to re-negotiate your relationship after you had your baby. The same may be true for your relationships at work. If you hit some bumps along the way try to be patient and see the situation from the other person’s perspective.
9. Get perspective. Remember that when this is a phase that you’re in, and like teething it will pass and get easier. When you return to work it’s a time of re-adjustment for everyone. What may feel like a huge issue or concern right now, will only be a memory later on.

10. Have confidence. That you are still really good at your job. That you’re a valued part of the team, and that you’re doing the very best that you can for you and your family. Above all make the decisions that are right for you and try not to compare yourself with other people, or particularly other mums. We’re all on our own path following our own star.
For more advice on being a working mom, speak with our back to work experts.

For more advice on being a working mom, speak with our back to work experts.
Mumager, our back to work experts, run workshops throughout the year. For more information contact them via their website.

Short term and long term tips for getting more sleep

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I’ve just had 3 nights of unbroken sleep so forgive me if you can detect a jaunty spring in my voice. It’s a cause for celebration because over the last 18 months, a full night’s sleep has teased and flirted with me – but has rarely asked me out. I’m hoping that we’ll see each other again – hey, I’d go so far as to say I’d love this to be a long-term thing.

When you become a parent you find yourself Googling all sorts of weird and wonderful things. The one topic that has always been top of my search favourites is “sleep”. There was abundant advice about ‘how much should a 4-month old sleep’ and ‘how to get my baby to sleep through the night’ (a half mashed banana before bed is the current hot tip apparently).

What I didn’t find was a lot of information about how to cope as a sleep-deprived parent – especially one that was going back to work.

I have two little boys. My eldest boy was a great sleeper – until his little brother was born. Between the two of them, on a good night, we’d be up 3 times a night, on a bad night it could be around six times a night.

Latest research has shown that routinely getting by on less than 5 hours sleep has the same effect on your performance as if you’re drunk. Then there’s a whole host of depressing effects of lack of sleep. We really don’t need to be reminded that not getting enough sleep makes you age faster, or that it can have a negative impact on your sex life, memory and even your ability to lose weight. So let’s not go there.

When you’re on maternity (or paternity) leave, you can usually get through the day. You feel tired, but it’s okay. You can sleep when they sleep (sometimes). You can have a day in your PJs. When it’s time to go back to work that’s not an option. You’ve got decisions to make, stuff to do. A boss or clients to impress. If you’re working shorter hours, or need to leave on time, you may find that every second of your day counts. Plus you’ll no doubt want to show that you’re on top of your game for fear of being put on the ‘Mammy-track’.

Whilst I’ve become better at coping with less sleep, I’m definitely a better person when I have a good few hours under my belt. Rather than soldiering on, I made it my mission to think more strategically about what I could do to cope with the lack of sleep. I work for myself and clients expect me to be on top form. After all – that’s what they’re paying me for. So following some research (some scientific, some done in my own sleep laboratory), here’s some things that I found work:

Quick Fix Solutions

  • Have a pre-bed routine that signals to your mind and body that it’s time to switch off, have a bath, lay out your clothes for the next day or read a few pages of a book to help you unwind.
  • Avoid using your tablet or phone immediately before going to bed. Research has found that the bright light emitted from these devises can interfere with melatonin – the hormone that helps control our sleep cycles. If you’re using it to read with then dim the brightness on it to avoid the light disturbing your sleep.
  • Set up camp in the spare room. Every now and then my husband or I sleep in the spare room. We shut the door, put the ear plugs in and have a full night’s sleep. Even if you don’t have a spare room you could make up a bed downstairs or sleep at a friend’s house if the going gets really tough.
  • Fuel your body. When we’re tired, it’s often crap that we want to eat. Whilst an extra-shot cappuccino and a chocolate croissant might be just the ticket, it’s going to make you feel worse later on. Try eating energy-rich foods like nuts, porridge, oatcakes, bananas and drinking lots of water. Even if it’s a pint of water to wash your cake down with.
  • Listen to music. Pick a favourite track that will lift your spirits and help you forget how tired you are.
  • Get out in the fresh air. A quick walk around the block will make you feel more awake.
  • Spritz yourself with your favourite scent. Aroma-therapists suggest that smelling rosemary, eucalyptus, peppermint or coffee can also make you feel more awake.
  • Power nap. There is no shame in having a snooze on the Dart. Just don’t miss your stop. Or drool (never attractive).
  • Try to avoid the ‘who is tiredest’ competition. Snapping at your partner isn’t going to make either of you feel better.

Longer Term Tips
Try and get to the root cause of your baby or toddler waking up. Have you created a habit of letting them fall asleep on you or rocking them to sleep? Are they cold during the night? Are they hungry? Have you let them get into bed with you and now it’s become a habit?

When you’re so exhausted it can be easy to keep going for the quick fix, ‘I’ll just do it tonight… one last time’. Agree with your partner that you’re going to break the habit and when you’re going to make the changes. Most experts suggest it takes just 3 nights to break a bad habit and form a new one. Once you’ve made the commitment – keep going.

And if all else fails!
Sometimes babies and toddlers just go through phases of not sleeping well. Remember ‘this too shall pass’. Console yourself with the fact that when they’re teenagers you’ll no doubt get your own back by standing over their beds nagging them to get up!

At Mumager our aim is to support moms returning to work after maternity leave. Our next workshop is on the 19th of November 2014 in Castleknock Hotel and Country Club. Contact us at info@mumager.ie for more information or advice on how we can support you. See more at: http://www.eumom.ie/family-life/short-term-and-long-term-tips-for-getting-more-sleep/#sthash.pSibYJiH.dpuf

When your child is ill, who is left holding the baby?

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It’s one of those mornings; all your tights have ladders in them, someone put the milk carton back in the fridge empty and now your toddler, who was fine yesterday, has started vomiting and has a fever. You know you can’t take them to the crèche like this, so what do you do? Apart from scream, tear your hair out, cry, shout ‘why me?’

According to the National Association for Sick Child Daycare, working mothers are absent from their jobs anywhere from five to 29 days per year because they are caring for ill children. This is a common occurrence when you consider the results of a study of more than 135,000 children in Copenhagen who reported that young children who attend daycare are at greater risk for catching colds and bugs than kids who stay home, especially in the first 6 months. (Take heart – when they are older, researchers found that they have fewer colds as they have built up immunity).

The way I see it, there are two aspects to this problem:

  • What do you do about work?
  • What do you do about childcare?

If you can solve one of those aspects, you’ve solved the second one!


If you have no other options other than to stay home with your child, then you need to speak with your workplace. It’s not always moms that are in this position, but a 2007 study by the University of Cincinnati reported that 78% of women say that they are the ones taking time off from work to stay home with an ill child rather than their male partner.

If you can, take a few minutes to think about what’s in your work diary before you call the office. Can you reschedule meetings or take some calls at home? A quick handover call with a colleague might prevent a big emergency later on in the day.

When you call your employer they may say it’s not a problem and just ask you to make up the hours at a later date. Remember managers are people and possibly parents too and they may be more understanding than you give them credit for.

If that’s not the case then what are your options?

Well, in Ireland your first option is to take a day’s Force Majeure leave. This is paid leave for urgent family reasons. It’s for times when your immediate presence is required either due to the injury or illness of a family member or for another urgent family reason. There’s no minimum period of service to qualify. All employees are entitled to up to 3 days in a period of 12 consecutive months, or up to 5 days in a period of 36 consecutive months.

If you’ve exhausted your Force Majeure leave, your employer may allow you to take either a day’s annual leave or perhaps take the day off unpaid. They are under no obligation to do either. Speak to your manager and explain the benefits to them of allowing some flexibility. Perhaps this one day off today will give you the time to put a back-up plan in place so you won’t need any further days off for the same reason.

Often, parents are scared to approach their employer in this kind of scenario. Having worked in HR for 15 years, I have seen many parents call in sick instead of asking to take leave. My advice is not to do that. Sickness absence is often tightly monitored and this could lead to more serious long term problems with your employer. Also what happens when you are sick and you’re not entitled to any more company sick pay?

When you do return to work, acknowledge your absence to your colleagues. If you’re up front about it you’ll be less likely to receive any snide or sarcastic comments. If anybody’s taken up some of your workload from the day you missed, thank them and ask if there’s anything you can do in return.

Remember that your colleagues may be left ‘holding the baby’ on important projects if you can’t come in and it’s not their fault your child was ill, so treat them with respect. This kind of approach will go a long way for any future issues that may arise. Someone else in the team may end up being in a similar situation so you need to show them the same understanding as you would like to receive. Not everyone is a parent but everyone has issues that occur outside of work that put people under pressure.

For every under-the-weather child, there is a mom (or a dad) who must leave their job, push off their work responsibilities, and head home to play nurse maid. So before you call into work, take a breath and remember that you’re doing the best you can for you and your child.

For more advice on being a working mom, speak with our back to work experts.
Mumager, our back to work experts, will be running their next workshop on the 19th of November.
– See more at: http://www.eumom.ie/family-life/when-your-child-is-ill-who-is-left-holding-the-baby/#sthash.osg6gwLE.dpuf

The one question I ask myself

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I believe that all human problems stem from two places: fear or desire.

If you’re scared to confront someone then it relates to fear. It could be your fear of upsetting them, your fear of making a situation worse or your fear that the person won’t like you anymore. That’s fear stopping you having a conversation.

A lot of our daily decision making is driven by fear and I suggest that this is neither rational nor useful. I’m going to share something I use when making difficult decisions.

I ask myself just one question. It has worked for me to lead to less fear and definitely better decision making. I’m going to ask you the same question:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

And notice that I asked what thing, not plural things, I don’t want a list of all possible bad things you may ever encounter.

So, what was your answer? Chances are that no matter who you are it’s something to do with loss and death. I don’t consider death a morbid subject, it’s a reality for all and as I read recently it is “the greatest equaliser”.

Now that you’ve established the singular worst thing that could happen, you can use this to lead to less fear and better decision making.

Let’s say you’re at work and someone keeps interrupting you and all they want is a chat. You have to leave on time, have deadlines and could do without the constant chatter. You don’t want to offend your colleague or come across as unapproachable – that is your fear voice talking. Now ask yourself this: If you tell that person that you’d love to talk to them it’s just that you need some uninterrupted time, and suggest to schedule a lunch/coffee together another day to catch up, will the worst thing
happen? No, it won’t. Easy.

Now, I know that there’s a whole list of ‘but this or that’. Ignore it. The worst thing won’t happen and that’s all that matters.

Give it a go for just one decision today and see how you get on. It takes practice and I promise you it’s well worth it for overcoming your fears.

The biggest loser in the English language

Should. It’s the most useless, redundant word used in everyday language. It’s a word that annoys, frustrates, causes anger, and acts as a catalyst for guilt and other negative emotions.

When was the last time you said it? Talking about a mutual friend “well you know what she should do, she should tell him to”. Or maybe at work “you should go and speak to”. Or with your partner “we really should go to that party/christening/dinner”.

The worst type of conversation involving the word should is the one you have with yourself. You know that discussion with your internal voice where you think about what you should or shouldn’t do. Or what you should have or shouldn’t have done.

The more I type it the more I despise the word.

The redundancy of should is not new to me. It’s a concept I’ve been sharing with people both in my personal and professional life for at least the last couple of years. I had assumed that once I had explained the case for never using that word again that I would never hear it from those people. I was completely wrong. I underestimated the power that people’s inner voices have over them.

Let me explain why you must remove the word should from your vocabulary. The word is subjective.  By that I mean its use is based on a person’s feelings, ideas, and experiences and not on facts. We cannot assume another’s feelings, ideas or experiences as every person on this planet is unique.

Should never relates to fact and can never be used to tell yourself, or another person, how to behave, think, feel or act. How quickly do you switch off when someone tells you how you should do something?

Even as I typed this I thought it could be useful to look at the online dictionary definition of the word and I got the following:

  • Used for saying or asking about the right or sensible thing to do or the right way to behave; used for saying what is correct, especially when the situation is different from this
  • Used when you have strong reasons for believing or expecting something
  • Used after “if” or instead of “if” for describing a situation that may possibly happen
  • Used for saying what someone thinks is important
  • Used for saying what someone decides, suggests, or orders

The first example there is about the right or sensible thing to do or the right way to behave. Well don’t we all have different ideas about what is right or sensible? I saw a man yesterday walking down the street wearing only a pair of speedos and a hoodie, for him that was his ‘right’ way of behaving. It wouldn’t have been my personal choice of outfit on a cool day (on any day in fact) but he wasn’t breaking any law so why not?

Breaking the law is often people’s counter argument to me when I talk about losing should from vocabulary. A frequent response I hear is “but the law says that you shouldn’t kill someone as that is wrong.”

No, the law says that you cannot or must not kill.

The dictionary’s second point is that it’s used when you have strong reasons for believing or expecting something. Beliefs are personal and not based on facts. E.g. some people believe in religion, some people believe eating bread will make them fat.

Beliefs cannot be applied unilaterally. Expectations are also non-factual.Who can predict the future?

And talking of predicting the future we reach point no. 3 in the dictionary definition – the possibility that something may happen. Well, let’s use ‘may happen’ instead of should. If you were conducting an experiment where you placed a tooth in a cup of cola overnight there is no rule to say that you
should find the tooth dissolves overnight. You would say that three thing may happen: 1) Nothing would happen to the tooth 2) the tooth would partially dissolve, 3) the tooth would completely dissolve. There’s no should about it. Something will happen or something won’t happen. It’s the
same when we’re predicting the future of our lives.

I won’t go through the rest of the dictionary definitions. I’m sure you can see by now how it works.

All I ask is that for one day you replace the word should with could or would. Take note of what happens to your inner conversations. Listen to the change in your external conversations. See what happens to your written communications. Perhaps it will take a bit longer to explain something, it’s worth it for the more positive results.

If you manage a day without it, see if you can do two days. You’ll start to notice how often it’s used and yet how useless it is. Join me on my mission to make should the dictionary’s biggest loser.

 

 

5 ways to say ‘No’

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As a mum, working or otherwise, time is precious. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to fit everything in. Yet sometimes we end up making life more difficult for ourselves by over-committing to things: “you want me to join that conference call on my non-working day – sure, I can do that?”; ‘help organise the raffle at Scouts again – no problem!”; “dinner at great-aunty Marjorie’s on Saturday and can I bring dessert – yes, would love to!”.


Its lovely to be involved in stuff and of course there are times that we need to go the extra mile or help someone out. But if you find yourself constantly rushing from one thing to the next – be that at work or at the weekends, maybe you need to get better at saying ‘no’? After all when you say yes to something you don’t enjoy, you say no to things that you love.


Your toddler is probably an expert at using ‘No’. Here are 5 tips to help you say that elusive word too:

  • Buy yourself time. Instead of committing on the spot say ‘I’ll have to check my diary and will get back to you’. It can be easier to say ‘no’ if the other person feels we’ve given it some consideration.
  • Just say ‘no’. You don’t always have to give a reason or excuse as to why you can’t or don’t want to do something. Sometimes we dilute our ‘no’ by waffling on about why we can’t do it. It’s okay – you’re allowed to say ‘no’.
  • If you never say ‘no’ what’s the value of your ‘yes’? Value your own time and others will start to value you more too.
  • Offer an alternative (if you think it’s appropriate). For example ‘no I can’t come to that meeting but I can send you my headline thoughts the day before’).
  • It’s not what you say it’s how you say it. If saying ‘no’ sounds too blunt you can frame it differently – e.g. ‘thanks for asking me, it sounds great – unfortunately I can’t make it this time around’.


Good luck with flexing your ‘no’ muscle. Do get in touch with us at Mumager info@Mumager.ie or follow us on Twitter @MumagerIE for more tips.

Get a grip on your G-Spot

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It seems a week doesn’t go by without reading an article about how guilty mums are feeling. Latest research shows that 81% of mums feel guilty about returning to work. But it isn’t just reserved for working mums, stay-at-home mums suffer from it, and I’m sure Dads do too. Evidence suggests guilt is in abundant supply – it’s a G-spot we don’t struggle to find. Whilst it may be momentarily comforting to know we’re not alone, all this talk of guilt doesn’t do anything to lessen it. Guilt isn’t a helpful emotion – it only makes us feel worse and gives us something else to worry about. So rather than soldiering on, let’s look at what we can do to get a grip on our guilt-spot and lessen it a bit.


I’m a working mum. I work as a freelance coach and trainer and deliver management and personal development courses that use tools from positive psychology to help people be at their best. Following the birth of my second baby I started to really think about how some of the tools that I use in a work environment can be useful to home life too. Overall I think the key to finding a good balance with family and work boils down to good management skills. But when it comes to guilt, what I’ve found most helpful is to focus on what I can control rather than worrying about what I can’t. Not working for me isn’t an option. Not because I have to fund an extravagant lifestyle, just so that we’re able to live comfortably. Whenever I feel myself getting overwhelmed with anxiety or guilt, I use the following tool. I’d recommend writing down your thoughts (so grab a pen and paper or go electronic) to the following questions:

  • Write it all down. First write down a list of everything thing that is concerning you right now about being a parent (whether you’re a working or stay at home mum)
  • Where do I have influence? Go through each concern and ask yourself can I influence it – yes or no? Be quite tough on yourself here, I sometimes enlist the help of a straight-talking friend if I think I’m going to let myself off the hook or am in danger of wallowing.
  • Accept what you can’t change. If you can’t do anything about that concern e.g. if you have to work to make ends meet – you can’t change that so you’re wasting valuable time and mental energy thinking about. So stop.
  • Take control. If you can do something to influence it (and you’ll probably find that you can influence more than you think) you can start to think about what you can do to take control and minimise that concern – e.g. maybe you could cut down your hours and take a salary cut. I took the decision to only work 2 days a week and have had to change my spending habits (I’ve become an expert in DIY beauty treatments!). Or if you’re overwhelmed with everything you have to do at home perhaps you could get a cleaner. Now I know you may be thinking ‘yeah right, a cleaner is a luxury’ but readjusting your spending habits may free up some cash (my take-away coffee habit has been curbed). Maybe you’re finding the idea of putting your baby to crèche upsetting – so you could research getting someone to come to your house, or arrange a nanny-share with a friend. The more creative you can be the better. Again – I find enlisting the help of a friend useful here to help me think outside the box.


“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”


Whilst you may not be able to get rid of guilt completely, knowing that you’re doing all that you can to make the best of your situation, and doing what’s right for you as a family will help you feel more in control.


Not all of us feel guilty of course. Some manage to get a good handle on it. I spoke with one mum who said ‘I compartmentalise things. I know my kids are happy with our minder, so I don’t need to worry when I’m at work, plus I have someone who come in once a week to clean so I don’t need to worry so much about chores when I’m at home’. So in case you’re about to start feeling guilty that you don’t feel guilt – stop there and congratulate yourself.


In summary, here are 5 top tips to help you get a handle on your G-Spot.

  • Recognise when you’re in guilt-overdrive and stop. Decide to be pro-active and do something about it.
  • Decide on what actions you can take on the areas that are within your control. The more specific you can be the more like you are to do them. Be creative with your solutions and enlist the help of a friend if you need to.
  • Focus on what you are managing to achieve rather than what you’re not. There will always be more that you could do, but do you need to do it?
  • Enlist the help of or hire an army of helpers (cleaner/gardener/someone to do the ironing) so that when you’re at home you can have quality time rather than rushing around. Maybe you have a great family that can help out for free. But if you don’t have family nearby maybe you’re willing to make sacrifices so that you can afford to pay for a bit of help.
  • Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. Just be the best that you can be on each given day.

Mumager’s A to Z of Returning to Work

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A is for Awesome – You are awesome! Parenting is hard work. Occasionally reminding yourself of your awesomeness is not a bad thing. We’re not talking about loudly blowing your own trumpet, we’re
talking about remembering to acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can and that’s awesome.


B is for Boss – Your boss is there to support you in doing the best job you can. Remember your boss is happy when you are engaged and happy in your role.


C is for Colleagues – Some of them may not understand your need to leave on time and make jokes about half days etc. We all have choices and those people could also choose to leave on time. Their
comments to you, like all put downs is about them, not you. Smile sweetly and politely ask them to
respect your choices.


D is for De-clutter – De-cluttering your home and your wardrobe can help to de-clutter your mind, freeing up space for you to focus on the important things. Recycle baby toys that they have now
grown out of by either packing away (for the next one?) or giving to your charity shop. The less
‘stuff’ you have, the less you have to tidy up.


E is for Energy – Eating right is part of the energy equation, eat as little processed food as you can and increase your intake of fresh fruit and veg and water. Walk short distances rather than drive where
possible.


F is for Flexible Working – Investigate your company’s policies on parental leave and flexible working. If you don’t ask you don’t get. It costs more to hire than to retain and working a slightly different
pattern might just be a win-win for you and your boss.


G is for Guilt – We all have a guilt spot! How you manage your own guilt is key. Check out our blog on Guilt!


H is for housework – Adopt a mantra of ‘good enough’. You may need to relax your standards and
accept that some degree of mess comes with having young children. If you can afford help – get a
cleaner. Otherwise, decide what is important to you – maybe having a clean loo and kitchen helps
keep you sane and it doesn’t matter so much about the rest of the house. Start getting the little
ones involved in ‘tidy up’ time as young as possible.


I is for Image – Having confidence in your image as you return to work after maternity leave can
boost that inner confidence and self worth. Your pre-baby clothes may not fit the same, or perhaps your shape has changed. Whatever your budget, its worth buying a couple of new outfits to help you feel the part – be it from Primark or Prada.


J is for Juggling – It’s hard keeping everything going – but which balls that you’re juggling are the most important? Brian G. Dyson the former CEO of Coca-Cola famously said “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air – Work – Family – Health – Friends – Spirit, and you’re keeping all of these in the air. Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered”.


K is for Kindness –Be kind to yourself as you make this transition and give yourself credit for every achievement no matter how small. You are doing the best that you can every day for your family.


L is for leave on time – Start as you mean to go on. Leaving on time doesn’t mean you’re less
committed to the job. It just means you have other commitments. If you stay late, it also gives mixed messages about what you can and can’t do.


M is for Mumager – Well, we had to put that in somewhere! Mumager is the only practical workshop running in Ireland currently aimed at supporting employers to support their mums returning from
maternity leave. https://mumager.wordpress.com/

N is for No – When you need to say ‘no’ don’t dilute your message by giving a list of reasons. Check out our tips on saying ‘no’ in our blog https://mumager.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/5-ways-to-say-no/

O is for Optimism – A positive optimistic attitude will get you everywhere. So your day may have got off to a bad start – you’ve had no sleep, you were late leaving the house to get to crèche, your baby wailed when you left and now you’ve missed your train. Try not to let it ruin the rest of your day. Stop. Breathe. Remember you will find what you are looking for – if you tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day – you’ll have one. Decide to make it a good day.

P is for Productivity – Work smart. Turn off your email alerts when you’re working on an important piece of work. Decide how many times a day you need to check your emails – 3 times should be enough for most people – morning, lunchtime and an hour before you go home. Think about when you’re at your best. If you’re at your best first thing in the morning – why not work on that challenging spreadsheet when you’re at your most awake and leave your emails for a mid-morning coffee at your desk.

Q is for Quiet time – Take some quiet time for yourself each day, even 5 minutes to yourself can help to prevent stress accumulating. Check out our tips here – https://mumager.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/hold-on-to-your-power/

R is for Rewards – Reward yourself regularly. As a working mum you deserve it.

S is for Support – Everyone needs a network of support. Don’t feel scared asking yours for help or suggesting to other mums to share some of the pick-ups, drop-offs, afternoon childcare etc. to make your lives a teeny bit easier.

T is for turn it off –When you’re at home try to forget about work and be fully present, in the moment. Take email (and Twitter/Facebook) off your phone so you’re not tempted to just do a ‘quick check’. If that’s not possible at least turn your phone off whilst your kids are around. Very few things are truly that urgent that they can’t wait a few hours.


U is for unwind – After a day of juggling drop-offs, meetings, deadlines, pick-ups, the list goes on, try find some time to unwind and relax. https://mumager.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/hold-on-to-your-power/


V is for Values –Know your values. Understand those things that are really important to you. Knowing your values brings clarity to decision making and can help to alleviate unwanted emotions such as guilt.


W is for Worry-It is natural to worry about how you are going to juggle everything when you go back to work after maternity leave. Annoyingly time spent worrying is time completely wasted. Instead look at your options, talk to others to see how they manage and spend time trying out your new routine before you go back.


X is for X-factor.-No, not the telly programme. But what makes you special? What did you love to do before you had children? What makes you feel great? Whether its setting up a book-club with other mums, doing a cookery course or going for a free make-over at one of the beauty counters – make it happen.


Y is for You.-Always remember to take some time out for YOU. https://mumager.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/hold-on-to-your-power/


Z is for zzzzzzds –We can’t help your child sleep through the night or give you the occasionally lie-in but we do know that relaxation techniques found in yoga and meditation can help you get to sleep quicker and increase the quality of your sleep. The skill of power-napping is one worth learning so that you can catch some extra zzzzs whenever possible. When the going gets really tough, go to the spare room for the night and leave your partner ‘on duty’. Its amazing how a full nights, uninterrupted sleep can make you feel ready to tackle anything.