Are working mothers 'consciously uncoupling' from their children?

Gwyneth Paltrow has received a lot of media attention recently due to the interesting terminology her and husband, Chris Martin, used to describe their breakup, ‘conscious uncoupling’. If that wasn’t enough her comments in relation to working mothers have sparked outrage:

“I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening,”

Up at 5.45 am to go to the gym. Arrive home at 7am and make sure my three children are getting ready for school. Make lunches. Make sure teeth are brushed. Sign school excursion forms. Fix bed hair. Get myself ready! Head out the door at 7.45 am to drop one of the three to school and then on to work. That’s ‘all the stuff in the morning’ ticked thanks Gwyneth. Then after a nine to ten hour work day I race home (remaining patient and calm of course!) to casually knock off those simple evening jobs such as dinner, showers, homework and finally the never-ending bedtime negotiations.  After we’ve kissed these gorgeous little creatures goodnight, my husband and I finally sit down at around 9pm and engage in some conscious coupling and then it is time for bed.

Just for the record Gywneth, my day goes like this….

How do we do this everyday?

It takes a serious amount of organisation and I am one of the lucky ones with a husband who is able to help run our home. I take my hat off to those that do it solo.

I personally wouldn’t have it any other way but at no time judge those mothers that stay at home and choose that as their occupation.

In order to be a working Mum who wants a career and work life balance, there are certain things to consider so that sanity prevails and it all feels worthwhile.

Ask for help - People can’t read your mind.  If you need someone to be taken to school or picked up from an event, ask. If your husband asks what he can do to help then tell him and don’t be a martyr and try and do it all yourself.  Accept the offers of help. Don’t feel guilty. If you can afford a cleaner, gardener or someone to do your ironing, then outsource.

Juggle Strategically – many parenting experts would scoff at this. Utilise your precious time by checking work emails while the kids are having showers or sit at the kitchen bench and check emails whilst your child is doing homework. You are still by their side and one extra benefit is that you can quickly Google how to do long division when your nine year old asks!

Technology is your friend – I’m guilty of allowing technology to become a distraction at times, but I’m trying to use it to make time rather than waste it. It can certainly add value for organising schedules. I use a family calendar system online and get the whole family involved. If I need my husband to pick children up from ballet or tennis then it’s shared to his calendar (I highly recommend a phone call reminder!). Other apps may be useful to help you use time more efficiently during your business day. An app called cardmunch takes a picture and a business card is converted to a contact automatically. It can also show LinkedIn profile information and connections you have in common.

Encourage flexibility – In reality, a working mother needs some workplace flexibility. There will be times when family needs to come first. Like most things in life, a good compromise can be found on the basis of mutual respect. If you expect workplace flexibility then also be willing to go into the office on a work-from-home day if it’s really needed. Flexibility needs to be a two-way street.

Mindfulness – Sometimes I find the whole situation can feel overwhelming. Mindfulness is about being in the moment and taking it for what it is. Not being distracted by what is in the past and what is in the future. Appreciating the now When I’ve managed to use this on a regular basis it really has cleared my mind and given me a genuine feeling of inner calm. A fantastic app that I use is smiling mind.

Eggs on toast are gourmet - Facing the dinner challenge every night is “ground hog day”. We can’t do it all and our kids will not care if eggs on toast are dished up every Wednesday night. Cook a big pasta sauce on the weekend or use a slow cooker. Make double quantities.  Use the freezer to store those double quantities as emergency meals. Finally, turn off Masterchef to ensure that the expectations of the kids aren’t too high!

Make time for you! Have a massage, pedicure or facial (that sounds a bit Gwyneth I know). If you have to sit in the car out front of your house and have five minutes of quiet time to get peace then do it!  Go for a walk or a run first thing in the morning. On the weekend go and have a coffee by yourself and read the paper. Whilst we are running around after everyone else we do forget about ourselves.

People may ask; “Why do you work?”  Other than the obvious financial benefit, if I sat home all day I would lose my mind. I feel proud of my career achievements and I enjoy contributing to our family financially; I think it strengthens my self-confidence. Therefore, for me, I believe it makes me a better parent because I’m a happier person. As a child I was brought up with a good dose of ‘catholic guilt’. Luckily now all I have to deal with is mother’s guilt. At times I feel guilty because I am not at every school pick-up and drop-off and sporting match. I am showing my kids that women are important to society, and that working is a part of reality and aids us in having the lovely life that we have. My children feel very loved and so far are well adjusted. This is what works for me and by no means do I think this will work for everyone. I think we can all learn from each other and take what we think are the good bits and integrate them into our lives.

I hope to look back and reflect on this stage of my life and feel proud that I achieved work life balance….albeit with a side of chaos!


Kristan De Sousa

Director and working mother.