As a working mom holding a demanding corporate job, I find myself in this never-ending parental paradox as Anna Whitehouse, Founder of Mother Pukka expressed so well here:
“I miss them when I’m at work. But I am desperate for them to go to sleep when I get home. I want them to grow up while willing them to stay small. I want to keep working but my heart is often breaking – at missed moments and distracted huffs of ‘just a minute’ when they ask for a second of my time. I’m in this hinterland of pining and trying to escape the whining…”
It sure feels like women like me can’t have it all. Or can we?
After spending the second better half of my 20 years in the corporate world juggling parenthood and raising two rambunctious boys, aged 11 and 3, here’s what I have learnt:
1. Don’t be afraid to lean in. Find the support system you need.
I had my first son at the age of 31, just at the brink of my transition from junior management to middle management in corporate communications at a bank. Being a stay-at-home-mom was not an option, so my husband and I turned to his parents, who live just across the road from us, to watch over him. With my second one, eight years later, my in-laws were not as strong any more, so we got childcare instead.
Also, right from the start, it is important to have your husband involved as a hands-on parenting partner. I am very blessed to have a husband who is able to handle almost everything except cooking and breastfeeding. Encourage and credit your partner for their strengths as a parent, and empower them to do what they do best. For instance, my husband has done a wonderful job cutting my son’s hair over the years, so I make it a point to let our friends know how proud I am of him for doing such a great job with it.
Just a note though, that while you can delegate mommy chores to, say, your helper or husband, hold on to the roles that are irreplaceable, such as breastfeeding and being your children’s go-to person for emotional support, teacher as well as cheerleader.
2. There will be sacrifices.
… Especially when you decide to prioritise your role as a full-time worker versus a full-time mom. Know your Why and don’t hesitate to switch priorities as and when needed. When I first went back to work as a full-time working mom, I struggled. I was insecure about how my son was getting closer to his grandma and that he would turn into a brat since kids do generally get a bit more pampered by their grandparents. Then again, like everything, there will be pros and cons; we just have to learn to make the best out of the situation, and that is what I did. With my elder son Rey, I never missed a single first day of school nor report card day, and I also tried to take part in parents’ activities. I also spend time making meaningful gift packs for his teachers and friends, things that I can contribute to somewhat make up for lost time. At the same time, I work hard to make my career count and get the promotion I deserve. For me, it is either all in or nothing at all. I decided that if I was going to be a working mom, I might as well make sure that all that time spent doing good work would count for something, such as financial stability, fancier holidays, and better savings for my kids’ education fund and protection plan.
3. Create memories and capture those precious moments.
This is so important. Through the photos, I got to relish the best part of my childhood, where I spent almost two years in the United States, despite only being 3 to 4 years of age, hence not being able to remember much. Unfortunately, I have no memory of a single family holiday after that, and my parents separated the year I turned twelve. This still pains me today, and I decided that when I have kids of my own, I need to make more deposits into their emotional bank account. I have movie and pasta nights with the boys. Some of my favourite bonding activities with the older one include praying and doing art together. At least two family holidays a year are a must to create lasting memories and to remind them that their seemingly crazy workaholic mom actually adores them to bits. I post these vignettes on my private social account to document how I have seen them grow over the years through my lens. Note to moms out there: learn to take good wefies; you need to get yourself in the frame of some of these precious moments too!
4. Be happy with who you are as a person first and then, as a mom.
It’s the best thing you can give your children. Mothers instinctively put their children’s needs above their own. That is all well and good until we lose our sense of identity. Children look up to their parents as role models. Being a good mom or parent is just one of the many hats we wear. Just as our children want us to be proud of them, we adults should also pursue the best version of ourselves such that our children too can be proud of us. For me, excelling at work, evidenced through winning awards, coaching my team, being confident in my forte, and serving my community, makes me more complete as a person and fuels my drive to become a better parent. I do not resent my family for holding back my career, although there were several times when I definitely put my family over my career, especially when I was planning for my second child, during which I declined career opportunities with Grab and Lazada. I also went for a full 6-month maternity option with 3 months of half-paid leave instead of just 3 months of fully paid leave.
All in all, being confident in my identity and my purpose enabled me to serve my family better.
5. Being a parent turns you into a more empathetic and courageous leader.
I’d like to think I grew into a more nurturing leader after having my first son. As long as they remain accountable for their work, I no longer judge co-workers who leave on the dot or come in a bit later in the morning due to lack of sleep or take time off to run errands for their families. I actually even enjoy occasionally making soup and baking for my work family. Being a mom also gave me a way to connect with other moms as well as expectant moms. It also somehow gave me the courage to speak the truth, fight for what is right, and stand up against bullies. So yes, working moms, unleash your super power at the workplace—we can make a difference.
I still bear the guilt of being the lesser parent sometimes, especially now that my husband has become a stay-at-home dad ever since his company shut down his entire division. But time and again, I remind myself that it is not a competition and the truth is that being a full-time mom to young kids and a thriving corporate woman at the same time is one tough balancing act. So, can we actually have it all? I still maintain that resounding “YES”, just not all at the same time because something’s gotta give, you know. So you are going to win some and lose some, but you will also grow into one resilient and versatile woman who can rock both the cradle and those killer heels all the same!
About the writer
Chayenne Tan is a “momster” to a tween and toddler holding a senior management role at a bank. Having learnt to walk the tightrope of juggling young children and a demanding corporate career, she takes pride in being the voice of working moms, liberating them from the chains of guilt to seeing themselves in a whole new light.