Time for a bit of real-talk, mamas. We know you’re all Supermums whether you work in or outside the home, but lately in this age of leaning in and multi-tasking, we’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “have it all” — that is, balance a career with raising littlies. Is it really possible? Do men wrestle with these issues?
We sat down with five mamas from an industry notorious for long hours and poor work-life balance – lawyers – to hear about their different work arrangements here in Singapore. They spill their secrets about juggling demanding jobs with raising at least two children. So whether you’re thinking about re-entering the workforce, or have been considering quitting your busy job to focus more on the homefront, here are some of their invaluable Sassy tips.
NB: Due to the high-powered and sensitive nature of their jobs, a few of our mamas have chosen to keep their names private.
The Fulfilled Mama: Sophy
Children: 3 (ages 4, 7 and 9). Job: Legal Counsel specialising in Technology Law at an international law firm. Seconded to banks or corporations part-time at 25 hours a week (9-3pm with one day off). Life before Mama: In-house counsel in the Telecoms/IT sector working long hours over weekends.
Sophy derives increased job satisfaction from being a part-time working mother! Out of necessity, she has learnt to pack more into her day and feels she is more efficient at both work and at home. Going back to work after a four-year break was initially tough, and meant having to quickly update skills and industry knowledge.
Her ongoing challenge is managing client expectations within her limited working hours, but this differs from client to client. Sophy structures her secondments so she can spend time with her family travelling during the holidays, which is important to her and her husband.
Childcare: The children take the school bus and the older two are at school from 8am till 3pm; their helper is at home when they get back. Sophy arrives home at 4pm to be involved in after-school activities. If she has to work later, her husband makes sure he gets home at a reasonable hour to see the children. A supportive husband and extended family that helps in times of need are must-haves, says Sophy.
Sassy Tips: “We are lucky to live in Singapore where things like affordable childcare and grocery delivery are possible. Working part-time as a lawyer may not stay within exactly those hours, but it gives flexibility. If you package yourself as a part-time worker and family is your priority, then address the workload rather than accepting longer hours. Prove you can do an effective job working purposefully in those hours.
The ‘Carpe Diem’ Mama: Sofeen
Children: 2 (ages 4 and 8). Job: Full-time Legal Counsel (regional role) at a fast paced global MNC with a 50-hour week on average. Life before Mama: Private practice at a law firm, working less hours than currently!
Sofeen’s job changes weren’t child-related, but rather opportunities that presented at the time. After having her first child with a 6-month break to relocate and settle in Dubai, Sofeen went back to work full-time to experience working in a new country, enjoy adult company and make friends. After moving back to Singapore, she chose to continue working full-time while integrating family needs.
Childcare: Sofeen doesn’t have the ‘traditional support system for most working mums’ (i.e. grandparents in Singapore) but has two kind, trustworthy and reliable domestic helpers.
Sassy Tips: “If you work full-time, make peace with the nagging sensation that there are many balls in the air and one could crash at any time. Caring for kids is a team effort, so an involved husband helps if the children are sick or if there is work travel for either of you. When with the kids, be in the moment instead of being distracted with work – you’ll be surprised at the difference this makes. At work, be candid about your family needs. A flexible and collegial work environment gives great peace of mind.”
The ‘It Takes A Village’ Mama: Mingfen
Children: 2 (ages 2 and 4). Job: Full-time Commercial Dispute Resolution lawyer at a big international firm. Works on average 10 hours a day and sometimes on weekends. Life before Mama: No change.
Mingfen is emblematic of the ‘it takes a village’ model of childraising. She didn’t change jobs after having children, and enjoys her work despite a constant juggling act. She took an additional four months off with her second maternity leave to breastfeed her younger child and help her older child transition to being an older sibling.
Childcare: Mingfen’s in-laws moved in with the family when she was pregnant with her older child and helped to mind her. Mingfen’s mother comes over every day to care for her younger child. The grandparents are supported by Mingfen’s two live-in helpers. Her husband, an in-house lawyer, plays a greater parental role when Mingfen has pressing deadlines.
Sassy Tips: “It takes a village! Mummy guilt can be massive if you work full-time. Take a long, hard look at the demands of your job and the needs of your family and find solutions to meet them. Apart from the needs of the children, be mindful of your husband’s needs and have regular date nights, or simply run errands with each other! Keep in touch with the children’s teachers and the parents of their classmates to know what’s going on in school. When returning to work, be flexible and open-minded about what is on offer. You may not be able to return to the exact same role, but that might not be a bad thing.”
The Biglaw Partner Mama
Children: 2 (ages 8 and 19). Job: Full-time Partner at a US-based law firm focusing on clients in the region. Life before Mama: No change.
Our Biglaw Partner Mama’s practice is in the areas of Global Capital Markets and Mergers and Acquisitions. This means very full days, regional travel and late nights. She had her first child in her second year of law school and her second when already a partner. She has always worked full-time and enjoys her job. Whilst choices always have to be made on how to allocate time between her career and family, she is very satisfied by both.
Childcare: Partner Mama feels fortunate to have a supportive and stable home environment with a helper who has been with the family for 15 years. She and her husband (also a partner) try to manage their work schedules so at least one of them is home in the evenings. The children have wonderful grandparents who come to visit from overseas, especially when travel schedules require both parents to be away from home.
Sassy Tips: “With Mummy guilt, there are good and bad days. Sometimes you attempt to compensate by agonising over homemade cookies for school bake sales or sewing elaborate costumes at 2am. It’s a work in progress. Working well with your team and finding an environment where there is support for all members is important. Be realistic about your expectations, and try to find a workplace that makes sense for where you are in life and where you think you can make a positive contribution and be appreciated.”
Secret Mama – ‘It’s About Trade-Offs’
Children: 3 (ages 5, 7 and 13). Job: Part-time as Legal Counsel at a government statutory board. Life before Mama: Full-time position at the same place with 50 to 60 hours a week.
Our Secret Mama works on average 25 flexible hours from home. When necessary, she goes to the office for meetings once or twice a week. In a particularly busy season, she works when the kids are in bed. Secret Mama has sometimes had to pass on more challenging projects she might’ve taken on as a full-timer, but feels it’s an acceptable trade-off with her current flexibility. Secret Mama chose to continue with work after kids because she felt she was losing her professional skills from lack of use.
Childcare: A helper does most of the “heavy duty” domestics and both grandmothers supervise the children when she’s not around. There is a regular arrangement where each grandma is in charge once a week, allowing them much-desired quality time with the kids.
Sassy Tips: “Remaining in the workforce enables a good perspective, as it would otherwise be very easy to get caught up with the kids and their activities. In negotiating work arrangements, trust is important to show you can deliver. If you exceed expectations and prove to be an asset, it will give you more to negotiate with. Delegate to people you trust but manage your own expectations given that “remote control” is never quite the same as being there – especially when it comes to the kids.
So there you have it, mamas! You might have heard us sigh loudly in relief when our Lawyer-Mamas were the first to admit that they don’t in fact ‘do it all’. To sum up:
- Outsource the homefront, whether delegating to a domestic helper or eager grandparents.
- A supportive spouse or partner can never be undervalued, whether it be the emotional support of downloading work woes at the end of the day or the practical help of coming home to put the kids to bed when you can’t.
- Be organised and realistic about what can be achieved in a day.
- If you are getting back into the workforce after being at home, be honest and clear about your priorities both to yourself and your employer, and be prepared to accept trade-offs of any consequences of your decisions.
- Look out for a working environment that is reasonably flexible, where your work is trusted and you can be appreciated (this one’s a no-brainer!). Flexibility is just as key on your part as well.
Last but not least, mamas, remember that everyone does their best to achieve a balance ideal to their families, lifestyles and needs. Figure out what works for you and your family, because that’s what truly matters!