Career vs Family – Every Working Mum's Dilemma

By Mandy Lim Beitler, 25 October 2018 6118



Many in Singapore are dual-income families, and unlike the generations before us, these are becoming the norm rather than the exception. A 2016 survey conducted by JobStreet.com revealed that 69 per cent of female workers in Singapore work out of necessity, with 75 per cent of working mothers spending less than two hours with their children on a workday. In a 2018 study, Monster.com found that only 18 per cent of working mums have the option of working from home.

Working mums like 36-year-old Maria Hannah Singh are often forced to play dual roles, having to manage both career and family life to the best of their abilities. Mum to two daughters aged five and three years, Maria works in the fast-paced hospitality industry as a communications professional. She shares how she juggles her work-life balance, and the choices she has to make.
 

Career vs Family


After enjoying a year of marital bliss, Maria and her husband, early childhood educator Mark De Silva, decided it was time to have children. "Before Mia came along in 2013, I was a writer for a gourmet publication, often spending evenings out at fine restaurants, rubbing shoulders with world-class chefs. But after having a child, I was very eager to beat the traffic and make it home in before her bedtime," recounts Maria. The hour-long routine was very precious to the young mother – "The evening bath, massage, pyjamas and bedtime story became more exciting than any fine dining or overseas press trip!"


Family weekend out at Labrador Park

These days, Maria spends her weekday mornings getting both girls ready for school, preparing breakfast and snack boxes, before getting herself ready for the office and dashing out of the house. "My in-laws help to ferry the girls to and from school. I check in on them after lunch over the phone, then pick them up after work. This gives me that one hour to conduct the bedtime routine – 'our' time. Once they're in bed, then it's 'me' time. Mark and I have dinner, then zone out in front of the TV or I catch up on some work."

At work, Maria has learnt to make it a point to stay focused and committed. "That way, when I get home, I can give myself fully to my kids without thinking of checking my emails. There's just no sense in being split in two places. Easier said than done, but I am working on my mindfulness!" Luckily, her boss and colleagues are understanding and will occasionally offer to cover her when they can.


Weekend fun making pizzas with the girls

On weekends, the couple make it a point to wake up early. "We have breakfast, go to the park, then come home and do really normal things like homework, recycled craft and eating a roast chicken dinner. It sounds so mundane but these moments really make me happy because I don't often get them," she says wistfully. "I try to take leave during school holidays to take them to the zoo, go on boat rides and get up to adventures like pitching a tent in the living room and having movie nights."
 

Making Tough Choices


Unfortunately, Maria's job sometimes encroaches on weekends and holidays such as National Day and New Year's Eve too. "I miss the girls terribly, but always schedule an off-in-lieu to make up for it. I also miss many of their check-ups. "There was once when Micah had to have two vaccination shots and screamed for me when the needle went in. I imagine how I could have comforted her but sadly, I couldn't be there."


Mia's support system at the hospital

That's not the worst of it. "Recently we had a major event at work and Mia had to be hospitalised that weekend. First, she endured the pain longer than necessary because she refused to go to the hospital till I could take her. Then I had to sneak off during her nap, my heart in a million pieces, crying in the cab all the way. But I finished what I had to do and rushed back. She didn't recall my absence, but knew I was snuggled with her in her hospital bed till morning. That's the beauty of children – they never hold anything against you," Maria relates with dewy eyes.

When asked how she juggles her dual roles without burning out, Maria says, "I would be naïve if I thought I could do it all by myself. I've learnt to rely heavily on my teams. At work, it's my colleagues. At home, it's my helper and in-laws." Every Thursday, Maria's in-laws even insist they leave the kids overnight with them so that the couple can go on date night. "I know not all women are so blessed, but I do share in the solidarity that we are all just trying to do our best with what we have."
 

The Dream Life


Work-life balance can mean different things for different people. "For me," muses Maria, "it would mean having a fair pocket of time each day to do simple things like having dinner together or taking a walk before it gets dark. It would mean dedicating time to the kids fully without thinking of the mounting emails or going on holiday without worrying about work getting done."


Daddy on duty while Mummy's at work

It helps that Mark is an extremely supportive husband, something else Maria is thankful for. "He runs The Amazing ToyBox with a partner. Having his own business means his hours are more flexible, and he's able to step in when I can't, like take Mia for her check-ups. Of course, it also meant that we'd decided I should have a backup career just in case anything went south.

"Ideally, I'd love to have the freedom to work part-time, freeing up precious hours every week. Or work freelance and devote more time to motherhood. As much as I would love to, realistically we just don't have the financial means to live on one income. And that's the duality of parenthood. The thing we do to provide for our family is the thing that keeps us away from them. It's something we all struggle with."


Mia on a visit to Mummy's office

Maria believes that there's another upside to her sacrifices. "I would like my kids to understand the virtue of hard work, why it's important, and what it means to carve out a career they can be passionate about. I think being a working role model can help instil these values."

It Can Be Done!


Work-life balance can mean different things for different people. "For me," muses Maria, "it would mean having a fair pocket of time each day to do simple things like having dinner together or taking a walk before it gets dark. It would mean dedicating time to the kids fully without thinking of the mounting emails or going on holiday without worrying about work getting done."

Despite the high cost of living in Singapore, it isn't absolutely impossible for mums at work to live their dream life. By ensuring that you are financially secure, you will naturally have the freedom to choose if you wanted to devote your time wholly to your family, or perhaps go for a career offering more flexibility. The key to this is sound financial planning via savings, investments and retirement plans tailored for you. Click here to find out how you can start down the path to your dream life.

 


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