Juggling family and a busy work life is not easy. You never stop running from one thing to the next, yet often feel like you’re failing everyone. Gemma Cribb, a psychologist with Equilibrium Psychology shares her advice for keeping on top of your inner critic and learning to be your own best friend.
Listen to Gemma Cribb on Feed Play Love:
What are your priorities?
The combination of work and family life can be demanding but how do you set boundaries to stop yourself from over-doing things? “Setting boundaries so you’re not trying to do too much is all about identifying, first of all – what are my priorities, what’s really important to me as a mum, or as a working mum,” says Gemma. “And that can be different for different people.”
One common factor Gemma sees among her clients is how mums obtain information from all manner of sources. “Everyone’s an expert on what they should be doing with their children and how they should be being the mum,” she says. “And so, to recognise that actually everyone is their own type of mum and allowing yourself to set your own priorities is important.”
However, once you’ve got a clear idea of the type of mum you want to be, it can be challenging to determine what actions, behaviour or tasks would help fulfil that goal and prioritise setting aside time for those. “Because as a mum you’re a service provider to everybody and everybody wants a piece of you,” says Gemma. “So, it’s about having the supports and structures in place and setting those boundaries so that people know that at this time of this day, this is what I’m doing and I can’t do other things – and getting some routines in place like that.”
Quality not quantity
After spending 40 hours away from kids, a mum can feel desperate to make up for lost time; however, Gemma says it’s about the quality of time you spend with your child, not the quantity of time. “I think it’s a bad thing when you’re frantically going off from work, meeting all the people’s needs at work, straight into meeting all the people at home’s needs and not actually spending any time to stop and meet your own needs,” she says. “I talk to some mums about being there in body but not in spirit because they’re so tapped out, they’re so drained because they haven’t met any of their own needs.”
Gemma talks to mums about not making up for the quantity of time away from kids, but rather, looking at the quality child-centred time that your children look forward to. “That can be for as little as 15 or 30 minutes, sitting there with the kids having time to connect and creating a little routine around that. Whether that be the bedtime story or playing at a certain time every day and looking forward to it with your kids, because it’s not unending,” says Gemma. “And you’ve been able to have a shower beforehand or have a cup of tea.”
How do you justify ‘me time’?
After spending so many hours away from the family, parents can find it hard to balance the rest of their time. Gemma suggests using a diary to help work it out. “For the first couple of weeks just monitor where you spend your time,” says Gemma. “So, block out the time that you’re at work, block out your travel time, block out the meal prep time, block out the cleaning time, block out the shipping kids to this activity and that activity. This helps determine what time is spent doing activities that are not necessarily meeting either primary objectives or goals. For example, you might feel exhausted and spend time mindlessly watching Netflix, which doesn’t satisfy your personal needs or any other goals.
“We see if we can reduce this bit by bit, and see at what point do you still feel energised, do you still feel like you’re engaged, like you can get to sleep at night without worrying about things, like you’re not dragging yourself through your week,” she says. “It’s better to do it for yourself and look at your own energy levels and what you can tolerate because people are different – and then start to structure your commitments around your optimal level of work versus free time.”
Help! I’m failing!
Often working parents feel like they’re dropping all their balls and doing everything wrong. According to Gemma, this is a common feeling and that being honest with yourself and those around you can help.
“I know there’s a lot of talk at the moment about social media and this sort of social media perfectionism that happens when we see these perfect mums with their perfect hair, making their perfect organic baby food, and those who are into that. I’m not judging that necessarily, it’s just that there’s a lot for other mums to compare themselves to and to feel inadequate,” says Gemma.
“Being honest with friends and having a network of people around you who can share your struggles and share your concerns normalises it for you – if it’s not just me that feels inadequate, if this is everybody that feels inadequate then maybe I’m not doing such a bad job after all.”