Adelene Chan is a mother of two who works part-time at Focus on the Family Singapore. As a working mother, she has to juggle work and family, as well as meet her own needs. We recently spoke with her to understand more the guilt that she sometimes feels, especially when things are hard on the home front.
1. Do you believe that mums can have it all? Why or why not?
I don’t feel that I can have it all, as something has to give. It could be my career, my children, my marriage, or my health (and sanity). Some of us multitask better and can strive to have it all, while others follow schedules strictly and can achieve a good balance between desire and reality.
I know some mums who have the energy to work and still bring their kids out on a regular basis to the latest fun things to do, but I just can’t. It’s not in my nature to strive for success on all fronts.
I’m more relational, so the quality of my relationships inspires me. The sooner I understood that about myself, the sooner I could be the mum I need to be.
The quality of my relationships inspires me. The sooner I understood that about myself, the sooner I could be the mum I need to be.
2. Do you feel torn at both ends at times – when work is exciting and you want to be a part of all the action – but then...kids. How do you cope with this tension?
Yes! I try to go into the office because I love the community and camaraderie. But it’s tougher now that he’s more active. The great thing about my workplace is that I have great flexibility in my working arrangements, so I can still work from home, after my kids are asleep.
I try to be present in the mind space I need to be in.
Prior to being a PTWM, I was a SAHM, then a FTWM – so I believe that each season will pass. I had to learn the hard way how not to bring work home, otherwise it’ll affect the way I relate to my family after a whole day of being at work.
Just as I cannot be consumed by work when I’m at home, so I try not to worry about family issues when I’m at work. I try to be present mentally and emotionally in the mind space I need to be in.
3. Mum guilt – every mother goes through this, whether stay home or working, how do you deal with it?
I have to choose to be present. When I’m doing the chores or my work, and my older child asks to play or read, I know she wants my undivided attention. So I remind myself that I need to choose my child over my work. There are more important things than making sure the house is clean or responding to an email.
With my younger child, it’s a struggle as he’s always with me. I’m his main caregiver – I bring him to work and he’s always by my side at home – so I savour the pockets of time to have an uninterrupted meal when my colleagues or family offer to care for him. These people make up my village, and I feel I can be a better mum to my kids with their help.
Basically, when we’re together, I try to make the most of it. We don’t have to do many things, but to do things with love and affection.
Sometimes I involve the older one in preparing meals, so she feels valued while we get to spend time together. I just have to be careful about how I react to her pace or level of interest in the kitchen.
I try to get pockets of time when my colleagues or family offer to care for my kids. I feel I am a better mum this way.
4. In what ways do you experience mum guilt?
Some nights, I go into my older child’s room after she’s fallen asleep to just smell her hair and caress her cheeks. I struggle with giving her enough of myself; there have been times when I’ve fallen asleep while reading to her, or gotten so caught up with the details of life that I miss the big picture of our relationship.
5. When we feel we haven't done enough or when we are reactive in our parenting, how can one deal with such guilty feelings?
When I respond to my children in irritation or blow up in frustration, or when I don’t have the capacity to be emotionally available, I know I’m reacting to them.
I try to get into the right frame of mind, then ask for forgiveness and learn from my mistakes. A parenting course I attended also gave insight to my child’s challenging behaviour. It helped me realise that my children are really only children, even when the older one speaks to me like a little adult.
Acknowledging that I lost control of myself and need a better grip on my emotions usually helps me respond better the next time my child does something that gets on my nerves.
6. Can you share with us some small victories in your parenthood journey?
In the final stages of my second pregnancy, my older child had sleep regression and didn’t want to sleep on her own. It went on for about 2 weeks, and we were physically and emotionally worn out.
After 1.5 hours of singing and talking (and threatening) one night, I told her that I felt sick and would vomit if she didn’t stop crying. It was a real physical reaction – not an emotional ploy – and she sobered up, breaking the nightly cycle! She showed concern and even prayed for me to feel better. In that moment, she showed that she empathised with my discomfort. I think my husband and I celebrated by going to bed early the next night!
I don’t think there are easy answers. Some days, I feel I don’t have enough energy or bandwidth for work or for family. A friend told us the jump to having two kids is like a quantum leap; there’s just so much more to manage. I feel the strain in my relationships, especially in my marriage. But I’ve found that being honest about my struggles helps my husband support me better as a mum and wife.
Being honest about my struggles helps my husband support me better as a mum and wife.
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