The Working Mother’s Survival Guide

Managing life, work and a new baby is no mean feat. There are choices and compromises to make as well as challenges to meet, and in the middle of it all, a precious new life to care for.

To manage a baby and keep a career on track takes strength and strategies, and in their newly released book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide, television presenter Melissa Doyle and political consultant Jo Scard have combined their talents as authors and mothers to produce the complete guide to managing life and work with a new baby.

KidsLife spoke with Jo Scard, co-author of The Working Mother’s Survival Guide.

How did the idea for this book come about and what brought you together as co-authors?

We were both discussing ideas about a book to help working mothers with Allen & Unwin – who made the suggestion to combine ideas and so the book project was hatched!

Does the content of this book reflect your own personal journeys?

The content evolved as we wrote the book – we started with a sketch of what we wanted to cover and it certainly reflects our experiences and includes our personal anecdotes but we thought it was particularly helpful to working mothers to hear first hand experiences from other mums and also from experts such as obstetricians, GPs, relationship experts and lawyers – so it includes those elements as well.

Did you envisage this book primarily for women in the paid work force?

The book has ideas and hints that would help any mum – in paid or unpaid work – although there are specific sections that deal with negotiating maternity leave and your return to work, your legal rights and managing work pressures.

How important did you consider it was for the reader that information be presented the way it is. For example, bite-sized information grabs, hints, tips, resource listings etc.?

All parents and mothers, be they in paid or unpaid work, are time-poor, so it was important for us to create a book that people could dip in and out of – full of useful handy hints, resource lists and accessible anecdotes that you could read in the time available to you, as you need it, rather than sitting down and needing to read pages and pages at a time. In that way information was relevant and useful we hoped.

When it comes to having a child and returning to the workforce, is it the case that many women instinctively understand their life will undergo changes, but not necessarily how to manage these changes?

Everyone copes with becoming a new mother a little differently and then managing their return to work. Some find the balance easier than others – some have great help from family, others don’t, some have babies that sleep well and breastfeeding is a breeze and it all seems to fall into place, some others have difficulty. It depends on what sort of person you are, what sort of job you have and what pressures you may be under to return – and some women find they really want to return after a period at home. Our advice is to try and stay as relaxed and as flexible as you can be about your options during this period as you really never know how you will feel until you are there.

In a nutshell, what main challenges do women face in juggling work and a new baby?

  • Finding affordable quality childcare that you trust – be that long day care, family day care, a nanny or family.
  • The hours you work and balancing expectations of work colleagues – there are drop offs and pickups to negotiate each day you are at work. Make sure work colleagues know you are pulling your weight and have a clear conversation with your boss of what they expect before you return – that way noone is left wondering.
  • Exploring and then if it’s appropriate, negotiating part-time work options.
  • Continuing breastfeeding and finding a place to express at work – and ensuring that your baby can take a bottle of either expressed milk or formula when you can’t be there.
  • Reviewing your work wardrobe – sometimes you may need to update it if you haven’t lost all your baby weight.

Some women choose to go solo – how difficult is it to cope without a supportive partner?

There are thousands of single mothers who are working and balancing motherhood at the same time and they are all amazing, strong and determined women. Doing it by yourself is tough both emotionally, financially and logistically but if it happens then I’m sure girlfriends, family and childcare play an incredibly vital role.

In your experience, do many working mothers give themselves permission to be themselves?

Life changes enormously when you’ve had a child. The big fact is you never have the thinking time you once had. For instance, time to loll about reading, cooking, watching television. That’s not bad – it’s just a reality you need to adjust to. We strongly suggest having regular ‘mummy time’ – a long uninterrupted bath, a visit to the gym, a yoga class, a movie with a girlfriend – whatever it is it’s important that you schedule it in and do it!

Are many women today delaying childbirth for career reasons, financial reasons or a combination of both?

Statistics tell us that some women are and for some it’s a choice that can later bring difficulties in terms of falling pregnant and potential birth defects with a pregnancy when you are older. Getting pregnant is such a personal thing for each woman and it’s not something anyone can dictate a precise timetable to you – sometimes it happens at the right time and sometimes it’s at the time you may have least wanted it to happen. In our experience people cope, get on with it and make it work, and make financial or career compromises if they are needed.

Did you see a need with this book to help demystify any traditional, stereotypic thinking?

We wanted this book to help every working mother out there to read it and I think we’ve succeeded in that. We don’t lecture or preach about what moral choices women should or could make about choosing to work and have a baby – there are plenty of people out there to do that. But we start with the assumption that if you’re reading the book then you’ve made the decision to go back to work and that’s great – and we wanted to be there to support women to do that as much as we could because it’s tough. Ultimately it’s about their choice and we wanted to help them to make it.

When working mums feel they’re fast losing the plot, how can they best keep perspective and a sense of humour?

Stress (and guilt) are a huge part of being a working mum. We want women to banish the guilt word and we’ve suggested some ideas to help with the stress such as ‘mummy time’, seeking professional help, talking to girlfriends and family honestly about how you’re feeling and being as organised as you can. But amongst the chaos retaining your joy of life and sense of humour is essential – and having a little baby is a great way of keeping it because they are so funny at times and bring so much joy!

Have you had much feedback from readers?

We’ve had some lovely feedback from readers through our website – it’s been great and really heartening to know that the book has been so well received and enjoyed by so many people.

What messages do you hope readers will take from your book and is there any overriding message you have for working mums?

To live in the moment, have some mummy time and relish the time with your baby – they are only little for such a short time!

Yes – that’s it – live in the moment and enjoy work and motherhood for what they both are.

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