GETTING CAREER, MOTHERHOOD AND HOLIDAYS (SOMEWHAT) RIGHT

Juggling work, parenting pressures and the holiday season is extremely stressful. A lot of things are bound to fall through the cracks, but there are a few key secrets to balancing them

Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey once famously declared: “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

Balancing things doesn’t mean they have to be equally measured. Not everything in your life requires the same amount of time and resources. Rather, it’s about selecting what to achieve, when to achieve it and what will be needed to do so.

Women are often expected to perform at peak: do a full day’s work, organise dinner, arrange next week’s play date and find socks that will match her hubby’s suit the next day. I fell ill worrying about everything, everyone and whether my boss was meeting his targets, all at the same time. Eventually, though, I realised that being aware of all my responsibilities and continually trying to juggle them all at the same time meant I didn’t achieve anything. I screwed it up when I tried to be present at my second-born Morgan’s school sports day and catch up with emails “in between”. I ended up with an upset son because I’d missed seeing his pass and a half-assed response to an email that I couldn’t retract and rethink.

I now aspire to a fulfilled life that doesn’t require me to switch off from any of my roles, but rather to move through each responsibility I have with fluidity.

My working life can’t come to a halt because my family’s going on holiday for a few weeks. I still have deliverables and deadlines. I manage a calendar for all three of our sons, which includes extramurals, homework, sport, social engagements and attending PTA meetings. My own working holiday, although flexible because I’m self-employed, requires me to put in the hours. My strategy for getting it all done is choosing faith over fear and becoming a master delegator. I’m sharing this not to pat myself on the back, but to stress that if I can do it, so can any other career-focused woman who’s equally focused on family.

During the planning phase of travels, I ensure that the things that I find tedious and time-consuming are sorted out by someone who’s reliable, has the capacity and is able to deliver.

Our family trips are planned by a travel agent and we use a company for our group visa application. Obtaining group visas can be extremely tedious, so we give all the necessary information to the company. They then fill in the forms for us, book the appointment with the relevant embassy and we simply show up on the day for the interview.

Another example is packing. I’m extremely particular and pedantic about this, so I select each day’s looks for all the kids, plus back-up outfits, about two weeks in advance. This clothing is separated so that it doesn’t end up in the wash when it’s time to pack. I do the same with my own packing. My husband has stubbornly remained the guy who packs the night before departure.

I’m also a hectic planner. When we did Christmas at my in-laws, I’d be disappointed if the morning ritual of opening gifts didn’t go the way I planned it – for example, if the kids woke up too early and sneaked into the lounge, where they discovered that Santa in fact knows the way to Seshego, and then started arguing about whose toy was biggest. I then came to realise that balance wasn’t about achieving a perfect sequence of events and timing: it was more important to make each moment memorable by making it count. My need for balance had to be replaced by gratitude for us all being together as a family on that day, in that moment. Being conscious of – and thankful for – that came to balance out my level of anxiety about less important details.

When trying to achieve balance, gratitude is extremely important. When one taps into gratitude, one learns to accept the present for what it is – which is a significant stress-reliever. Accepting where I am and being present in the moment allows a thought of “Thank You – so shall it be.” This removes any possibility of guilt, which no working mother needs.

I learnt this while I was pregnant with Malik, my youngest (I won’t call him my last-born, as I’m still trying to convince my husband that No 4 is a good idea!). We decided to spend Christmas in the comfort of our home in Johannesburg, in order to create some of our own memories over the Christmas period with our boys. We created our first-ever Christmas culture. We both needed solitude and peace in the midst of the chaos that can come with raising two boys. I, the control freak, was determined to have things precisely how I wanted them, so I enjoyed setting out cookies and milk for Santa the night before, as well as some powdered footprints of his (read: Dada’s).

I was sure everything would go smoothly, given the “controlled” environment we were in, but – as with any family event, compounded by the logistical challenges of my bulging belly – the occasion was far from seamless. However, my decision to appreciate the value in creating a culture and tradition of our own with my kids, rather than imposing archaic ones on them, helped me appreciate the real value of the experience and breathe easily through it.

Achieving balance consistently is no prize that any woman (or man) can outrightly claim. In fact, it’s a myth. Being bound towards balance, however, is a worthwhile pursuit, especially if your real desire is to be present in every aspect of your family’s life. Gratitude has been my saving grace and has taught me that when I’m the boss lady who has to morph into a makoti during holidays, I should do so in the knowledge that I don’t need to stress about being in an environment that I can’t control. Instead, I can choose to get the most out of it by “not sweating the small stuff”, not stage-managing it, staying focused on the bigger picture (and the love inside it) and being thankful for every messy, unpredictable, loud – and authentic – moment.