Work-life balance for working mums: can we have it all?

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Read what Indra K. Nooyi, PepsiCo's CEO, and other Singapore mums have to say about work-life balance!

The work-life balance debate is one that has been going on for a while. Can women really have it all? What does it take to have a successful career and a happy family?

In a recent interview, Indra K. Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, spoke candidly about the challenges of being a mum who works full-time.

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Most women who have full-time jobs struggle in trying to strike a work-life balance.

She also speaks about how her own mother reacted when she told her about her new appointment as president of PepsiCo.

Upon giving her mum the happy news, her mum had this to say:

“Let me explain something to you.

“You might be president of PepsiCo.

“You might be on the board of directors.

“But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother.

“You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place.

“So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don’t bring it into the house.

You know I’ve never seen that crown.”

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What is the cost of having a successful career? Can we mums really “have it all”?

This is what most of us working mums have to face — the reality that there’s a whole other life waiting for us when we get home, one that also needs our attention, energy and time.

As a result, we may feel that we are juggling our career, marriage and kids, and often we end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

Ms. Nooyi herself admitted that getting everything right is difficult. Here are her answers to some of the questions all working mums may have.

Can women really “have it all”?

“I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.

“My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters.

“And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you.

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Do you feel overwhelmed and stressed trying to be successful in both your career and personal life?

“We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents.

“But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.”

On coping with the pressure of work-life balance

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Do you have to forego an amazingly successful career to have a happy family?

“You have to cope, because you die with guilt. My observation is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict.

“When you have to have kids, you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management, your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.

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Like Ms. Nooyi suggests, is it your spouse that suffers the most?

“And that’s the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you (laughing). They need you too. What do you do? And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re aging.”

Then how do you make it all work?

Ms. Nooyi says that she trained her secretary to answer her kids’ questions and even delegated giving permission to them to play Nintendo games.

She says, “Train people at work. If you don’t develop mechanisms with your secretaries, with the extended office, with everybody around you, it cannot work.

“You know, stay at home mothering was a full-time job. Being a CEO for a company is three full-time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to all? You can’t.”

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Ms. Nooyi suggests that we need to train people around us to act as extended family. At times this could be your secretary.

How do Singapore mums cope?

The work-life balance issue is something women all over the world face. There is probably no be-all and end-all solution to it, as every family is unique.

To get some local insights into the topic, we asked some mums here in Singapore to share how they cope with the pressures of working and having a family. Here’s what they had to say.

“When I work late or have night calls, I come home early spend time with my husband and daughter, and then log in for the calls from home. Then when my daughter is sick I try to work from home if possible.

My husband and I take days off just to spend time with the kids. Then to make up for not being around much on weekdays we always plan something fun for her on sat / sun which will also tire her out… So that hubby and I get to spend quality time together in the evenings.

I also try to organize play dates with my daughter’s friends and stay involved in her school activities so she doesn’t feel left out… (Eg bake sales etc)” – Shahani

“I have OCD when it comes to cleanliness of the house. Rule no 1: let it go. There’s a place and time for everything.” — Nur

“Prioritize n plan beforehand. Be flexible too!” — Geraldine

“Flexi working hours helped in planning… spending time with the family after work, parents helping and weekends are reserved for family mostly. Kids are on routine to sleep by 8pm so rest if the time can be used as couple time or me time or catch up on work or TV.” — Rena

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Many working mums depend on their extended family members to watch the kids while they work.

“I try to strike a good balance between family time and my job by dedicating set times for both. When at work, I stay focused on what I’m doing so that I can complete all my to-do’s for the day before heading home.

Once I’m back home, my focus is on my family — and even if I need to continue working from home, I make sure to do it only after my daughter is asleep.” — Justina

“Be optimistic. Remember that family comes first.” — Kereen

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In order to have a successful family life, it is very important to prioritize what’s important to you.

“The family and kids are my first priority. Thankfully, I have a home/family friendly environment and that helps. I have also chosen to scale back. So everyone at the office knows my priorities and there aren’t any issues whatsoever.” — Grace