Life

Anne Hailes: Cai Graham's webinar aimed at helping women struggling to balance work and personal life

Victoria Beckham with husband David and children – they seem to have a great family/work ethic, though it helps to have millions in the bank

MY PROFUSE apologies! Two weeks ago I told you that September 10 was always a fine, sunny, dry day. I was wrong – this year it poured from morning to night. I was correct if you live in the south of England, not that that was much good for us.

However, look at the date. I can safely say that three months from tomorrow it will be December 25, with all the happiness, stress and hard work that brings.

For working women it presents difficulties. Children on holiday from school, all the preparations to be made, food shopping, presents to be wrapped and Christmas cards to be written and stamped. More and more of us are giving a donation to charity instead and I phone special friends to wish them well and have a catch up at the same time. All this and coping with a job isn't easy.

How does Victoria Beckham do it?! She's been a busy mother since the Spice Girls days yet she and David seem to have a great family/work ethic; the children seem well adjusted and even if the rumours materialise that their marriage is a bit rocky, I've no doubt they will still put the children first – and keep working. It helps to have millions in the bank; that's the difference.

Christine Armstrong has just written a book called A Mother Of All Jobs and she says she doesn't see men doing more as the only answer.

“Sensible exceptions of working hours which align in some way with childcare and the school day, equality of parental leave and pay and social expectations which are more open to different roles for both parents,” is her recommendation.

Not always possible unless you and your husband or partner have a very understanding boss and money for childcare, never mind the social expectations.

More realistic are the views of Co Down-based parenting expert Cai Graham. She too has been taking soundings from women with demanding jobs who are often torn between office and home. She's about to launch a new venture, a ‘webinar' – a website seminar – aimed at helping women who are struggling to balance work and personal life.

So many are holding down a job or starting up their own business and finding that it isn't easy to keep all the plates spinning. Frustration, a sudden lack of confidence, self-esteem taking a knock, no time for themselves.

“I want to find out what their challenges are. Single mothers, especially, asking how do I cope on my own? Budgeting is a headache, as is time management of family. So many are drained of energy because, by tradition, we tend to put ourselves last in line after the family and be content to be bottom of the pecking order.”

It rings true. I grew up with the saying that the value you put upon yourself is what others value you at. Grammatically dodgy but good advice. Don't we tend to rush home from work, make the tea, do the homework, dishes, ironing and there's little time for self?

But Cai is quite sure there must be equality – maybe not putting yourself first all the time but sharing to allow you to relax. It's not selfish, just wise because it would be easy to run out of steam and risk illness and depression.

“In practical terms be aware of self-care. It's like the oxygen-mask procedure: you've heard it all before but you don't listen and then when you need it you aren't sure what to do.”

There are basics

“Do something to make you happy even if it's only for a short time. You can't keep fixing the bad non-stop, you must put some good things into your day. Meditation just means sitting quietly for 10 minutes or so; maybe reading, going for a walk, take a dance class. Invest in nice underwear and throw away the old grey bra and pants. Have your nails done – that always makes me feel in control – have a massage or a bubble baths. Whatever it is, make sure you have some mummy/me time.

“Prioritise your tasks and delegate.” she continues. “If you can afford it, employ an ironing service, arrange a shared school run, have a rota for preparing meals and if you have teenagers have them cook once a week. It's fun, gets everyone talking to each other and can be creative rather than a chore.”

Creating focus

Keep a diary. Have a weekly schedule, including time to do something you want to do. That's what Cai did and in her ‘me' time she wrote a book; now The Teen Toolbox is a best-seller.

The stress of working and family life is a very real situation and one that many women hide rather than admitting they can't cope.

“I'm separated so it's important that I earn money,” one mother told me, “but I want my teenagers to come first and often that's not happening if I have to work late. I've a neighbour who'll take the youngest in after school but I really feel guilty when this happens. It gets to me and I sometimes cry myself to sleep.”

I've always worked but it was made easy as my children had two sets of grandparents willing and able to do their bit. There was no problem collecting them from school if necessary or taking them out interesting places and they just loved having the kids over a weekend. Without them I couldn't have coped.

Most grandparents will be only too happy to take on this responsibility if they can. And children benefit from being with grandparents who have time to talk and listen and educate in the ways of life. Invaluable.

Webinar will be up and running at 7pm on October 1, a one hour online training session for working mums who need specific advice on confidence and anxiety.

More at caigraham.com/webinar

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