How to… balance work and motherhood

12 October 2012
How to… balance work and motherhood

Catherine Roe shares her tips for mastering the art of work-life balance

Being a stay-at-home mum isn't right for everyone, and going back to work can be a difficult balancing act to get right. When it comes to balancing work and two children you need to really want to do both. It's not an easy balance to get right, and you've got to be committed to your career and your children to make it work.

I'm lucky, I enjoy what I do and have the support of my husband, Simon, who also has a demanding career, otherwise it could be a nightmare.

A work life, a home life My mantra has been keeping my work life and home life separate. For example, I never work from home. For me, it's a psychological thing; my home life is a separate life. I don't want to take business calls when I'm at home in the kitchen with the kids, and I don't want to burden colleagues about sick bugs or sleepless nights.

Care about childcare It's important to invest in a good childcare set-up that gives you flexibility, peace of mind and control over your work. You don't want to be in a meeting worrying about who's looking after your children, or clock watching as you know it's soon time to pick them up.

My hours have always been unpredictable, with business trips abroad and client functions to attend, so I've not been able to rely on nurseries that have set open and closing times. Instead, I've got a nanny, and over the years I've spent a lot of time and money on childcare to find a solution that works for me. For everyone the solution will be different; the key is finding one that works for you.

Plan, plan, plan It helps that I'm a black-and-white person and good at planning as it can be a real juggling act to get right.

A lot of balancing work and being a mum is in the planning. Look ahead and know when you've got busy spells or are going to be away a lot so you can let your children know when you'll be at home and when you'll be at work. It's important to let those around you know what's going on.

Modern technology is a great thing. A quick text before a test lets my children know I'm thinking about them, and programs like Skype give you the opportunity to say hello "in person".

A lot of my children's friends have mums who stay at home, and my daughter has been asked whether it's strange that her mum works full-time. The kids don't know any different as I've always been a working mum, but they know that when I'm home I spend quality time with them. When I'm with them and have time off we spend it doing something special.

The children have had a lot of experiences through my work. They travelled with me to Europe when they were younger and we tagged long weekends and holidays on to the end of business trips, which has been great for them. Their travel experiences are now the envy of their friends.

Mum at home When I walk in the door and see the kids after a long day it brings a smile to my face and gives me a second wind. It's then that we get to spend some quality time together, catching up and chatting about our days.

Although I don't take my work home with me, they are interested in what I do, and I think they're more sociable because of my career and the experiences they've been exposed to. They're also a great source of insight - what's appealing to a younger market in retail, what's the latest social media. My son loves the Tesco cafés and he's my resident youth stadia expert.

Advice to myself If I could do things differently, and give a piece of advice to my younger self, I wouldn't have taken it all so seriously in the first couple of years and I would have asked for more help. Sixteen years on, employers give working mums more support; you shouldn't be afraid to ask for them to help you get your work-life balance right.

Catherine Roe has 16 years' experience of balancing motherhood, a family life and a board-level career. She is managing director of Elior UK

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