MOTHERHOOD CHANGES YOU – by Ali Bodill
WORKING MUM – by Helen Behm
MOTHERHOOD CHANGES YOU
Motherhood changes you. At least it’s changed me. The lens through which I see the world has shifted from black and white to a thousand different colours; I feel more deeply; love more fiercely and live more passionately. From the moment my precious daughter entered the world and was placed on my chest, my role changed, my heart expanded and I embraced a transformation in myself that was indescribable and for which no one could have prepared me.
There is a living, breathing piece of me and my husband that is now part of this world, and loving this little person as much as I do has deepened my understanding of Jesus’ infinite love for us. When your child is born you hope and pray for many things for their lives, but for me I remember feeling fiercely protective in wishing to keep her from the hurts and harms of this world; hoping that she remains healthy and will one day reach her full potential; and praying that she will grow up to love the Lord with her heart, soul and mind.
This is a bit about my journey in deciding to become a stay-at-home mom.
As a qualified Occupational Therapist by profession, I have been working in the field of paediatrics for the past five years. I love what I do and I love working with brave, little children who are fighting against disease and disability, amongst other social injustices, as well as working with their parents who journey alongside them. Although I knew I always wanted to be a stay-at home mom the decision to resign from my job was much harder than I anticipated as I really love my work – the meaning that I get from my job and the difference I make in peoples’ live. But the more I thought about it, it was unquestionable that the person who’s life I want to make the most difference to is my own child. I could not justify going to work each day to invest in other children’s development and well-being when I was expecting someone else to do the same for my own child. I realized that I am completely replaceable in my work sphere but I’m not completely replaceable as a mother. For this reason, this has become my priority – to invest in my child, to teach her, to mould and shape her, to laugh and cry with her, to catch each ‘first’, to model social relationships, to strengthen her emotional bonds and to establish solid developmental foundations. While I recognize that ultimately she will make her own life decisions one day, and whilst I am only one influencer in a world of many things that shape who she becomes, the responsibility of what it means to parent and raise up a child who is a wellintegrated contributor to society weighed heavily on my heart, and I took up this mantle with joy and excitement.
Research shows that the first 1000 days of a child’s life, from the time of conception up until the age of about three years, are considered to be the most crucial in their early childhood development. As these critical aspects of brain development are shaped by one’s experience before and soon after birth, it means that this is a vulnerable window period where it is key to provide opportunities for brain development. I consider it the utmost privilege to be able to spend this time with her, ensuring that she gets the best start to life. One-on-one input is so crucial for her development and I love being able to spend time each day playfully encouraging her gross motor and fine motor development, engaging in dialogue that boosts her language development and facilitating appropriate play skills. Every day I marvel at something new she has learned to do, a response that is just so much more coordinated, or a social response that was unexpected but now appropriate. I often find myself thinking about how fascinating child development really is – and how each day thousands of synapses are activated, neurons fired and lifelong neural pathways and circuits are established. I have seen how she is thriving in this growth-promoting environment with multiple opportunities to learn.
Taking on the role of motherhood came naturally for me and I also had an easy-going baby, which made the decision to stay at home that much easier. And whilst I absolutely love being a stay-at-home mom, it is definitely not always rainbows and butterflies. This kind of decision usually comes hand in hand with sacrifice. Financially it is a challenge – you often need to say good-bye to a previous lifestyle and we constantly have to review how we can live more humbly.
I also recognize that for some, being a stay-at-home mom is not an option for this very reason, and one should not have to feel guilty if doing your best for your child means working in order to make ends meet and put food on the table. I am so grateful that my husband’s job and the sacrifices he’s made allow me to be at home in this season of our lives and that he fully supports and believes that this is the best for our child. And sure, there are days when I would love to have an adult conversation, drink a hot cup of coffee without having to reheat it several times, problem solve with other health professionals, or not have to change my outfit several times a day due to various bodily fluids that have so lovingly landed on me… but in these moments I am reminded of how short life is, and how fleeting these precious moments with my baby really are.
I think about how much my daughter has already changed in the last 6 months – how I have been able to witness each new milestone, each new stage of her personality, and each new lesson I learn about myself in the process; and I think about how we can never turn back the clock and reexperience these stolen moments. Time flies and I cannot imagine not experiencing all of these things with her.
When people ask me what work I do, I often say I don’t work anymore. My husband is quick to correct me in recognising that I work full-time, around the clock, without a break, investing fully and wholeheartedly and doing some of the most important and meaningful work I can. So if you had to ask me would I still make the decision to be a stay-at-home mom again, even knowing all the challenges it presents, I would say yes. In a heartbeat. Without a shadow of a doubt.
Motherhood has changed me. But being a stay-at-home mom has also changed my daughter, and this investment is priceless. I have never felt more full, more satisfied or more at peace with this decision. I am thriving and my little girl is thriving. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do the same, I would encourage you to grab it with both hands. You won’t look back and regret it!
What helped me juggle work and home:
“Before having kids, I would often work a 55 hour week. My husband was no different. For us it wasn’t an issue, we both LOVED our jobs and were happy working those hours.
When we had our first child, that all changed – suddenly this little person captured our hearts. Going back to work was really difficult, I was worried that when I went back I would not be able to produce as well juggle home and baby. I found myself in meetings where I was thinking to myself – what is the point of this meeting, this person is wasting my time, I could be spending this time with my child.
All of a sudden, the opportunity cost of my time was so much higher. Having a child gave my time more value and because of this I prioritised my life more. I became a lot less patient of people who did not value my time. I found it a lot easier to say no to someone or to work that was not part of my responsibility. I had had to delegate my work while on maternity leave, and became much better at this on my return to work. Being a better delegator and having more of a “no-nonsense” approach has made me a better manager.
The result is that I have more time for the things that I enjoy – spending time with my children but I am also more successful in the job I do and have been able to achieve a lot more in a lot less time.
Now I work on an average work week of 30 hours but I am worth more to the company that I work for – my performance is better than ever. What did I do to get to this point? What “pointers” can I give to other working professionals who are starting a family?
- Make your partner a real partner (credit to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook) – my husband does just as much (if not more) than I do in terms of running the household and childcare. When I returned to work after maternity leave, my husband also started working flexi-time. The result was that between hubby, my dad and myself, my children did not need to go to crèche and were able to stay at home for their first two years of life. At two, they both started a morning only playschool.
- Negotiate more family friendly conditions of employment – I negotiated before going on maternity leave that when returning to work I could do so on a flexi-time basis. I was expecting my all male Board of Directors to decline this request immediately but to my surprise, they were more accommodating than I had ever thought possible. I did take a salary cut initially but as I did not have to pay crèche fees, I was able to manage. After three months, when they saw my output was better, I received my full salary and still kept the flexi-hours.
- You can exclusively breastfeed – I invested in a good quality electric dual breast pump with battery and mains. I set myself small goals – it started that I would just do it until my baby started solids and by the time I reached that milestone, it was just easier to continue, it has become part of my routine. In terms of Labour Law (http://www.labour.gov.za/DOL/legislation/codes-of-good-ractise/Basic%20Conditions%20of%20Employment/code-of-good-practice-on-pregnancy) your employer has to provide you with the space and time to express milk. It makes sense for employers to support moms who breastfeed because they are less likely to take time off to care for a sick child. This is mainly due to the increased immunity of the child as a result of the breast milk. As a working mom who expresses milk, it is easy to donate any extra milk to Milk Matters, by doing so you not only provide for your baby but save the lives of the premature babies that the donated milk goes to.
- Surround yourself by a good support system (I think this is essential for all moms, working or not). I purposefully chose to live close to my parents, my husband’s parents and our brothers and sisters, the result is a long list of Grannies, Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles who are all willing to chip in and help when needed.
- Use technology to help you as much as possible – I do the majority of my shopping online. This means I don’t have to worry with children at the shops or carrying bags of groceries and baby in from the car. There is a delivery charge but when I factor in my time, petrol, parking costs and those “extras” that always make the way in to the trolley – I have actually managed to save. I am on a first name basis with the Mr Delivery representative for Pick n Pay – he even knows which cupboards to pack the groceries away in!
These are things that worked for me in my circumstances. What worked for me may or may not be applicable for you, but I hope they provide some insight and help you find what is best in your circumstances. Have the self-confidence to explore your options.”