Working parents: Forget Superwoman ...

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
In the third part of their series, Charlotte Preston and Trevor Dunton give tips on how to be a working parent - and stay sane

It's the late Nineties "woman bites dog" story. "Career woman quits high-powered job to spend more time with family". Tina Gaudoin's decision to leave the editorship of the fashion magazine Frank in favour of motherhood has occupied a substantial chunk of quality newsprint this week. Yet, despite the collective sharp intake of breath from the sisterhood and the rapid riposte by Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, there must be many mothers for whom the phrase "having it all" rings decidedly hollow. More like "doing it all", perhaps.

Unless money is no object, the job of juggling children, career, relationship and social life can sap you physically and emotionally. You spend half the night before a vitally important meeting cleaning sick off the carpet. As you're leaving for a business trip, you discover that your son is being bullied at school. After a gruelling day you stagger through the front door ready to collapse, to be met with excited requests to "play aeroplanes".

If you're wondering where your get up and go went, here are a few survival tips to bear in mind.

Be realistic

Something has to give. Parenthood and career are both full-time jobs. You can't expect to maintain the same standards you had in your pre-children days. The house doesn't need to be spotless - but getting someone in to clean, even for two hours a week, could be a lifesaver.

Try to ditch the guilt

It's not about what you should be doing. It's about what works for you and your child. If you're the kind of person who'd be climbing the walls as a full-time parent, your career is the best option for everyone. For another person, full-time parenthood may be the most fulfilling job in the world.

Do you have a choice?

The career vs full-time motherhood question may be academic, choice being the luxury of the few, but are you trying to preserve your lifestyle at the expense of your health and happiness? It may be possible to continue a successful career while working fewer days. So believe in your worth to your employers, and negotiate. Even one day a week working at home could restore some of the balance.

Look after yourself

It's important, with everything you're giving out, that you devote time each week to putting something back - both to you and your relationship.

Find time for exercise - yoga, swimming, even brisk walking. Two or three half-hour sessions a week can have a big effect on your state of mind.

Do some agenda-free socialising: nothing to do with babies or work. Even one evening with friends each fortnight will recharge your batteries.

Don't forget that you have a relationship. Use a babysitter.

Attention to diet is vital; you may benefit from vitamin supplements. For an instant diagnosis, try Patrick Holford's Optimum Nutrition Bible.

Organise an in-work massage. If you have three or more colleagues interested, a shiatsu practitioner would be happy to visit your office to give good value rejuvenating treatments. (Try the European School of Shiatsu in London, tel: 0181-761 3526).

Let go

It may be the last thing you feel like doing after a hard day at the office, but have a game with your Little Terror in which you completely relinquish control, just giving encouragement and seeing where it leads. It's great for your child, and may turn out to be the perfect antidote to your responsibility overload.


Resist the feeling that every hour has to be organised. Mucking about is an underrated pastime.

Little Terror Guides (Metro, pounds 2.99 each) are available from bookshops, or freephone 0500 418 419 to order.