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Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Balance Sheet

*An edited version of this article came out in the September 2009 issue of "Working Mom" magazine. Check it out! :)

When my daughter was born, I did not think that it was possible for me to go back to a full-time job and leave her in the care of others. My husband, Stan and I, were by ourselves and took care of her 24 hours a day without any help from yayas for the first one and a half months of Naima's life. We had her all to ourselves and despite the sleepless nights and lack of time for our other personal needs, we look back on those days with fondness.

However, I was used to being busy and after having been out of work for almost a year (I had to stop working due to pregnancy issues), I started micromanaging our household. For Stan’s peace of mind and my sanity, I had to go back to work.

I was lucky that Stan allowed me to go back to full-time work gradually. I started with a part-time job – as a research assistant to a lawyer from a multilateral development finance institution, who was finishing her doctorate thesis. I subsequently moved on to a full-time job at a government instrumentality which was about 10 minutes away from home. This was the perfect setting because unlike a law firm job, the hours and job demands were more reasonable, allowing me time to focus on growing Naima and my advocacy, breastfeeding. An added plus was that my boss, a family man himself, also understood the need to maintain the family and worklife balance.

Aside from working full-time, I managed to get certified as a breastfeeding peer counselor and recently started a small business catering to nursing mothers. Along with a couple of other employees, I am also working to set-up a lactation program policy within my workplace. Keeping my work-home balance is not easy but I’ve managed to continue my projects, work full-time and still have quality moments with my family.

During the work week, my yaya and I have Naima’s bathing/feeding/eating schedule fit to a “T”. I have also scheduled my weekends to take care of chores which my house assistants could not handle by themselves. I used to hate last minute cancellations or change of plans but have learned that with a young baby, a combination of routine and flexibility is necessary to make things work and keep me sane. Thus, emergency back-ups need to be prepared and on-hand to cope with these last minute changes.

With a five-day work week, I have decided to make my weekends sacred and reserved for Naima, especially during her early years. In all my weekend activities, I bring Naima with me - from attending breastfeeding seminars or workshops to joining bazaars or going shopping, meeting friends or checking out weekend markets - Naima goes where I go. During the work week, after office hours are reserved for our bonding time. I’ve also given up watching TV, choosing to allot TV time to Naima or my “sideline” (when she is asleep) instead.

Having the consistent, strong and loving support of my husband Stanley is also essential in helping me successfully balance my career and family life. In the early days, when Naima was a fussy newborn, Stan took over all diaper duties as I was dealing with baby blues and breastfeeding issues. He also accompanied me during my visits with various lactation consultants, was my number one cheerleader and kept me going during those days when I doubted myself, my milk supply, and my capacity to soothe a wailing Naima. I do not know how single moms manage it but I definitely would not have survived the first month without Stan.

As Naima is growing up, I guess it also helps that as a photographer, Stan’s schedule is not as rigid as mine. This works perfectly for us as we are able to attend to Naima’s needs with at least one parent present. During the weekdays, Stan takes her to doctor’s appointments and other activities, while I take over during weekends and evenings as most of Stan’s shoots are scheduled during these times.

I have also learned to value and appreciate the participation of my extended family. My mother-in-law is pure Chinese and speaks only Chinese, and some Bisaya. However, this does not stop her from trying to read English board books with Naima or accompanying Naima to her playschool trial classes when Stan and I are not available. Monster-in-law horror stories abound but my experience with my mother-in-law has been great and she is definitely a big help, especially with my own mother living miles away in Davao City.

Filipino moms are lucky to be able to get help from a yaya and have maids to help us or do our household chores. I don’t try to be a martyr and be the “perfect” housewife. I can’t even cook to save my life! So, I choose to plan our menus instead and delegate the cooking responsibility to our helper whose cooking skills have vastly improved, from not knowing how to cook when she arrived in January 2008 to preparing elaborate meals (including laksa) in 2009.

So to sum up, how can one mom raise a spirited daughter, run an efficient household, work full-time, manage a small business, have an advocacy, be a good wife, and still have time for herself?It is not by trying to do everything yourself but focusing on the right priorities, counting on good family support with the humility to accept help and advice, and establishing routines coupled with openness to flexibility and change.

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