By FXR (aka Soundz'FX) (originally posted to Flickr as Champagne Supernova) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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By FXR (aka Soundz'FX) (originally posted to Flickr as Champagne Supernova) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By FXR (aka Soundz’FX) (originally posted to Flickr as Champagne Supernova) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I started researching this post for International Women’s Day and uncovered some staggering facts. I knew alcohol raised the risk of breast cancer, but I didn’t know that even two drinks a day increased risk significantly.

Recent large studies revealed some sobering facts about alcohol and breast cancer risk:

  • Women who have as few as three drinks a week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer.
  • For each additional drink that women have per day, risk of breast cancer increases by an extra 10%. This means if you have one drink per day four days of the week and two drinks three days of the week, your risk of breast cancer increases by 25%.

There are many reasons why this gets me worried.

  1. I’m a family physician/general practitioner. I know about prevention for cancer. Yet I didn’t know that even a modest amount of alcohol raised your risk of breast cancer.
  2. Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women.
  3. I enjoy drinking alcohol in moderation. To me it’s a way of relaxing at the end of the day (though in recent times I’ve made a concerted effort not to make this a daily ritual), celebrating milestones, and socialising. I love cocktails with the girls, tall flutes of bubbly, a good Pinot Noir, and a nice refreshing Sauvignon Blanc on warm summer nights.

But the most worrying thing of all is that I believe that the truth about alcohol and breast cancer risk is not publicised enough. This may be because women don’t want to have a conversation about alcohol and breast cancer. We don’t want to face the thought of giving up our wine, vodka or whatever our favourite poison is. Only 12% of women in a recent survey were interested in learning how to reduce their drinking to reduce breast cancer risk.

We’re also told that some red wine is good for health, so we enjoy toasting to this. (I rarely tell my patients that a bit of red wine helps to increase good cholesterol levels, because I know exactly what will happen if I dole out this advice!)

I got increasingly worried as I visited the prominent Breast Cancer awareness websites in Australia – the Breast Cancer Foundation and Breast Cancer Network. On the “About Breast Cancer” page of the Breast Cancer Foundation, it states that “Research has shown a strong link between alcohol and the risk of developing breast cancer” and then recommends to “try and limit your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day“.

On the Breast Cancer Network website, there is no mention of alcohol as a risk factor. There is also no mention of other lifestyle factors such as being overweight and not doing exercise, and having an unhealthy diet. Instead, the “About Breast Cancer” page emphasises risk factors that women cannot change, such as increasing age and genetic risk.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the lifestyle changes that women can make to reduce risk of breast cancer.

When I had a look to see if there were any fundraising events in Australia that highlighted abstinence from alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer, I found none. Instead I found lots of fun runs, which is fantastic of course, but also morning teas, afternoon teas, cocktail evenings, and even pink chocolates. While it is great to see so many fundraising efforts, surely these events are not in the spirit of increasing awareness about how to prevent breast cancer, because they promote exactly the fun things that unfortunately increase breast cancer risk (calorie-laden foods and alcohol). I did find a Dryathlon in the UK which raises funds for cancer.

chocolate-wine-drine-my-chateau-ecards-someecardsIn recent times, there have been yearly events that promote abstinence, such as Ocsober, Febfast, and Dry July. These support empowering young people through education, helping youth kick addiction, and improving the lives of people living with cancer. I think there should be a similar event for breast cancer. I have been thinking of starting a fundraising event via the Breast Cancer Foundation, but am struggling with a catchy name. Drink Less for your Breasts? Give Up Booze for your Boobs? I’m thinking May would be an ideal month – as this is the month that Mother’s Day falls on in Australia. I’m also thinking I personally need a kick up the butt with this sort of thing. Alcohol is all too often an easy form of relaxation and leisure. I should be putting my money where my mouth is, and fighting the easy habit of reaching for a drink.

The Breast Cancer Organisation page in the USA has excellent articles on changing your lifestyle to reduce your risk of breast cancer. These include maintaining a healthy weight and increasing physical activity. Breast cancer risk has to be taken in context, as there are many factors that affect individual risk. You can find out about your breast cancer risk, and how you can reduce it, by using this risk calculator. I often use this in clinic with my patients, especially if they are worried because of a family history of breast cancer.

So this year I challenge all my fellow drinkers to cut out alcohol for one month. When I come up with a catchy name for a fundraiser, I’ll post about it (suggestions are welcomed!!) In the meantime, I’m going to stick to my 80/20 rule – during the week I will avoid alcohol, and on the weekend I’ll have one or two drinks. Here’s a reminder about standard drink sizes, and I urge everyone to remember that the standard wine pour is usually a lot more than one drink.

StandardDrinksGuide_web2Viva la mocktail – again! Let’s drink (soda water) to our health!

 

 

 

 

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1024px-Mother_and_Child_II_(Imagicity_626)I’ve been a GP for 10 years now and have listened to thousands of patients tell me their stories. One thing that strikes me is the human ability to find the worst in every situation, no matter what. What a pity! In the First World, we really have so little to complain about. Yet we complain about everything. Picture this:

Someone who loses their job will complain about their sucky life and how they are having trouble finding a new job. Then lo and behold, they get a job and complain about the job – the hours, the boss, the work they have to do!

work environmentA single person will complain about not having a partner. Then they get a partner and complain about the partner!

husband dishwasherChildless couples will lament that they still haven’t conceived a baby. And yep – you guessed it. Baby arrives and they complain about being parents. In fact, even before the baby arrives, the new mother complains about the pregnancy…

pants pregnancyBeing a working mother, now that certainly isn’t a walk in the park. But it’s actually filled with blessings. Think about it. If you’re a working mother, this means:

1) You have managed to secure a job. This means you can read and write, at least. You are earning an income. You’re not dependent on welfare or on your partner’s income (well, not totally anyway). You have achieved some level of independence. And someone needs you to come to work, to fulfil a role, no matter how small you think it may be.

2) You have children. For many childless couples, this is a dream come true. Maybe your children were planned, maybe they were not. But chances are, even as hard as child-rearing gets, there is magic in every day that you can reach out and touch – the tousled hair in the morning, your toddler smiling and saying “Mama!” in the morning, the cuddles at the end of the day, the hilarious things these children say and do. The chubby cheeks, the toothless grins, the feel of a tiny hand in yours… You have small people who depend on you and need you. It reminds me of a quote which goes along the lines of “There is nothing better than being needed” or something like that. Admittedly, there are times when the needs become overwhelming and you crave some space and freedom. But gentle, sobering reminders from non-parents who dearly wish to have been parents will jolt you back into perspective. Give thanks for these wonderful gifts.

I must say I rarely complain about my work, but I’ve managed to get to the point of being able to do what I truly love. This is after years of slogging it out doing jobs that I didn’t enjoy like working long hours in hospitals and working away from home for extended periods. But say I was still working those awful jobs? Yes it would be a stretch for me to be grateful. But if I really tried I could have been. For the income, for the education I’ve had, for the financial independence, and for the fact that I was physically and mentally able to work.

As for my children? I certainly could be more grateful. I adore them to bits, and I have those moments – you know those? – when they wrap their arms around you and your heart does that smooshy melty thing. They’re simply gorgeous and they make me so proud. But the small stuff, there’s so much of that. And I forget to be grateful. I forget to be thankful that I have two beautiful healthy children, that I completed my family the way I wanted it to be, that I am needed in this way, that I have the opportunity to teach two very special unique individuals the secrets of a happy and healthy life, that I have them to inspire me to find the answers.

And sometimes I forget to be thankful that I can combine both motherhood and a career. It was only recently that mothers were able to pursue a life outside of the domestic sphere, and here I am complaining about the juggle. It’s hard, it’s tiring, bla bla blah!

So, part 5 of the Working Mummy Mindset. I’m going to be grateful, every single day. I’m not going to feel guilty if I can’t feel completely grateful for every single moment – this isn’t about that. But each day, I’m going to look for my blessings and embrace them. I don’t want to waste these precious years complaining my life away. All too soon things will change and I don’t want to have regrets about how I spent these years. I can be more grateful and I believe gratitude and positive thinking is a habit that needs to be cultivated daily, like physical fitness. And I believe that this will help me navigate my way through the busy weeks, months and years ahead. :)

I will be grateful... I will... Be... Grateful....
I will be grateful… I will… Be… Grateful….

Photo credits:

Main photo: Imagicity.com [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of toddler: By Larali21 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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Many have responded to my post on stay-at-home and working mothers to point out that, for many women, it is not a choice to stay or go. Some must return to work for financial reasons, or perhaps cannot return to work because the costs of childcare are too high. It is possible that these women face the most discord out of all mothers. Their desire to be at home with their children or to be working is frustrated, and I cannot imagine what that might feel like. I do have to work. It’s not an option financially for me to stay home. However, I am also blessed to have had the opportunity to build a career that I find meaningful and satisfying, and also have flexible work and study arrangements. I love what I do, and to me that is freedom. I recognise that this may not be the case for many.

This got me thinking about a book I read many years ago, the classic by Dr Victor Frankl entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Dr Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Nazi concentration camp survivor. He was separated from his young wife and later learned that she died. I don’t have the book with me any more, so what I write may not reflect his book very accurately. But from what I remember, Frankl wrote of the only choice that we really had any control over – ourselves, or more accurately, how we respond to our circumstances or the events in our lives. Even when we have nothing left, when everything has been taken away, humans still have power over one final thing – the way we respond, the way we behave, the dignity that we can display even in the face of the most unimaginable misery and deprivation.

Frankl wrote of the differences between those who survived the camps and those who did not. The ones who survived had hope. They were also able to find moments of joy in the midst of terror. They gained control over their actions and their response to what was happening to them. He writes that when faced with tragic and extreme circumstances such as living in a concentration camp or facing a terminal illness, the meaning of one’s life becomes the way we are able to remain human and keep our dignity intact during the experience.

For all those who are in a situation that they do not want to be in, perhaps one that brings intense sadness and grief, I hope that reading Frankl’s book brings you some insight and comfort. How could you change the way you face your daily life? Could you show your children courage, a positive outlook, gratitude, grace, and hope? If you are one of the lucky ones who is happy with your current situation, how would you face a difficult situation in the future? We cannot insulate ourselves against the uncertainties of life, but we do have control over the way we face our challenges. If we build resilience within ourselves, we model this to our children, and equip them with one of the most important lessons they can learn – the courage and confidence to approach even the most difficult circumstances. Let us hope the atrocities of the Nazi regime never be repeated, but we can learn something from the dignity of those who survived.

Even though I am fortunate to enjoy what I do for a living, there are episodes every day where I think Frankl’s wisdom would benefit me. There is so much that is still beyond my control, and daily frustrations and obstacles do challenge me and test my patience and good humour. When I do remember, on occasion, to exercise my free will to choose my response to the situations that throw me off, I regain a bit more dignity and grace and become more of the parent and human that I want my children to be.

 

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imageIt’s wonderful to work out in front of our children, isn’t it? Setting a good example for health and all? Oh who am I kidding, the truth is my three-year-old is all over me like a rash whenever I start to do anything that remotely resembles a workout! Here is a Mummy (or Daddy) version of a Core-strengthening workout from Runner’s World Magazine. I take no responsibility for injuries sustained while working out with a small child as weight equipment!!

1. Step Downs

(A) Lie on your back with one hand under your lower back. Lift your legs so your thighs are at a 90-degree angle with the floor, and bend both knees to a 90-degree angle. Now let your child balance on your shins. (B) Tighten your lower back so that it doesn’t move up or down, and slowly lower your right foot to within 1 inch of the floor. Keep your right knee bent at a 90-degree angle, and maintain the position of your left leg. Hold your child up with your arms. Hold your right foot 1 inch off the floor for 2 seconds, then return it to the start position next to the left leg. Repeat the same action, but this time lower the left foot. Repeat both sequences three to five times, or as many times as your child will allow you to

2. Prone Stabilizer

(A) Start on your stomach, and raise yourself into a modified pushup position, with all your weight balanced on your forearms and toes. Keep your back as straight as possible as you let your little monkey scramble onto your back. (B) Slowly raise your left leg until it lines up with your back. Hold this position for 4 seconds, then lower the left leg, and repeat for 4 seconds with the right leg. Repeat both sequences three to five times, or until you collapse with exhaustion.

3. Bridge

(A) Lie on your back with your arms beyond your head, and your feet planted on the floor directly below the knees. Now position your munchkin on top of your belly. Press down on your feet, and lift your torso and upper legs until they form a straight line. Your child will probably now pretend you are a slide and proceed to slide down your front. Fun times! (B) With your weight on your shoulders and your feet, slowly extend the right leg by straightening the knee. Be sure to keep your back straight. Hold for 4 seconds, then repeat with the left leg. Repeat both sequences three to five times or until you have had enough of the shenanigans.

Don’t forget to follow this with a nice relaxing stretch. Oh yes that’s right, you’re a parent, who has time for stretching! Pat yourself on the back instead for managing to fit in some core strengthening exercises into your day!

Photo: health.com

 

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Photo: @Petra Dr
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time
Photo: @Petra Dr

Week 4

First week of being (almost) full-time has felt like a military exercise at times. Every minute is accounted for and scheduled on a calendar, especially because I am training for my 15k race. I feel like I am forever keeping track of the hours and minutes, right up til the moment I kiss Star goodnight and walk out of her bedroom. Then my time is all mine, oh sweet sweet two hours before bed!

mumhappy hourWe all talk about being time-poor, and working parents especially feel the pinch. (Single parents are possibly the most time-poor of all). Lack of time is blamed for us not getting things done, feeling stressed, overwhelmed, never getting projects off the ground. And yet I’ve come to realise that the problem is not time itself, but how we see time, spend it, and how we direct our energy.

This occurred to me when I read the term “brain candy”, referring to the slightly inane, amusing, sometimes addictive and occasionally harmful ways that a lot of us choose to spend our free time doing. Me, I’m prone to spending too much time on (cough) Facebook, and on watching YouTube videos of animals falling asleep. These “brain candy” activities are often mindless, easy, and yes usually fun but they ain’t going to get us anywhere in a hurry (unless your mission in life is to get to level 300 on Candy Crush).

candycrushThe thing is, we do this a lot. Recent studies show that the average American watches five hours of television, every day. Let’s say you’re not average, and you might watch, say, just two hours a day. That’s fourteen a week. Are we really time-poor? Or do we make poor choices with our time? Are we filling our time with the equivalent of junk food, candy, stuff that tastes good but brings our minds and souls no nourishment and brings little personal growth?

So with this sobering thought in mind this week, I started thinking about how to choose activities that would bring me benefit and improve me as a person. I started to value time the way I value food. Food is enjoyment, yes, but also nourishment. I eat healthy for the majority of the week and on the weekends I’ll have whatever I feel like having. Creme brulee, pizza, fried chicken, whatever, I’ll have it if I feel like it because I know during the week my diet is healthy, it’s low in fat and sugar, it’s packed with the goodies I need to keep me feeling well. Likewise with my choices with time this week. I have questioned myself before starting any activity. Is this going to be beneficial? Will I learn something, grow from it? Azim Jamal talks about the “Hour of Power”. 20 minutes each of meditation, physical exercise and reading inspirational literature. Just one hour a day. What an inspiring concept!

I’m also trying to focus my attention. Us mums are great multi-taskers, but sometimes this works against us. I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique again – a simple but effective way of focussing on predefined tasks for 25 minutes, and avoiding the urge to respond to the seemingly pressing tasks that pop into your head as you’re working. Instead of attending to what appears urgent, you simply note down the “interruption” and carry on. The first time I did that this week I had five interruptions – which I then systematically ticked off once my 25 minutes was up. Of course, this can only be done when not in the presence of small children…

You may not be as lucky as I am to have one or two hours in the evening to yourself. Perhaps you’re a single parent, you have to work two jobs, or shift work, or you work and study at the same time. I wish for you that the time you are putting in now will result in a better life for the future, for you and your children.

This post is not meant to be a summary of time management techniques. What I propose is that a simple reorganisation of a time mindset may assist us in feeling less time-poor and encourage us to pursue richer activities with whatever free time we are lucky enough to get. The Working Mummy Mindset part 4: Time is like food. Consume wisely. And make some time for Grumpy Cat and Damn You Auto Correct on the weekends.

 

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people joggingI can’t live without running now but I wasn’t always a runner. Exercise would fill me with a sort of dread, a sense of having to battle through an unpleasant experience. One day I was coming home on the tram and thinking “Oh god I have to go for a run today… I don’t want to…” and it suddenly dawned on me that this was insane. Why was I doing this to myself? I realised that I couldn’t keep going on like this. I decided at that moment to change the way I thought about exercise. “I love running,” I said to myself. “I enjoy it. I’m looking forward to it”.

While running was still hard, I didn’t have the additional mental burden of dragging myself along reluctantly. I started to rethink the way I looked at exercise and fitness. Very soon it did become a truly enjoyable experience and one that I found sustained me, invigorated and refreshed me. It became an essential part of my life, like breathing or eating. I went on to run 8-10km three times a week, for fun, and I kept running during pregnancy, and then ran a 15K race when Star was 10 months old. I now run three times a week and do HIIT at least twice a week.

There are so many reasons to be exercising. There isn’t much that exercise won’t fix – it prevents cancer, heart disease, impotence, depression and anxiety, and obesity. It makes you feel and look good. It is rare for me not to prescribe exercise to my patients. Yet I know first-hand how difficult it can be to get going and keep going. Here I suggest ways of developing a Mindset for exercise and fitness. Start with the mind and the rest will follow.

How to develop an Exercise and Fitness Mindset

1. Be clear on the reason why you are exercising.  Is it to lose weight, set a good example to your children, feel fitter, run a race, improve your cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce stress? Write these reasons down, and display them somewhere prominent. Keep these reasons in mind whenever you want to veg on the couch instead.

2. Use the power of affirmations to change the way you think. You could repeat things to yourself like “I enjoy exercise”; “I feel great after exercise”; “I really want to go for a swim”; “I’m really looking forward to my Spin class”.

3. Close your eyes and visualise yourself exercising. See yourself smiling, the tension melting from your face and neck, the confidence you are radiating. See yourself completing the workout you set out to do and then relaxing afterwards with a sense of achievement and pride. Feel how great this would feel.

4. Gravitate towards fit people. Talk to them about exercise, get tips from them, and also reduce your time with those who will drag you down. (You know, the friends who will try to derail you because of their own agendas). Subscribe to some fitness websites and magazines. Read a book on running, on swimming. Do whatever it takes to surround yourself with the images and reality of fit people.

5. Get the gear! Dress like a fit person. Ditch the old tracksuit pants, get some new exercise gear. It doesn’t have to cost a bomb – all the discount department stores will sell decent exercise gear. You’ll feel great about yourself and more motivated to get going!

How could wearing legwarmers NOT make you want to exercise??
How could wearing legwarmers NOT make you want to exercise??

Good luck! Physical exercise is now an essential part of my life. If I don’t do something vigorous every 2 days, I turn into cranky mummy and wife. I also get really tired and sluggish. It’s counter-intuitive, but exercise does actually increase your energy levels.

Everyone should aim for at least 2 1/2 hours a week but start slow and build up if you’re doing nothing at all. It takes a long time, months and months, to develop a strong mindset, but be persistent and enjoy the ride :)

LOL! For my CrossFit lover fans... You know who you are! ;)
LOL! For my CrossFit lover fans… You know who you are! ;)
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little girl on a swingI am overwhelmed by the reaction to my simple blog post on being “Stay-At-Home Mums” and “Working Mums”. It was highly personal and yet resonated with over half a million men and women around the world. In the most part, you’ve reaffirmed my faith in humans being able to put differences aside and celebrate what we share in common. It’s been humbling, overwhelming and deeply satisfying.

Some of you have mentioned being “Stay at home dads” and “Work at home mums”. In fact, I agree with all of you – the labels are a bit annoying! But they speak to the majority of us, so I’ll keep them for now.

I was also a “Work At Home Mum” from the time Star (my first child) was seven months old until she was fifteen months. I did work about 5 hours a week as a GP and my husband looked after her for that time. The rest of the time I worked on my research at home. We had just been awarded a major grant for my research on acupuncture for hot flushes and I was very busy with planning our project.

Star only slept for 30 minutes a day from eight months. She was also an active crawler from seven months. I had a daily work schedule that went like this:

– 30 mins work during breakfast (when she was esconced in her high chair)

– 30 mins work during lunch

– 30 mins work when she napped

– Another 30 minutes somewhere in the day (usually at afternoon tea time)

– Two hours at night when she went to bed until the time I went to bed.

In this way I racked up four hours a day. I did this four days a week. I am telling you, it absolutely killed me towards the end. But I don’t regret it at all. I remember lots of laughter (Star was, and still is, a cheeky character). I remember the warmth of her cuddles, the way she smelled – delicious. I remember putting out the laundry with her, going to the mailbox with her, going to the park in the morning, going to the library for Story Time. I remember the furious half-hour when she finally went to sleep – you could time her naps with a stopwatch!

I also remember the exhaustion at night when I pulled out the laptop at 8:30pm and worked til 10:30pm, four nights a week.

I brought her to Uni for meetings every fortnight. I brought her highchair so she could sit in it and eat Cheerios during the meeting. Sometimes she would nap in the Baby Bjorn – I remember swaying back and forth trying to get her to sleep, while chairing meetings. (My workplace is extremely family friendly, as you can tell!) Other times she sat on my team member’s laps and played with their glasses.

When she turned fifteen months, I had to start doing a lot of face-to-face interviews for my research and I couldn’t keep working from home. In any case, I didn’t think it was fair to her for me to be so distracted all the time, forever trying to steal another five minutes. I felt it would be better to have protected time for work and protected family time. We interviewed five nannies and picked one that we thought was ideal (older mum, raised four boys, lived nearby). On the day she was supposed to start she sent a text message an hour before starting to say she couldn’t take the job after all.

In a panic, I rang our local daycare centre. They had vacancies. She started the following week. While the first month was hard on all of us (I remember crying all the way to work on the tram after a difficult dropoff), we have never looked back.

Our daycare centre has offered us reliability, predictability, warmth, love and care. The carers are incredible – patient, loving women who really are there for the love of it (from what I hear, nobody becomes a childcare worker for the money). Star has made her way through all the rooms and I feel as though we are part of a big family now. She had her own favourite carers in every room. She is a happy, confident, bright three-year-old and we have no attachment issues. Did I ever feel like she wasn’t cared for, or jealous of her relationship with a carer? Never. But I’ll be blogging about childcare options later.

Almost three years later I have another baby, have taken another six months leave, went back part-time, and then recently had to make the difficult decision to convert to full-time. (You can read my post Musings on Working Motherhood: Introduction.) Oh, and the research? 327 women randomised to a clinical trial on acupuncture for hot flushes. Gazillions of data to start cleaning and analysing. Lots of papers to write. I’m doing this for the 1.3 billion women who will become menopausal by 2030 (yes, that’s YOU, mama!) I don’t think I need to justify my position to anyone. I am certainly not doing this for “expensive holidays”, as one interesting commenter posted. Oh my, if only she knew how much (or how little!) I get from my scholarship! Yet I am grateful for the scholarship as it pays me to do what I absolutely love to do.

I have an enormous respect for WAHMs and Dads. It truly is a skill to manage childcare and work simultaneously. I also know that running your own business has its own challenges. There is no end to the work and energy – much like parenting! For those of you who have mastered it, particularly with a toddler, I’d love to hear your tips. There is something very satisfying about being able to blend working for a living and caring for tiny children.

Every parent’s decision to have children and how to raise them is deeply personal. What matters the most is our enduring set of values and what we will pass on to our children. What works for one parent does not for the other. Parenthood is an almost universal state that appears to unite us, but really we are all unique individuals with unique families. We bring to our families a complex and nuanced set of personal values, some our own, some handed down from our parents and traditions. Also, what works at one point in your family’s life may not at another. I believe that as long as a parent does what he or she truly believes is the right and best thing to do for his or her family, it is the right thing. (I can argue with lots of evidence that flies in the face of the claim that having a working mother is detrimental to a child’s attachment and wellbeing, for the naysayers. But I’ll save that for another post).

It is inhuman to point fingers at other families and say “You’re doing it wrong”. To be smug and defend one’s own position, perhaps out of bitterness or personal resentment. We are talking about going to work for a living, or staying home because of the profound belief that it is the best decision for that mother, father and the children in that family. We’re not talking about child abuse, neglect, malnutrition, or leaving children unattended in cars. I blog about being a working mother. If for some reason you find this offensive or against your values, please trot off and find a blog that you can identify with.

Modern women are blessed with choices. Sometimes these choices do cripple us. But let’s embrace the diversity that exists and respect others’ choices.

I haven’t forgotten the myriad permutations of parenting that lots of you have brought to my attention. Mothers who have no choice but to work, Single parents, stay-at-home dads, same sex parents, blended families. I do write mainly from my perspective. I don’t claim to know your experiences. It doesn’t mean your struggles are any less valid.

Photo credit: www.RepairLabs.com
Photo credit: www.RepairLabs.com

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Carolyn is a medical doctor and researcher. She blogs about health and her journey to discover the Nirvana of work-family balance. She has a toddler and a three-year-old and a wonderful husband, and returned to full-time work/study in February 2014. In her “spare time” she enjoys running and the occasional eating of cupcakes. You can read about her Musings on (Working) Motherhood at http://carolynee.net/category/musings-on-working-motherhood/

Photo credit: Pic jumbo

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Dear Stay-At-Home Mum

Some people have been questioning what you do at home all day. I know what you do. I know because I’m a mum and for a while I did it too. 

I know you do unpaid work, often thankless work, which starts the moment you wake up, and doesn’t even end when you go to sleep. I know you work weekends and nights, with no discernible end to your day or working week. I know the rewards are joyous but few.

I know that you seldom have a hot cup of coffee or tea. I know that your attention is always divided, often diverted from a moment to moment basis, and you cannot ever count on completing a task in the one go. I know that you probably don’t get any down time when you’re on your own at home, unless you have a single child who still naps in the daytime.

I know the challenges you deal with daily, usually with no peer support or backup. The toddler tantrums, the toilet training accidents, the food battles, the food on the floor, the crayons on the wall, the sibling rivalry, the baby that never seems to stop crying. I know how the work seems incessant, like an endless cycle – you shop for food, prepare it, cook it, attempt to feed it to your children, clean it off the floor, wash the dishes, and repeat in three hours.

I know you fantasise about having an hour to yourself to eat your lunch in peace, or about having an afternoon nap. I know you sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it, and feel envious of your friends who are having coffee breaks at work. I know that sometimes when your partner gets home in the evening after his work is done, he wants to put his feet up exactly when you need a break the most, and this can bring you to tears. 

I know that you are misunderstood by so many who do not appreciate the difficulties of caring for small children on your own, all day, and refer to you as joining the “latte set”. They imagine you spend your day sipping coffee while your children play quietly. I know you miss your financial independence. I know you feel amused and sometimes annoyed when others proclaim “TGIF!” because to you every day is the same – there is no Friday, no break from your job. I know that many people do not understand that you work – you simply work an unpaid job at home.

SAHM, I don’t know how you do it. I admire your infinite patience, your ability to face each day cheerfully and bring joy into your children’s lives even when they wear you down. I admire your dedication to being a constant presence in your children’s lives even if it isn’t always easy. I admire the way you work without expecting any reward – no promotions, no fame, no salary. I know you want your children to feel important and loved, and SAHM, you do this the best.

I just wanted you to know that I understand. We’re both mothers. And I know.

Love from the trenches

Working Mum

 

Dear Working Mum

I know you sometimes get judged by others for leaving your children in the care of others to work. Some people imply that you don’t love your children as much as us SAHMs do, and that it’s best for children to be at home with their mothers.

How can they say this about you? I know you love your children just as much as any other mother. I know that going back to work was no easy decision. You weighed up the pros and cons, long before you conceived a baby. It has always been one of the most important decisions of your life. You thought about this even while you were in high school and were choosing subjects for Grade 11.

I see you everywhere. You are the doctor I take my children to when they are sick. You’re my child’s allergist, the one who diagnosed her peanut allergy. You’re the physiotherapist who treated my husband’s back. You’re the accountant who does our tax returns. My son’s primary school teacher. The director of our childcare centre. My daughter’s gymnastics teacher. The real estate agent who sold our house. What sort of world would it be if you hadn’t been there for us? If you had succumbed to the pressures of those who insisted a mother’s place had to be in the home?

I know you weigh up every job to see if it will suit your family. I know you wake up an hour before everyone else does, just so you can get some exercise done or some quiet time. I know that you have attended meetings after being up all night with your toddler. I know that when you come home in the evening, your “second shift” begins. The nay-sayers don’t understand that you run a household AND hold a job. You come home, cook dinner, bath your children and read them stories. You tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. You pay the bills, do the grocery shopping, the laundry, the dishes, just like every other mother does.

I know that you often feel guilty about having any more time away from your children so you sacrifice your leisure time. I know you can’t bring yourself to take a “day off” for yourself when your children are at daycare. I know you accept that work is your “time off” for now. I know that when you are at work you don’t waste a single minute. I know you eat your lunch at your desk, you don’t go out for coffee, and you show complete dedication and concentration to your job. You chose to be there after all. You want to be there.

I know how discerning you are about who is looking after your children, and that many long daycare centres offer excellent care. I know you only leave your children in a place where you confident they are loved and well looked after. I know that you spend many days caring for your children at home when they are sick, and sacrifice your pay. I know that you secretly enjoy these days, and revel in being able to be with your children.

I know that sometimes you feel guilty about not being there all the time. But WM, I know this. You are setting a wonderful example to your children. You are showing them that a woman can have a career, contribute in some way outside the home, and still be a loving mother. You are showing your daughters that they can do anything they want to do in life. You are displaying strength, endurance, dedication, tenacity, and you do it with so much joy and love.

I just wanted you to know I understand. Because we’re both mothers.

Love from the trenches

Stay-At-Home Mum

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Carolyn is a medical doctor and researcher. She blogs about health and her journey to discover the Nirvana of work-family balance. She has a toddler and a three-year-old and a wonderful husband, and returned to full-time work/study in February 2014. In her “spare time” she enjoys running and the occasional eating of cupcakes.

Photo credit: picjumbo.com

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Last week I was back at work and study for half of the week. The insights I’ve gained over the past few weeks have helped me through the week immensely. Work and family and housework no longer feel like a juggle. I am learning to move calmly and effortlessly (well, not always effortlessly…occasionally there are small children attached to my legs) from one arena of my life to another, with the overall focus being “family”. Whenever I have a moment of conflict, where a decision has to be made, I consider the overall goal, the big picture – being of service to my family (which includes ME) and to others. Housework is no longer a chore, but something I do automatically, without thinking, without resentment, and I’ve been taking note of how much my darling husband does as well – aren’t our men fantastic? Can you imagine our fathers helping out as much as our partners currently do?
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I’m reading a new book called the “Success Principles” by Jack Canfield, and thinking a lot about my goals, my mission and my life’s work. In a nutshell, my mission is to teach and inspire others to lead happy, healthy and fulfilled lives. The inspire bit means I need to be an example. I have just this morning written down a list of goals – including to publish 10 papers before the end of 2015, and to self-publish a book or have a book contract by the end of 2016. For the first time in my life my goals stem not from personal ambition, a wish to stroke my ego or gain personal fame and fortune, but from my mission statement – the real “why”. My mission statement has quickly become the rudder, the oars, that steer my little boat (me) through the waters of life. No matter what the currents are doing, or the waves, or the wind, I’m able to head in the right direction, and I’m avoiding being carried away by currents made by others. I’m living my own life, thank you very much, not the life that the media or the slick advertisements by corporations are telling me to live.
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I’ve also been doing a lot of forward planning, thinking beyond my PhD and the possibilities for a post-doctoral position. The road ahead, if I wish to achieve what I want, is long and hard, but today I had a Eureka moment while watching Owl play. The hardest job is not really building a career. A career is something anyone could build. Really, all you need is hard work, determination, persistence, organisational skills, all of that… You need to plug away, be passionate about what you do and strive for excellence, but anyone could do that. Raising a happy family, now that is the hardest job. I am fortunate in that my “why’s” (for my career and my family) co-incide. Teaching and inspiring others, especially my children, to lead happy, healthy and fulfilled lives. I realise I had to re-examine why I had children in the first place. For women there is that inexplicable biological longing, the drive to have and nurture a baby, to buy lots of tiny onesies and ooh and ahh over blankets, booties and prams. But beyond the baby and toddler years, what then? What of children who go to school, grow up, fall in love, have their hearts broken, become of legal age to drink and drive (oh dear Lord hopefully not at the same time… not on my watch!!) and consider careers of their own? All I can do is give them the skills, the tools to live life to the fullest. And they do this by learning from me.

Photo: http://www.pmslweb.com/the-blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/18-kids-they-grow-up-so-fast-they-move-out-so-slow.jpg
Photo: http://www.pmslweb.com/the-blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/18-kids-they-grow-up-so-fast-they-move-out-so-slow.jpg

So, part 3 of the Working Mummy Mindset. Discover what your why is and let this be the guide throughout the busy week – not your ego, not the whims of others, not fatigue, not old and unproductive habits.

It hasn’t all been about mindset this week though – we added a new member to our family! Roomba is our little robot vacuum and while I must say Roomba appears to career around the room in a somewhat demented and slightly ineffective fashion, the floors are definitely less crunchy and it’s nice to set Roomba to work and enjoy a few extra minutes a day to spend with the kidlets, or have a glass of wine…
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Today is my first week of being a full-time working and studying mother. I’m ready for whatever the week brings. I hope you all spend a few minutes this morning reflecting on your “whys”. Have a wonderful week :)

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2014-year-of-the-horseA very Happy Lunar New Year to all punters! What a fantastic opportunity to think and plan for the coming year, with inspiration from the Chinese zodiac animal that is the star over the next twelve months. Here are five ways to draw inspiration from the wonderful Horse:

1) Horses are strong.
Think strong and fit this year – add some strength training into your routine, work on your core muscles for less back pain and better posture, focus on incorporating aerobic fitness into your life. This is the year to get fit and healthy!

2) Horses are a mode of transportation.

Photo: Cruwys Morchard: horse and cart at Pennymoor for SS8611 About to pass by the Cruwys Arms inn   © Copyright Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Photo: Cruwys Morchard: horse and cart at Pennymoor for SS8611
About to pass by the Cruwys Arms inn
© Copyright Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Why not incorporate incidental exercise into your daily commute? Walk or cycle to work, or take public transport and get off early to walk a few extra blocks. All this exercise, done daily and part of your usual routine, adds up to a lighter and fitter you! Have to pop out to the shops for milk? Get the granny trolley out and walk, or put the baby in the stroller and head out – on your feet.

3) Eat like a horse.

Photo: http://horse-uae.com/why-is-my-horse-losing-weight/
Photo: http://horse-uae.com/why-is-my-horse-losing-weight/

No, I don’t mean go and gorge yourself as in “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!” But focus on lots of vegetables and fibre, and some wholegrains, and no processed foods. For such a strong animal, horses seem to survive on a diet of mainly grass and a bit of oats… So oil your machine with ample serves of nommy vegetables every day, for an energy boost, and lower risk of cancer and heart disease. Neiiiigh!!

4) Horses are swift animals.

Photo: http://davidwoodier.com/?p=278
Photo: http://davidwoodier.com/?p=278

Horses are swift, and they take you where you want to go. This could be a fantastic year for you – but only if you know where you are going! Is it time to think about the direction your life is heading in? Do you know what your goals are, your life purpose is, and are you happy with where you are heading? Stephen Covey talks about most people not living their life, but being lived. That is, most people are simply living out a life that they are being told to live – by the media and by advertising. They simply drift along and do what others (the TV, the ads at the bus stop) tell them to do (eat junk food, watch more TV, drink more alcohol, go shopping and get into credit card debt … you get the drift). Get started by thinking honestly about where you want to go, read inspiring books like How to Write your Personal Mission Statement, and sign up for great goal-setting apps and websites like Jutsu.

5) The Horse’s element is Fire – which is related to our hearts.

500px-Love_Heart_SVG.svgThis is a year to nurture relationships – the ones that matter, especially with your partner (and this is especially important if you are a parent, as time and time again the research indicates that a positive relationship between parents has a significant impact on children’s wellbeing). So take the time to invest in those closest to you, and have a truly happy Year of the Horse! :)

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