Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
6 minute read
10 Aug 2021
4:34 pm

Working moms: staying headstrong amidst challenges and mom-guilt

Renate Engelbrecht

How do working moms stay headstrong amidst the challenges they face daily?

How do working moms stay headstrong? Picture: iStock

In today’s day and age, being a woman comes with a lot of challenges and being a working mom, even more so. We spoke to three real moms about staying headstrong, finding a balance and ditching mom-guilt.

Women determined to make a change

Running her own business, Jacki McEwen-Powell says it was tough starting her own company over 20 years ago, with a borrowed laptop, a phone line and a newborn baby. She says that it had always been the plan to run her own business and as a result of her determination, she is now the owner of the well-established company, Eclipse Communications. Her son is 21 years old now and she certainly has some tips for working moms with toddlers running around the house.

Jacki McEwen-Powell and her 21-year-old son
Jacki McEwen-Powell and her son, Steven on his 21st birthday. Picture: Supplied

Mischa Tessendorff is a business development manager at an NGO, responsible for advising corporate stakeholders on their green building and sustainability strategies and its connection to Sustainable Development Goals and Circular Economy principles. She has worked very hard to get where she is today and would like to show her 15-month-old son that she is reaching for her dreams the same way he will have to one day.

Juanri Jonck is the mother of two girls aged three and five respectively who leave the house dressed as princesses most days. She is the owner and medical doctor at lifeLAB Medical Practice and says although she has a great team who helps her run the practice, and in addition to her being responsible for her patients’ well-being, she is also responsible for keeping up good spirits at her workplace while also doing regular research to stay up to date within a rapidly changing medical environment.

Challenges faced by working moms

Jacki says some of the biggest challenges she faced while being a mom and building a brand, were the demands on her time and the fact that there were always going to be clashes of priorities. “You can be as organised as you’d like, but life doesn’t always work that way. Your day is filled with things that are not planned. It’s about constantly having to choose and prioritising one thing before the other.”

Mischa says that Covid has put a lot of strain on her as a working mom, especially with lockdown preventing her from seeing her family – her support system – more often.

For Juanri, having a family at home during a pandemic is one of the biggest challenges as she comes into contact with sick patients all the time and she just wants to keep her family safe. She also finds not being there during the day to help her children learn has been a challenge for her.

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Coping with the challenges

For Jacki, technology has made a huge difference in the lives of working moms. As a new mom, 20 odd years ago, she did not have the luxury of working from home. There was no such thing as WiFi or laptops and if you weren’t physically at work, you weren’t working. “If you weren’t sitting at your desk at 8am, you weren’t pulling your weight.” According to her, it could go both ways with technology sometimes ruling our lives both at work and at home, with the unspoken expectation that you now need to be available 24/7.

She says that she had an amazing support system and that if you are a working mom and you don’t have family or friends close by to rely on for support, you need to put a support system in place for yourself and your family. “I never did a day of homework. When I got home, the time was ours.”

Mischa relies on friends and family as her support structure and says that her husband is fantastic in helping to share the load. “He is very supportive and we are a team.”

Juanri has a nanny whom she loves and trusts to rely on, which makes not being at home to help the children a little less challenging. She also says that her husband is a great dad and a motivator and when she finally comes home to her kids after a long day of work, she gets a new spike of energy after missing them all day.

Dr Juanri Jonck, a working mom
Working mom, Dr Juanri Jonck with her two daughters. Picture: Supplied

Dealing with mom-guilt

Jacki says she felt guilty about being a working mom “every single day. You feel guilty about work when you’re at home and you feel guilty about home when you’re at work.” She has been through the process of dealing with mom-guilt, though and her son is all grown up now and according to her, the worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt. “We’re doing it to ourselves. It’s a shame. You haven’t earned it.” Jacki says you need to ask yourself: “What am I doing? Is it a good thing?” and when you realise that you are working in order to do good for your family (and yourself), you will see that there is no reason for feeling guilty.

Jacki also says that you need to set boundaries. She has also always been using the five by five rule: “If it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t waste more than five minutes being upset about it.”

Mischa says she thinks mom-guilt is normal and that you’ll always feel you’re working too much or too little. “You can’t be present at both. Therefore I don’t think it is about having a 50/50 balance, but instead spending time in the moment – quality over quantity.” Mischa says that when she reaches a point of despair, apart from her relationship with God, a glass of wine will fix anything.

Juanri says you need to remind yourself why you’re doing what you are doing – whether it is to provide for your family or to set an example for them. “Focus on quality and not quantity. While you are with your kids, put away he phone and any other distractions and just be in the moment.” When she reaches a point of despair, there is nothing like a good cry and some prayers, eight hours of sleep and taking the kids for a run and being outside.

Balance for working moms

Jacki says you need to use technology to your advantage. “Work remotely and be more flexible with your time. It’s something I learned a long time ago and it’s part of the reason why our business was so successful during Covid pandemic and lockdown. Freedom is important to give yourself.” She is also a fan of quality over quantity and says you need to focus on being in the moment.

Mischa says they tried balancing work and family life with the 50/50 rule, but that it just didn’t work for them, especially during the pandemic and working from home. She says she found some tricks, though like online shopping and hearty, frozen meals that save time, which means you can spend more time together as a family. “We live in a fast-paced time and at the end of the day, all we want to do is to slow down and play on the floor with our kids, because there is nothing more precious than when they discover something new.”

Juanri says the secret lies in not trying to do everything on your own. “Balls get dropped all the time, but if you have loving helpers, family and friends and a great team at work, being a working mom becomes possible.”