FOR many mothers, every waking hour is spent making sure things run smoothly for the whole family. Not only do they have to see to the needs of their homes and families, but many mothers are also working, holding full-time or part-time jobs.
Most mums rush home to make dinner and help their kids with homework. They also become the family driver – fetching their children to and from school and tuition classes. It is no wonder mothers have earned the tag “super mum”.
Indeed, sacrificing their time and doing so many things in a day can take its toll. Being a “super mum” often results in undue emotional problems and other stress-related conditions.
So, are you a super mum? Here's how some women handle the stress of being a “super mum”.
Electrical and electronic engineer turned homemaker Pushpa Natarajan, 31, has one great way of keeping stress at bay.
“It’s all right if the house is not spotless or the clothes have not been washed. Eventually, it will all be done so there's no need to stress and worry too much about it,” she says.
Pushpa gave up her job as a project manager after her daughter, Sanjukta Jeya Pirakash, arrived in 2008.
“I wanted a break after working long hours. I had to rethink my career after my daughter was born because I didn’t have the heart to leave her and go back to the corporate world,” she explains.
Pushpa, who also loves to bake cakes, decided to take her baking skills to greater heights when her daughter turned a year old.
After making a grand birthday cake for Sanjukta, Pushpa realised she could start her own cake-baking business from home.
She took up cake decorating courses and started Simply Delicious Cakes. Pushpa has been taking orders ever since and provides exclusive cakes, cookies and chocolates for her customers. Prioritising, she says, is truly important.
“I try to do most of my important work when my daughter is in school or when she is having her nap or after she has gone to bed. When I have a lot of orders and cannot manage, I drop her off at my in-law's house (10 minutes away) for a few hours.”
Keeping stress at bay
Despite family support, there are times when things get difficult and Pushpa sees a red flag.
“However, I don't let it bother me. When I do get stressed, I like to just sit back and drink a hot cup of coffee watching my favourite TV programme or I call my girlfriends for a chat. I personally feel it’s very important to have some 'me' time daily as it helps me be more focused in what I do.”
For Pushpa, her personal time is spent at the gym in the mornings and at night once her daughter is in bed.
The good thing about working from home, according to Pushpa, is that she spends a lot of quality time with her daughter. She is also blessed with a husband and sister who help chip in with the household chores. Pushpa's husband also helps out with cake deliveries.
“I make sure I sleep by midnight. I need at least seven hours of sleep to be fresh and energetic for the next day,” she says.
Many mothers like Pushpa know their limits and do their best to cope. However, there are those who work full-time and find the juggling act between their families and work an arduous task.
Cindy, (not her real name) has four boys and has a hard time cleaning up after them.
“I love my family very much but I sometimes feel an anxiety attack coming on as I cannot cope with all the household chores,” she says.
The boys - aged between six and 11 - do help to tidy up by putting their toys away but it isn't long before their mother finds the living room a mess again!
Cindy, 38, works full-time in a law firm and depends on her in-laws to take care of her boys. The family have a part-time maid who works during weekends but Cindy says she is overwhelmed by the disorganised house she goes back to every evening.
“My in-laws do help out with the cooking, washing and cleaning but when I'm back home, the place is still a mess. The clothes are not folded properly, the kitchen sink is filled with dirty dishes and there are toys all over the place.
“I have to also rush and pick up the laundry or go to the supermarket, when all I want to do is crash when I get home,” Cindy says with a sigh.
The one thing she hates is going to the market in the middle of the week. Although the grocery shopping is done during weekends, there are times when provisions run out and Cindy finds herself hurrying off to the shops to stock up the pantry again.
Having a controlling husband certainly does not help. The stress, she says, is having to please everyone at home and keep them happy.
She has to see to the children's homework, pack their school bags and plan meals for four very fussy eaters.
At 8pm, when the boys are asleep, she crawls into her own bed. However, like an alarm clock, she is awake again at 11pm to do the dishes or other household chores.
Strain and stress
Cindy says she only has about five hours of sleep and does not feel well-rested when she wakes up.
“Weekends are also frustrating because I have to do the marketing and the cooking,” she confides. “Everyone else wants a break!”
Having four rowdy boys and a husband who likes everything in an orderly manner has certainly put more strain on the already frazzled Cindy.
“If things don't go the way he wants it, he'll have a bone to pick with me. I feel harassed sometimes,” she says.
Cindy is also prone to backaches and the flu which gets worse sometimes when she is overwhelmed by stress.
“How can I get better when I can't get a break?” she laments. “It's a vicious cycle having to put up with this ongoing stress.”
Cindy agrees that shared domestic responsibility is almost non-existent in her house. However, she is quick to point out that her husband is always away at work and has a stressful job himself.
“He does spend a lot of time with the boys during the weekends and helps them out with their homework. He coaches them with basketball as well.”
So, why put up with it all?
“My family means everything to me. No matter what, I will always be a mum and a wife. I guess that's what keeps me going – the love I have for everyone at home,” she admits.
Train the children
Rahmah Daud, who is also a full-time working mum, says that she tries to get her four children and husband to help out with chores at home.
“My mum used to say, ‘Train your children or you will be their slave forever’. I now delegate work to all my children when they are home. I also make sure everyone helps out, even if it is in a small way,” she says.
Rahmah, 49, has been working ever since her graduation in 1984. Although she majored in microbiology, Rahmah has worked as a journalist, senior communications executive and media writer. She is currently employed with Open University Malaysia as a manager.
Being disciplined, she says, is a plus point for any working mum.
“However, discipline only works when you stick to a routine. As working mothers, we spend the bulk of our time in the office and only get to be with the children at night. Time is limited and precious for us,” she says.
Rahmah's eldest daughter, 22, and only son, 19, both reside at university campuses while her younger girls, who are 14 and nine, live with the family in Bandar Baru Bangi.
“When I come home, I usually look into matters that need my urgent attention,” she says.
Having worked all her adult life, Rahmah says she has learnt to adapt to various difficult situations. Juggling between work, family and personal commitments may seem difficult at first but it becomes a routine after a while.
Rahmah wakes up at 6am every morning to prepare breakfast for her third daughter who attends afternoon school. She arrives home around 7pm and starts cooking after relaxing and watching television for a while.
“I do the laundry at night, fold the clothes, wash the dishes and tidy the house. If I am too tired, I will just watch television. I normally go to bed at midnight but before sleeping, I always iron my work clothes for the next day,” she says.
“My husband and I have this understanding that whenever I have to be away on work, he will take charge of the house. We have coped so far,” she says, adding that she is not a perfectionist.
“I have friends who want everything spotlessly clean. However, if you don't have a maid, it's very difficult. I can get my children to do chores, but I cannot expect them to do everything perfectly. I am a practical person and I think if you take on too much, you will end up doing everything yourself. It will make you very tired at the end of the day. The choice is really up to you!”
At home, her husband helps by ironing his own clothes for work. Her son's duties include washing the bathroom and taking out the garbage. When her daughter comes home for the holidays, she helps to clean, cook and do other household chores.
“I have also trained my children to wash and iron their own uniforms, and they have been washing their school shoes since they were in Year One. I think it's important to train children.”
Most of all, she says having a positive attitude when the going gets tough is important. According to Rahmah, staying positive is important if anyone wants happiness in life.
“One should not dwell on the negative but instead, take every failure as a lesson to be learnt. Only then, can you move on. If you keep looking back at your failures, you will never be happy,” she advises.
Single-mother Santha Sundarajah, 49, also believes in staying positive when times are tough. Having lost her husband when she was in her 20s, Santha says being strong, focused and positive were the key factors that kept her going through hard times.
“My main concern at the time was having to raise two sons on my own. I relied on my late mother and mother-in-law and could not have done it without their support,” she says.
Santha was expecting her second son when her husband passed away. Her first boy was barely three years old and her greatest concern was how to support her two boys financially.
“Although I was working, I gave up my job after marriage and going back to work was very difficult for me.”
Santha managed to find work as a teacher and the last thing on her mind was worrying about dishes in the sink or what to cook for dinner. Instead, her biggest fear was not being able to find financial security for her sons.
“Emotionally, it was a very difficult time for me. I took up courses on preschool education and completed the Montessori programme to improve my knowledge,” she says.
She decided to start her own kindergarten, Tadika Arif, in 1998 to support her boys through to higher education. However, things did not go as expected when she could not find enough students.
“I had cold sweats and sometimes regrets. But I knew I had to move on as there was no going back,” she says. She decided to take babysitting jobs in the mornings and in the afternoons, she would give English tuition classes. At night, she would coach her sons with their school work. Most of the housework was also done at night.
“I also had to see to the needs of my mum and buy provisions – this was during weekends. Everything had to be on a budget and it was a very difficult time for us,” she explains.
She had to pay the rent, make ends meet and save enough for her family. Santha confesses she was emotionally very insecure at the time and that led to sleepless nights.
“Reading books helped to take the pressure away. I realised that I have to also plan everything ahead of time to see that things ran smoothly,” she says.
Today, she has close to 50 students and has two other teachers to help her with the school in Kampung Pandan Dalam in Kuala Lumpur.
Her younger son Saravanan Sutheswaran is in college studying civil engineering while the older one, Durga Sharan Sutheswaran, 23, has just completed his aviation degree programme.
“I never thought I could do it. The important thing is to have perseverance and patience. Everything should surely work out when you combine the two,” says Santha.