Minor Issues: Strategies to motivate a stay-at-home mum

The grunt work stay-at-home mums do to keep a home running smoothly every day is often taken for granted. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When I quit my job seven years ago to look after my kids, I got a nasty surprise several months into my stint as a stay-at-home mum.

I came down with a sore throat, phlegmy cough and fever, and realised I had no sick leave to take. Housework could be left aside, but I had an active toddler to look after and lunch to prepare for the two older kids.

When I was working full time, all I had to do was to call in sick, see a doctor and I could take the day off to rest. So it was a rude shock to have to continue "working" even though I was unwell.

I knew what I was giving up when I left my job: my salary, the mental stimulation that came with work, the adult conversations at lunch and so on. But it was not until that moment that I realised how it was near impossible for stay-at-home mums, especially those with young kids, to take a day off.

With no helper, my time off when my three kids were younger depended on when my husband could take time off from work. But even if I did take time off, it just meant postponing the work that needed to get done - housework doesn't do itself, unfortunately.

So I was gratified to read that netizens were up in arms when a man in China was told to pay his ex-wife about $10,000 for five years of housework, which works out to $167 a month.

The mixed bag of comments included many who felt she was underpaid, others who felt that it was difficult to quantify the work done at home and some who said women who gave up their careers for the family got the shorter end of the stick.

Friends who have given up full-time jobs to look after their children agree that the grunt work they do to keep a home running smoothly every day is often taken for granted.

Because if you have a spotless home, clean clothes to wear and a freshly cooked meal on the table every day, who will think about the process? I know I didn't as a child.

It is not just physical labour that is involved in mothering.

The mental chore of remembering each kid's schedule, who is home for lunch on which day, whom to fetch or not, which forms to hand in and when the tests are, often falls on the mum, whether she is working or not.

So while stay-at-home mums may bear the brunt of the housework, working mums, who may have help with physical chores, still carry much of the mental load.

Seven years into this gig as a freelancing stay-at-home mum, I realised that the same strategies used to motivate employees in a company can also be applied to mums who toil at home. Because, as with any work, there will be good days and bad days.

Job fulfilment

On days when I feel disenchanted, I focus on the why and remind myself why I chose to leave my job - to have more time for my children, watch them grow and hopefully mould them into useful beings.

Keep upgrading

I know I am a happier mum when I continue to do things for myself. So I continue with freelance writing to keep in touch with the industry. I also enjoy baking so I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes.

Finding ways to improve at what I do, be it writing, cooking or mothering, is a motivator for me. I am also conscious of the fact that the kids will need me less as they grow up, so it is always a good idea to have my own pursuits.

Teamwork

Helping hands lighten the load. I try to get the kids to help at home, to teach them life skills as well as lighten my workload. So my kids help with folding clothes, vacuuming the floor and ironing their school uniforms, for example.

Supportive environment

Instead of colleagues, a mum's support system comes in the form of friends, neighbours and family members. An offer to buy a meal so that mum doesn't have to cook, or to mind the kids while mum runs an errand or has a few hours to herself, is always much appreciated.

Having a tribe

In the office, I had colleagues I count as good friends who kept me sane on the job. Likewise, friends who have chosen to stay home with their kids understand perfectly what I am going through. Having a few good friends just a message away has been invaluable.

Having a nice "office"

Spruce up the kitchen where you spend hours cooking and cleaning, tidy up the balcony where you tend to your plants and herbs or have a corner to snuggle up with a book. Having a nice place to potter around in helps with one's mood.

Being appreciated

Mums who choose to stay home know that the work they do cannot be measured in monetary terms. In fact, dealing with naysayers is often part of the package. In a job with no proper salary, no annual leave and no sick leave, gratitude from the husband and children go a long, long way.

• Jane Ng is a freelance writer who gave up her job as a reporter and ended up busier than ever looking after her three kids.

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