Ever since I became a mama back in 2013, I’ve been struggling to find that elusive work-life balance. I’ve tried just about everything imaginable, from setting strict working hours and following a morning routine, to throwing that all out of the window in favour of flexibility and going with the flow.
Over the past five years I’ve managed to find a routine that works for me (most of the time, anyway), but I still love chatting to my friends about how they manage to fit it all in – just in case I manage to pick up some tips from them! I know that I’m not alone in my quest to find balance between work, life, and being a mom, and that is how the idea for this new series was born.
Beauty, babies, and finding balance is a weekly series that will give you a glimpse into the lives of fellow working moms – whether they’re employed fulltime and work in an office from 9am to 5am, or if – like me – they work for themselves and from home. I’ve reached out to several women who inspire me and I’ll be sharing their stories with you every week in the hopes that you’ll find someone that you relate to, or that you stumble upon a nugget of wisdom that helps you in your daily life.
I thought I’d introduce this series by sharing my own story – read on for a closer look into my daily routine and the struggles that I face as a WAHM (work-at-home-mom).
Name: Chereen Strydom
Occupation: Freelance writer, blogger, and creative director for Beauty Warriors.
How would you best describe your work life? I work full-time from home.
How many children do you have, and what are their ages? I have one son – Beanie, aged 5.
What does your average workday look like?
Every day is a juggling act and differs depending on what I need to do that day. Some days are spent at beauty launches and events, and I end up working in the evenings while the rest of the family is asleep so that I can catch up on any urgent work I missed that day. We recently moved to Greyton, so my daily routine is starting to change. Greyton is just under two hours from Cape Town, so it’s not feasible for me to attend every launch anymore.
I try to squeeze as much work as possible into my mornings, while Beanie is at school, so that I can take the afternoons off to spend time with him. If I have a big deadline, I’ll catch up on that after he’s gone to bed. Greyton is very small, so we walk a lot. Bean’s school is about 100 meters up the road, so we walk him to school in the mornings, and we usually walk to the nearest grocery store, too. It’s a much more active lifestyle, which I love – especially since it wasn’t uncommon for me to get just 500 – 800 steps in on an average day before moving here! Now I’ve managed to up that to at least 3000 steps on a bad day! Working from home (and for myself) means that I spend most of my time behind my laptop, catching up on work – there’s always something I could be doing! I’m the most unforgiving boss I’ve ever had!
Where do you work during the day?
I work from home, but a change of scenery is always good, so I often walk to one of my favourite coffee shops and work from there. My favourite coffee shops in Greyton at the moment are Via’s and Oak & Vigne. There are still a few that I need to try, though – it’s only been two weeks since we moved here!
How do you handle childcare?
Both my husband and I work from home, so we handle the childcare duties between ourselves. I’m not much of a morning person and it can take me a good hour (sometimes two!) to get ready to face the day, so my husband usually tackles breakfast and does the school drop off. By the time 12:30 rolls around and it’s time to fetch Beanie from school, I’ve done most of my work for the day, so I’ll walk and pick him up from school. We then head home for a quick lunch, and he has an hour-long nap, which allows me some extra time to catch up on work (or to have a sneaky little nap myself – especially if I burnt the midnight oil the night before). We’ll then spend the afternoon together, playing Lego or drawing (if the weather is miserable), otherwise we’ll take a walk or cycle around the neighbourhood, or we’ll go down to the river for an afternoon dip. My husband does most of the cooking in the evenings, and I’ll bath Beanie, read him a bedtime story (we’re currently reading The Magic Finger by Road Dahl), and put him down for the night.
What do you like most about your current work-life set up?
I love the simplicity of it. We lived in Somerset West for four years before moving to Jo’burg for a year, and only moved to Greyton a couple of weeks ago. We’ve visited Greyton on holiday several times in the past and we always dreamed of living here, but we were also absolutely terrified of moving here – we were worried that the pace of living would be too slow for us, or that we’d get bored… but so far, so good! We’re revelling in the peace and quiet, and both my husband and I have found that we feel less stressed – even when we’re on a tight deadline.
When Bean was first born, I worked fulltime for a leading women’s magazine and although I loved my job, I found it really difficult to balance work and motherhood. I spent at least two hours sitting in traffic every day, and only got to spend an hour with my baby every day – if I was lucky! I started my own business six months later, and I haven’t looked back since. Even though working for yourself can be relentless (my to-do list is never-ending and there’s always something I could be doing), I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love that I have the freedom to set my own work hours and that I have the flexibility to take time off when my son is sick, or when he has swimming lessons, for example.
What do you find most difficult when it comes to your current set up? What would you most like to change?
I find it particularly difficult to find balance as a WAHM (work-at-home-mom). As I mentioned before, there’s always something I could be doing, and I often don’t feel as though it was a ‘good’ day unless I managed to tick off every last item on my to-do list. I find it hard to switch off, and often find myself posting to social media or checking emails when I should be spending time with Beanie or my husband, and I haven’t had a proper holiday in four years!
One of the most difficult things about being self-employed is the inconsistent income – some months are great, while other months are dismal, and while most clients are on the ball and make sure that they pay on time, other invoices can take months to come in, so it puts a bit of strain on our finances.
How do you fit time for your friends/ social life into this equation?
I’m lucky in that most of my friends are also bloggers or in the beauty industry, so I get to catch up with most of them at work events and launches. I also spend a good two or three hours sending voice notes back and forth to my closest friends every week, and then there’s good ol’ social media to ensure that I stay up-to-date with the day-to-day goings on in my friends’ lives (and also helps me to see how their babies are growing day by day!). When we still lived in Somerset West and Jo’burg I tried to have a coffee date with a friend at least once a week, but that’s obviously not possibly now that we live in Greyton. Thankfully, most of my close friends live just an hour away in Somerset West, or about two hours away in Cape Town, so I see plenty of weekend trips to town to catch up with everyone there in my future! (Hopefully I’ll also start making some new friends here in Greyton soon!)
How do you make time for your marriage/ relationship?
This is a tough one, and one that I’ve dropped the ball on quite a few times in the past, sadly. Since both my husband and I work from home and see each other literally all day, every day, it can be easy to mistakenly think that you are spending enough time together – but it isn’t quality time. We’ve already decided that it’s vital that we make time for at least one date night every month, so we’ll be following through with that plan as soon as we’re more settled and have found a good babysitter in town. Both my husband and I enjoy going on spontaneous drives and mini road trips over the weekends, so we’ll often pack a little picnic, get in the car, and just drive (with Beanie in tow, of course!) Beanie usually ends up falling asleep at some point along the drive, which gives us the opportunity to chat and catch up, without prying little ears. We also enjoy going for walks and short hikes, and now that we live in Greyton, I think we’ll be doing a lot more of that.
What about ‘me-time’? Do you manage to carve out some time for yourself?
Me-time is absolutely vital, and I turn into a raging, angry version of myself if I don’t get enough me-time. I learnt that lesson years ago, so I make sure that I always make time for myself – even if it’s just a quick shower with my favourite soap or slathering on a face mask while catching up on my favourite series. You’ll be surprised at the difference that just 15 minutes of doing something you love can make!
I’ve also started enforcing a bedtime ritual that consists of lighting a few candles, spending about 10 – 20 minutes journaling, then doing a quick 5 minute meditation and listening to an episode of ‘Sleep With Me’, which is a podcast designed to help you fall asleep. It works like a bomb and I find that I’m fast asleep within 5 minutes flat.
Now that I’ve got my evening routine sorted, I’m trying to get better at following a morning routine – ideally, I like to get up at around 6am, then go for a quick walk on my own. While walking, I either listen to a podcast (my favourites are Conversations from the Heart with Yoga Girl, or my friend, Keri’s podcast, Walking With Wildflowers), or I simply tune into my breath and focus on my surroundings. If I have time, I spend some time journaling. I find that this little routine sets me up for a great day, and I’m always in a better mood once I’ve started my day in this way.
What does your daily beauty routine look like? Is this something that’s important to you?
As a beauty blogger (and a bit of a beauty addict), I have my daily beauty routine down pat. In the mornings, I wash my face using a natural, homemade soap that’s full of fantastic, nourishing oils (think olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil), some essential oils, and a bit of clays and spices. It works a treat at keeping my skin cleansed and free from breakouts, without drying it out. When I buy cleansers, I typically reach for Pond’s Pimple Clear Face Wash, which I start using about a week before my period is due to start (this really helps to prevent hormonal breakouts), and Lulu & Marula’s Balancing Cleansing Balm or Skin Creamery’s Oil-Milk Cleanser. In summer, I use Skin Creamery’s Two-Phase Skin Tonic to tone and refresh my skin, while moisturising it at the same time, and I follow up with a good facial sunscreen.
In the evenings, I wash my face using the same products mentioned above, then use Skinceuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight every other night, and Skinceuticals B5 Hydrating Gel and CE Ferulic on the nights when I don’t use Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight. I’ve found that this routine has worked wonders at treating my pigmentation. I always end off my skincare routine my applying a couple of pumps of Dermalogica’s Skin Sleep Cocoon before bed.
What one beauty/ baby product do you always have in your bag?
I’m not sure it counts as a beauty product, but baby wipes are an essential! I use them to clean Beanie’s hands or face, to wipe my own hands, to fix eye makeup or lipstick smudges, or even to wipe down my car’s dashboard. I’m also never without Cowshed’s Cow Pat Hand Cream – it’s my favourite hand cream of all time!
What one thing (whether it’s a product, a hobby, a motto or life mantra, a book, or even a person) keeps you sane as you navigate this season?
My husband! He’s a really hands-on dad and does a lot around the house, so the household chores and childcare is split 50/50 between us. I don’t know how I would’ve coped as a WAHM otherwise! He’s also been instrumental when it comes to taking care of my mental health – he’ll know that I’m feeling anxious even before I’ve picked it up, and will often bring me a glass of water and Vitamin B tablet when he senses that I’m having a stressful day. He’s also been really understanding and supportive throughout my journey with PND and depression. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for him!
What one piece of advice would you offer to moms who find themselves in a similar space?
Be open about your struggles, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Open up to your partner, your close friends, your siblings… and book an appointment with a therapist if you’re really struggling to cope. And don’t be afraid of meds! I thought I could cope on my own, but I went back on anti-depressants about three months ago and I’m amazed at the difference they’ve made. I honestly didn’t realise just how much I was struggling until I was back on them!
Also, go easy on yourself. You’re just one person, and there’s only so much that you can do within the space of 24 hours. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep and that you’re taking care of yourself first and foremost. I find that things inevitably start to fall apart when I ‘forget’ to make time for myself. Treat yourself to that pedicure, or ask your partner to put the kids to bed so that you can have some uninterrupted me-time. Spoil yourself with a long soak in the tub (if you don’t live in a water restricted area, that is), slap on a face mask, and dig into that book that’s been sitting next to your bed for the past six months. You deserve it!
I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into my life as a work-at-home mom! As I mentioned, I’ll be sharing another mama’s story next week, so be sure to come back next Monday for more! And if you’d like to share your story with my readers, please pop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll be in touch!