"Should I be a FTWM (Full Time Working Mum), SAHM (Stay at Home Mum) or WFHM (Work from Home Mum)?"
Mums are usually confronted with this dreaded question towards the end of their maternity leave. Particularly millennial mums who are well-educated and career-minded and in Singapore where a dual income is important for young families.
While the WFHM role seems the best of both worlds, it is conditional on the mum possessing the skill set to work freelance or being in a job that enables remote work. More often than not, mums lack the opportunity (or luxury) to work from home.
The dilemma is usually between being a FTWM or SAHM. The former would necessitate the need to outsource childcare when they return to the workforce, while the latter would require them to leave behind a cushy job and financial independence.
Ultimately whichever her choice is - there is a price to pay. Each option comes with its fair share of sacrifice.
I had a heart to heart chat with working mum Priscilla, from whom I had a deeper understanding of what it is like to be a FTWM. On the surface, FTWM look like they have it all - they are well-groomed, confident women scaling the career ladder.
But this decision comes with heartache. Priscilla's honesty about mum guilt revealed the raw, tough side of FTWM-hood that is concealed behind happy smiles in social media images.
I hope Priscilla's experiences of balancing work and mum life would resonate with you as they did with me. If you are struggling to transition into the role of a FTWM, I believe her story would provide you with much needed comfort and inspiration.
Priscilla, tell me about yourself and bubs
[My son] looks 100% like me! Ok he has his father’s hair and ears. Haha. He loves food (he’s so greedy) and music (Like his mother). He always waves to everyone he sees, including people who walk through the door of a café we are at (Like his father). And for me, I’m in the media industry, working office hours, sometimes on weekends and weekday nights when we have events.
How did you find motherhood? Was it like what you envisioned?
Motherhood is probably the toughest challenge I’ve ever taken on. There’s physical pain from delivery and breastfeeding; emotional pain I experienced when my son was hospitalized at 4 months old. Then there’s the sleep deprivation which seems to be my best friend. Being a mum is hard enough, but you have to be a wife, a daughter, a daughter in law, sister, friend all at the same time…
But, Motherhood is also the most wonderful and fulfilling role that I would never trade anything in the world for. I enjoy motherhood so so much! I’ve never loved someone that much (oops sorry hubby! haha) and I want to spend my every waking moment with my son (ok I sound very psychotic). Everything he does is cute to me :D
To be honest, I never really thought about how motherhood would be, we just knew we love kids and wanted one!
Many mums find it incredibly tough to return to the workforce after their ML ended. How was it like for you?
It was indeed very very tough. I struggled everyday and spent most of my days crying at work, thinking what the hell am I doing in office when I should be at home, raising up my kid, spending time with him. What if I miss his milestones? What if he loves my helper more than me? Seriously, do I want to be facing my computer all day instead of being with him? I wanted to be a stay home mum every single day when I went back to work initially. I was the only mother in my team and my boss did not allow me to work from home.
I struggled to find purpose in my work because all I really wanted was to be home with him, making sure he has the best activities to engage his mind, to develop his senses and grow up to be the son I raised. It was also very hard for me to let go and leave him with a helper that I hired just few months ago. To me, I was the best possible person to nurture him and care for him and I held everybody to my own standards of “childcare”, which made me upset when other people fell short of my expectations.
When I check the baby camera and see that he’s left alone to play, I would be like “See, nobody cares about my son. If it were me at home, I would be engaging him actively, bringing him out for walks, singing to him, teaching him new things etc.” I wanted to be in control of everything and in hindsight, it was definitely the season for me to learn to let go.
My parents felt bad that they were both still working and couldn’t help out much. My dad makes an effort to drive over to our house every morning to look after Nate, forsaking his gym, swimming and me time, which until today, he still does without complaint. My mum also made an arrangement with her boss to let her work from my home, 1 day a week. We also bought a house near my sister-in-law, where my mother-in-law goes to everyday. So in the afternoons, my helper will bring Nate over to play.
Having family around Nate was the only thing that put my mind at ease, while I’m at work. I am so grateful for family support.
Why did you choose to be a FTWM?
I didn’t choose it, it chose me, haha.
My hubby and I talked about this many times (my hubby will probably give me the evil stare if we have to talk about this one more time!), whether we can afford for me to be a stay home mum. We did all our expenses and yes, while we can afford for me to be a stay home mum, being the super thrifty me, I would cringe if I had to spend on holidays, birthday celebrations, expenses in general, which would make me a very miserable and calculative person, I think.
I thought about whether it was really what I want to do. Or could I be a work from home mum. I also sing/play the keyboards at events so I was considering if I could do that full time to get flexibility and some income. But, most events are on weekends, which means I won’t have time with my hubby at all. After a lot of discussions, pain and tears, we decided that it would be very stressful for my hubby to be the sole breadwinner of the family and we weren’t ready to compromise the lifestyle we love. We bought a new place, new car and we loveeee travelling! We also both agree that going back to work just took some adjustment and it was something I had to get over and just do it.
What's the biggest challenge of being a FTWM?
MUM GUILT, hands down. From 24 hours a day during maternity leave, to spending only 2-3 hours with my son a day, sometimes I feel like I’m a horrible mother, or whether I really am the mother, or are my caregivers. Am I allowed to go out for dinner with my friends since that’s the only time I get to see him? Should I not sleep in for an extra 5 minutes so I can spend that 5 minutes with him before I go to work in the morning?
It’s tough dealing with mum guilt! But over time, it gets better and you slowly learn to adjust and let go. I’m still learning!
Describe your typical day as a FTWM.
Our alarm clock (my son) rings at about 630am to 7am. If we’re lucky we can hit the snooze button and he’ll play with his bolsters, pillows for awhile before making funny noises to say “HEY I’m up! Come play with me now!” Then, we’ll pick him up from his room and bring him to our room to play for a little while before we both take turns to get ready for work, while the other feeds Nate his breakfast. Soon, we leave for work.
My dad comes over to our place every morning and will bring him down for a walk, then Nate goes down to our sister in law’s house for the afternoon. And then, I rush home everyday and look forward to seeing his big smile when I open the door!
Just watching his eyes light up and crawling to me immediately when I walk through the door, is the best welcome home I could ever have. Then, I’ll bring Nate out for a run to explore our neighbourhood, with him in the stroller. Workout for me, plus fresh air for him – yaaas. It helps that there’s a lot of nature and greenery around where we live, so just walking around the neighbourhood refreshes my mind, and I love exploring with him. It also helps to ease some of my mum guilt from working all day, when I bring him out to places he’s never been and to discover new things he’s never seen.
What's the best part about being a FTWM?
Money! “Alone” time. The feeling of accomplishing something outside motherhood. Who am I kidding. Nobody wants to be a full time working mum. LOL.
What advice would you give to fellow FTWMs?
In the first few days, weeks and months going back to work after maternity leave & 2 months no pay leave, I found that talking to other mums really helped me get through work. So, I made lunch appointments with fellow mums at work (even those that I’m not super close with), which made me feel less mum guilt about not being at home. At least I was talking about my kid and parenthood and pumping and going back to work with someone who understands. And motherhood bridges any gap. I found it so easy to talk to strangers or colleagues that I never did before, who are mothers. Even if it was hearing the pump of the next person in the nursing room in office, I felt comforted that I wasn’t alone in this ordeal.
I was also very blessed to have a huge community of mums in church, with a good mix of working mums and stay home mums whom I could talk to, to get both perspectives of being a FTWM and Stay home mum.
But what really helped me, was paying forward the kindness and encouragement I received when I was down, frustrated, tired and feeling mum guilt. I reached out to new mums and expecting mums to check in on them on how they are doing. Made sure I sent an encouragement message to those who were going back to work soon. Also, reaching out to people who are trying to conceive to share our story. Trust me, focusing on others made me focus less on my “predicament” and being able to share my own experiences made me look back and realize, hey, I made it through all these phases. ☺ Try it!
Through my Instagram posts on motherhood, I also got a lot of DMs asking me about many issues like breastfeeding, starting on solid foods, sleeping through the night etc. So I tried to use my social media platforms to help other mums by posting more about my journey with motherhood, and I sure hope it helped because motherhood is real tough, and it helps to get any support you can get!
Priscilla wears many hats. Many recognise her as a model for many of Singapore's fashion brands. Others know her as a talented local musician. Professionally, Priscilla is a brand manager at SPH and behind the public eye, she is the loving mum of baby #natenatesoh.
Pic credit: Priscilla's instagram
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.