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'The night when choosing to save dinner made me realise how overwhelmed I was as a mother.'

Working from home has created some challenges that I never anticipated as a mum. Since my son was born, the stress of trying to balance it all cropped up silently, undetected like a frog slowly boiling alive. And that stress finally bubbled over on one particular night.

It was a typical Thursday.

Our routine starts with my husband dropping our daughter off at my parents' while I prepare our son’s breakfast. After he’s fed, we go on our walk. When we get back home, he’ll have his snack while I make dinner. Then it’s milk before his nap. 

That day, I decided to make a quick and easy soup while he was nibbling his Cheerios and sliced grapes. I call these "throw everything into a pot" days. So I chopped up a few zucchinis, carrots and onions, and threw some Italian sausage, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, and herbs and spices into a pot. I let it come to a boil and then I added some dried lentils and rice before turning the heat down to let it simmer.

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My son is finished his snack, and he’s whining for milk. So I grab his bottle, hold him close while I get comfortable on the couch. Ten minutes later, he’s dozed off. I know I need to wait at least five minutes for him to reach deep sleep. That’s when I can do the stealthy mum manoeuvre where I carry him swiftly to his crib without waking him up. 

As I wait the five minutes, I can hear my pot of soup boiling over. The steam pushes the lid up and it falls back down. Again and again, the lid goes up and down.

Thump, thump, thump...

I can feel my anxiety levels skyrocket with every thump the lid makes. He’s still asleep. He can’t hear it. 

But then I hear the soup start to bubble over, spewing out of the pot and onto the stove. The sizzling sound makes my heart pound faster and faster.

Should I stay, or should I go?

It’s only been a minute. I wonder if I could put him in his crib now and go check on the soup?

Or do I wait the next four minutes and risk burning our family dinner? 

Panicked thoughts race through my mind as I contemplate what to do.

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Did I turn down the stove? I’m pretty sure I did. It won’t burn, right?

I cannot risk waking him up. I can only get into my creative flow state during his naptime. This is when I get down to business. I am laser-focused during those couple of hours. Every minute counts because having pure silence without distractions is when I can write until my fingers move at warp speed. My plan was to finish editing my client’s webinar script and continue writing the article I started yesterday.

I know if he wakes up, it will take an hour to get him sleeping again. By then, I will only have an hour to write as my husband will be back and I will need to go pick up our daughter. 

I cannot risk burning dinner. I pride myself on making healthy and delicious meals for my family. This soup isn’t just rich in protein and fibre, it’s my husband’s and daughter’s favourite. I don't want to let them down, forced to get takeout. And I definitely don’t want to spend my evening scrubbing a burnt pot. 

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So, I chose the latter.

I decide to take the risk. I carefully move my son so that he’s propped onto my shoulder. I stand up and start walking up the stairs. I’m as quiet as a mouse. I enter his room and by the time I reach his crib, he’s still sound asleep. I place him down but within seconds; he wakes up, staring at me with eyes that pierce my soul. Then the tears come. But not just his, mine as well.

I pick him up, run downstairs to check on the soup. It’s stopped boiling over. The temperature finally cooled down. I stir the soup and nothing is burnt on the bottom.

I scream. I drop about a dozen f-bombs, cursing the soup.

I spend the next hour and a half holding, coaxing, singing, soothing and bouncing him. I desperately glance over at my laptop that’s been waiting for me to dive in; I feel trapped, paralysed from doing what I had planned to do all day. 

He finally goes down, too exhausted to keep fighting me. I start sobbing uncontrollably, disappointed that I don’t have a single minute left to write. I have to pick up my daughter in less than 10 minutes. When everyone’s home, I don’t like to work because I haven’t seen my husband and daughter all day and I want to spend quality time with them.

Checking boxes, planning plans, fulfilling said plans, creating to-do lists, completing those to-do lists... all of these things don’t matter if I’m not taking care of myself. As an overachiever, I struggle to realise when I’m drowning because I can hold my breath for a long time before gasping for air. 

That day, I realised how much pressure I was putting on myself to be a superhero mum who has it all together, mastering the work-life balance. I was spreading myself too thin, prioritising everyone else’s needs before my own and that overwhelming stress finally consumed me, boiling over like my pot of soup.

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Something’s gotta give.

So while eating our perfectly cooked dinner that night, I explain to my husband what happened. We agreed that it’s impossible for me to do everything that I want to do. I have to lower my expectations and I have to be flexible. Our tiny little humans aren’t robots; they don’t follow plans to a tee. We have to adjust as they do. Something’s gotta give. So we came up with two solutions.

We decided that depending on how my day goes, he will grab takeout on his way home. He will ask me an hour before leaving. That way, there’s less pressure for me to cook as the onus isn’t only on me to have dinner ready.

The second thing is that if our son’s nap crosses over the time I need to pick our daughter up, my husband will go pick her up so that I get an extra 30 minutes to write.

At the end of the day, being a mum is a huge part of my life but it doesn’t define who I am. Getting help isn’t a sign of weakness; it takes a village to raise a child. I will always be their mother but I’m not their only caretaker. Children need to be loved, nourished and cared for. And I can only do that properly when I love, nourish and care for myself.

Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP is an author, wife and mum of two. She writes stories to empower individuals to talk about their feelings despite growing up in a culture that hid them. You can find more from Katharine on her website or podcast, or you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

The feature image used is a stock image from Getty.

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