Kiran Chug: The work-motherhood juggling act

20:01, Mar 03 2013
BIG CHANGES: Kiran and her family have moved to the UK.

When Milin was four months old, life was turned upside down. I went back to work. It was only two days a week, and he stayed at home with his dad on those days, but our lives spiralled into a kind of chaos we hadn't even experienced when we first brought him home from hospital.

And so I learnt the harsh reality of life as a working mum.

I had envisaged two days a week where I relished adult company and conversation; where I slipped back into my work wardrobe and heels, made up my face, and thrived on being back in the office.

I had planned to have a freezer full of expressed milk so Milin could remain exclusively breast fed. I had aspired to have him sleeping, feeding and playing like clockwork to make life easier for his dad on those two long days I was out. I had even dreamt that I would have made lunch and dinner and left it on the kitchen bench, ready to be reheated. Ha!

Instead, life on those two days was a calamitous frenzy. We lived on takeaways. My life seemed to revolve around desperately trying, and failing, to express enough milk. I worried constantly about Milin's schedule - would it be easiest if he was asleep when I left or better if he had just had a big feed?

At work, I tried as hard as I could to concentrate and join in the banter around me. I tried to hide that I was waiting for a break in the flow of work around the office so I could slip away and express. I still aspired to be that working mum who glided effortlessly between roles. Usually I had been up every two hours the night before to feed my baby though - who was I kidding?


In reality, life was a milk-stained, sleep-deprived blur and those two days were incredibly hard on our little family. With our freezer almost depleted and Milin refusing to take formula, he was slow to gain weight and we both began to wonder whether we were doing the right thing. Was I working for the good of my baby and our family? Or was I doing it for me?

Work did get easier as Milin grew older, and before I left in advance of our move to London, Milin and his dad had those two days sorted out completely. There was no more feeding him in my work carpark - he accepted the bottle finally; and he even started napping when Tony put him down.

I'd put many of those early memories to the back of my mind, until reading last week that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer had banned employees from working from home. It got me thinking - would Milin, Tony and I been better off if I had worked from our spare room? And would I ever have got any work done?

An internal Yahoo  memo apparently told staff that speed and quality suffer when employees worked from home - perhaps that's true. But if they only suffer a little bit, and it makes the difference between a family holding their life together, or a mother being there for a child with a fever - how much does it matter? Too much for a company's balance sheet, but not much to a mother whose child is sick, I imagine.

I do a little writing from home these days. Those hours in front of the screen are carefully timed to fit in with Milin's naps. I'm more productive than ever - because I simply have to get my work done before he wakes up. But sometimes, admittedly, life gets in the way. Like when he's teething or sick and won't sleep. Or like when we've got too many errands to run and he needs to sleep in his buggy while we are out and there aren't any hours left in the day when I'm not running around.

Mostly though, I'm lucky enough now we are in London to balance the small number of hours I do work around our day-to-day routine - or I can call on family for a little help watching my one-year-old. Not everyone has that luxury though. And shouldn't they have the option of working from home if it means they can spread their eight hours over perhaps an 18-hour day while still doing the school run because the babysitter called up sick?

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was always going to have her work-style scrutinised. Appointed as CEO while pregnant with her first son, she took only a few weeks maternity leave before returning to run the multi-national. Championed by some as a role model for working mums, others questioned how realistic such actions were for a woman on an average wage without paid help or family support.

I don't know what the answer is on working from home. I've never truly worked in an environment where it would be possible. But what the debate has done has confirmed for me is that mums and dads of babies have it tough. And when they need to go back to work, it gets even tougher - whether they are at work in the office upstairs, or the office across town.

I realise now that I put too much pressure on myself, and was too determined to prove to the world around me that I could juggle it all - and still be successful. Perhaps I needed to give myself a bit of a break, but perhaps we all (and I mean working mums, colleagues, CEOs, dads, the next-door neighbour, all of us) need to lower our expectations.

What do you think? Should employees be able to work from home where the work allows it - and who would it benefit?

Follow Kiran and her little family's adventures in London on twitter @kiranchug

Essential Mums