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You know the feeling: you’re working full time, trying to squeeze in time for the family and there just isn’t enough head space for contemplating doing things any differently, even if you know you need to.
Catherine Davies knows this feeling well, but she has found ways of making it all sustainable, things that she wishes she had known before and that she wants to pass on to others in case they are helpful.
Catherine is a lawyer and mum of 10-year-old twin boys. She started off her legal career in the City and just before she got married moved into the public sector thinking it would be more family friendly [it wasn’t really].
When the boys were starting school she was offered a promotion. Her life became so busy that she felt “like she was on an out-of-control hamster wheel”. “I was frantic all the time. I didn’t really have time to pause to think what I wanted. I was just trying to do everything – work and the children – and I felt guilty that I didn’t have time for my relationship with my husband. I was in a spin all the time,” she says.
She started seeing a coach. The coach asked her what she wanted. “I didn’t even know. I was too busy,” says Catherine. “I had to ask a friend.”
With support, she realised that she had to make the best of the time she did have and stop feeling guilty about the hours that weren’t available.
“We were always in a rush and never sat down for meals together in the week,” she says. Her husband and her get home from work late so they don’t have time to have dinner with their children. The only time they could eat together was breakfast so they decided that, instead of feeling bad, they should make a feature of breakfast and set special themes for them, such as having a Japanese breakfast.
“It was really small things that don’t take much effort, but which made us all feel better and relaxing the pressure to be perfect,” says Catherine. Just as in the Allison Pearson book, I Don’t Know How She Does It, she has been up at 1.30am baking cakes for the school bake sale. She now gets them from M & S.
Another stressful issue was childcare. She describes her experiences as “a childcare journey”. The family had a nanny when her children were very little and have had a series of au pairs since. “Most of the time childcare works well and you don’t think about it, but when it doesn’t work you can’t think of anything else,” says Catherine. Getting that right was vital.
And, on a personal level, she has been able to reconnect with passions from her pre-children life. All her life she has loved riding and as she approached 40 she decided to buy a horse. “It was a game changer for me,” she says. “It’s like having another child, but exploring the things you used to love doing before you were a mum can contribute to your own well being and happiness,” she says.
Catherine also decided to take herself out of her comfort zone at work and take the lead in professional areas that interested her, such as employee well being. She has organised sessions with mums where she confronts unrealistic expectations of perfection and counsels them not to be too hard on themselves or beat themselves up.
She has also been a mentee to a high flyer in the City who was “really struggling” due to stress and has recently set up her own programme to help women returning from maternity leave or a career break. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post on “things I wish I had known before”. These include “being kinder to ourselves” and not setting too high expectations. She also shares these on her website.
“I really enjoy it. It is energising to do these things and crosses over into my work,” she says. She has a lot of mums on her team, including one who has recently come back from maternity leave.
She states: “I love to inspire women to feel empowered, confident and positive in the way they lead their family lives and their professional lives, in the way they connect with their children, their partners and themselves.”