Heading up companies or corporate divisions, these high-powered businesswomen are also devoted mothers. While there’s no magic formula when it comes to creating a work/life balance, they share their tips for managing the juggle. By Gillian Klawansky
In a world where women are expected to do it all, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed by mom guilt when we’re not able to give 100% in all aspects of life. Consistently confronting the competing demands that come with juggling high-pressure jobs and motherhood, four top businesswomen discuss their challenges, triumphs and tricks when it comes to finding a balance.
Abigail Nadar Nepaul, Director of Abigail Nepaul Coaching
For Durban-based entrepreneur, coach, attorney and former radio presenter, Abigail Nadar Nepaul, mom to two girls aged 5 and 7 years of age, maintaining a work-life balance requires “immense planning, patience and understanding.” She decided that when she became a mum that she wanted to be hands-on. She says, “It got very difficult when they were both under 3 years old. Both girls got up every two hours at night and I was exhausted every morning.”
Employing a nanny allowed her to add more structure to her days but Nadar Nepaul soon found herself missing out on special moments, like her firstborn’s first steps that happened when she was working. “This saddened me, and I decided to work from my home office so that I could be with the girls more and experience their milestones.”
Nadar Nepaul stresses the need to remember that each mom is on her own journey. “Do what works for you,” she advises, “don’t feel pressured to be like other mums.” She’s also learned the value in saying no to things that do not build her up as a mom, wife or professional. “Choosing my children and my family over social events at times is not only necessary but deeply fulfilling.” Accepting help, she adds, is important for both our mental health and our children’s social development.
Me-time is also vital for her even if that means getting up at 4am. She advises that whether you’re exercising, pampering yourself, socialising with inspiring women or journaling, all busy moms need some time out, to do the things that make our “souls sing.”
Refilwe Xaba, Founder and CEO of Glolooks
“I used to feel so guilty for being mom,” says Refilwe Xaba, lecturer, PhD student and founder of Glolooks, a Bloemfontein-based organic natural hair product company, and mom to two boys aged 3 and 2 years of age. “I’d find myself overexplaining why something in work could not be achieved, because of being a mom.” Particularly during the pandemic, she learned that prioritising your child requires no explanation. “I had to teach people how to treat a working mom, particularly in my working environment,” she says.
Xaba believes in grabbing opportunities for one-on-one time with your children. “Regardless of how tired you are, always make time to look at your little one in the eyes and to listen to them.” She also suggests involving your kids in every aspect of your life, whether you take them to your workplace or include them in household tasks.
“Often, we are too hard on ourselves as working moms,” she adds. “Society praises us for being able to handle both work and home, but the same society places almost unattainable standards that make it difficult to do so. So, accept who and where you are.” Scheduling her time, having a solid support structure, and leaning on her faith are also key tools for her as a busy mom, she finds.
She says, “my journey has taught me that it’s okay to not be in control all the time. This does not grant us permission to be negligent with our roles. However, find what you can fully commit to at a particular time and give it your all.”
Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty
A single mom to one boy in primary school, Yael Geffen who heads up Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty doesn’t believe a perfect balance is possible for moms with demanding careers. She says, “Society has deluded us into believing that we can be these ‘superwomen,’ and this has set up moms, and families, for failure. We are all mere mortals trying to find our way and do the best we can while honouring ourselves and our children.”
She believes in building a village around you and asking for help especially since being a single mom can feel isolating. “I refuse to miss out on important milestones in my child’s life,” she says, adding, “when I became CEO, I missed some of these and it caused me so much pain, so I shifted it.” Planning your schedule around your child’s can be challenging, she admits, yet she has no regrets. “It’s often in the mundane drives to a sports practice that you and your child share some deep thoughts and conversations.”
Being a good role model to your children is important, she believes. We need to teach them the importance of looking after themselves by doing the same for ourselves and taking self-care days when exhaustion hits. “Be present at work when you’re at the office and be present with your kids when you’re with them,” she adds. “Read together at bedtime, create special days with them where you’re 100% available and put your phone away and have eyes on your kids whenever you’re together.”
Zizipho Nyanga, Managing Executive of SME and Platform Banking at Grindrod Bank
Mom to two boys of 11 and 18, banking executive Zizipho Nyanga doesn’t believe that maintaining a balance is possible. “I juggle based on my priorities at the time, knowing very well which balls I cannot drop,” she says. “Family is important to me but so is my career. Yet, if anything goes wrong with my family, it can’t be replaced, while I can always figure out how to recover from a career crisis.”
Communication with her kids around what’s happening at work is crucial to her, and with her colleagues around what is happening at home, is vital in managing everyone’s expectations. She also advocates having various support structures to help you in your different roles of mom, wife, and businesswoman. “Know yourself, what’s important to you and what your strengths are,” she says, adding, “self-care is also vital as you cannot pour from an empty cup,” she adds.
“Being mindful, aware and observant at home no matter how busy I am at work is key for me as a mother to make sure that we are all happy at home,” Nyanga concludes. “My career benefits immensely when that is the case, because that happiness filters through to my work environment.”