It is never easy to be a working mother. You are pulled in many directions, having to constantly juggle your duties as an employee and as a parent. Demands and expectations are high, there is little room for error in either role, and you often make sacrifices in your own self-care in order to get the job done.
There are days you fall into bed, exhausted wondering if it’s possible to conquer the most important job title you will ever have AND the one you currently have.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics more than 70% of moms with young children work. Additionally, 40% of American households rely on mothers as the primary or sole source of income. The truth is, regardless of the reason they work, being a working mother is a significant source of confidence and satisfaction for many women. Working mothers tell us working helps them stay connected, satisfies their intellectual abilities, and provides an outlet to showcase their skills.
Unfortunately maintaining a balance between work life and personal life continues to be a challenge for a lot of working mothers.
Many working mothers experience high levels of stress, which compromises their health, and their satisfaction actually suffers as they toggle from one responsibility to the other. Moreover, they can feel guilty for missing out on important aspects of their family, or struggle to be fully engaged in family moments due to the distractions of work emails and cell phones.
The reason many women struggle is because they try to master a balance between home and work, which is a fundamentally flawed model. Balancing the two requires women to compartmentalize the responsibilities of mom and employee. They treat work like a faucet that can be turned on at 8am and turned off at 5pm.
In today’s world, work demands and technology mean people are connected and available 24/7, blurring the boundaries between personal and professional life.
The faucet is turned off, yet it continues to drip, and soon working mothers find themselves sacrificing one role for the other.
Working mothers who are able to conquer both roles ditched the concept of work/life balance in favor for work/life integration, an approach that focuses on combining the two, creating more synergies between all aspects of “life”. Now, I’m not talking about completely intermixing your work and personal life. However, conquering both roles does require maximizing your time and creating synergies where possible.
Here is some practical advice on how to embrace work/life integration so you can you successfully conquer life at home and in the office.
Abandon Your “Mom Guilt”
First and foremost, you have to stop feeling guilty for not being perfect at everything. You need to understand Wonder Woman is a fictional character with super human powers. She does not exist in real life and if you take on too much trying to achieve the level of perfection she exhibits, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
You are human and you are going to make mistakes. Instead dwelling on the fact that you missed a “first moment” or feeling bad you could not attend an event, think about how your job benefits your family. Working enables you to provide and nurture your family in other ways, and your kids will remember that part.
As a working mom, accept the fact that there will be good and bad days.
Always remember that you are not alone in this battle. Seek out other working mothers for support. Most employers have resource groups for working mothers. You can also look for a group you can join in your local area or through social media. These are great forums to talk about your challenges and solicit advice from others who have been there and know what you are experiencing.
Integrate Your Calendars
Another way to master both worlds is to create a family calendar that includes both your family and work events. With this, you can organize daily activities easily and the children know what to expect each day.
I started doing this a few years ago and it really helped my kids prepare for the days I had to travel, work late, or go into the office early. It also enabled them to develop planning and problems solving skills. They knew in advance the days when we would be heading straight to an activity after school or work, so they could plan ahead by packing a bag with what they needed. When there were conflicts between my work schedule and their activities, they became part of the solution and helped problem solve. They learned how to prioritize, recognizing we could not be in two places at once. Sometimes they came up with great alternatives and other times they learned how to accept less than ideal outcomes.
Create Meaningful Memories
At the end of the day, your kids are not going to remember the time you forgot to put a juice box in their lunch, or the time you dropped them off late to practice. They also won’t remember the time you had to be on a conference call in the evening or the time you got pajama day mixed up and sent them to school in their pajamas on the wrong day…well, they might remember that one.
What children will remember and cherish, are the moments where you spent quality time together.
Find opportunities to spend time together. Take advantage of family outings coordinated by your employer or participate in “take your child to work” days. Carve out time to get away over a weekend or take a family vacation. Spend your lunch hour having lunch with your kids at their school or request to be a guest reader in your child’s class.
I have a “Plan-A-Day” tradition with each child. On that day, I take the day off work and dedicate it to them. They get my undivided attention and are responsible for planning out the entire day including what we eat and what we do. In their younger years, I had to take some creative liberties so we did things like go to the Disney store when they said they wanted to see Minnie Mouse, or went to the toy store to buy a stuffed pony when they wanted a horse. As they got older, they chose things like going to the zoo, amusement parks, or waterparks. It honestly doesn’t matter what we do on “Plan-A-Day” because it is our special day where we create great memories and it’s something each kid looks forward to each year.
Find what works for you and your family and make it happen. Your family will begin to look forward to these special rituals and you will create memories that they will cherish for a lifetime.
Secure Back-Up Childcare Plans
One of the most important tips for mastering the art of work/life integration is seek out help and find trusted childcare and make back up arrangements. Whether it’s family members, nannies, or daycare centers; find something that works for your family. Research whether your employer offers a backup childcare benefit. You can also ask friends, relatives, or other working moms; or you can seek out groups and services that help connect you with child care providers.
Create a list of what you need based on the different scenarios you might experience. Then you can find solutions for each of those scenarios. Whether you need to find child care close to your work, or a place with non-traditional hours, or perhaps you travel and need overnight support at times. You may also need a back-up plan when your children are sick or for short notice changes in schedules. Whatever your scenarios are, setting up arrangements that you know you can rely on when those situations arise can give you peace of mind and leave you calm and less stressed.
Remain Connected With Your Children
Even if you are having a busy day at work, make sure that you take the time to connect with your children. If you have younger kids, consider recording yourself while singing a song they like or reading a children’s book. Then a sitter or child care provider can play it for them when you are not there.
For your older kids, make sure to always check on them before sending them to school or put a little note in their lunch box. If they have an important event, make sure to give them some words of encouragement or a personal note. If you can’t attend one of their events, ask someone to take a video so you can watch it together after work.
The hustle and bustle of the work day can leave you wishing for more hours in the day. No matter how crazy your day is, you can find a few minutes to let your kids know they are a priority by checking in or connecting in some way.
Talk to Your Boss
It is crucial to have open lines of communication with your boss or the human resources department. Before talking to them, make sure you do your research first. Check into any flexible arrangement options or child care benefits that are available at your place of employment. Some employers offer flexibility in start and end times, others offer compressed workweek options, and many provide opportunities for employees to work from home on occasion. Make sure what you propose is reasonable, will not compromise your workload, and is possible with the tools and resources you currently have. This will help you prepare the best proposals with your employer. It is also best to ask for alternative solutions as well, sometimes there are options you may not have considered.
When asking for arrangements, always be honest and keep an open mind.
There are pros and cons of being a working mother. Like anything important, there are tradeoffs; however, it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. These tips can help you integrate the two roles, creating a fulfilling and satisfying life for both you and your family. Remember there is no way a person can be a perfect employee and mother, but there are million ways you can be a darn good one.