It’s a question that’s only become more difficult to answer with each passing generation: How can working mothers find a life/work balance? As more women choose to return to work after the birth of their children and as the pace of modern life shows no signs of slowing down, the struggle has grown even more difficult.
Here are five stressful areas in a working mom’s life and tips for navigating healthily and happily:
When it comes to our children, we’re likely to feel guilt for not being there for their every waking moment, which is only compounded by feeling spread too thin to enjoy the time we do have with them. If we’re not directly thinking about work, it’s always there in the back of our minds, distracting us even when we’re not in the office. When you add all the day-to-day details that need to be handled (laundry, groceries, meals), it doesn’t leave us with much attention to spare.
You can alleviate this by setting very specific time guidelines for family and for work. Although this is especially important for mothers who work from home in this digital age, it’s important for mothers who work outside of the home, as well. During the time that is set aside for family, try putting the phone on do not disturb or, at the very least, on silent. If possible, leave the phone behind and wear a watch if you need to keep an eye on the time.
As far as missing out goes, if your employer seems amenable, see if you can rearrange your schedule to occasionally accommodate a mid-day park date or an hour spent volunteering in your child’s classroom. If that’s not possible, know that the world is filled with women in the same situation and you are still a wonderful mother.
One of the biggest struggles for a mother at work is that it can be difficult to work productively when dealing with sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, the only advice here is to get as much sleep as possible. Obviously, with newborns this is extremely difficult to make happen. With older children, don’t fall into the trap of staying up late just to find some quiet time. Go to bed early or rotate. One night, indulge your yen for solitude and the next go to bed early.
In the office, be honest and forthright about any issues – the baby isn’t sleeping through the night yet, the seven-year-old has been sick for a week, the 12-year-old is adjusting to middle school – while working as diligently as possible. There was a time when mothers were expected to pretend their children didn’t exist when they were at work. Thankfully, times have changed and working environments continue to evolve in respect to parents. It may feel like making excuses, but as long as you state the issue and then get down to work, most people will be able to relate. However, be prepared for unsolicited advice, which, as always, is best handled with a polite “thank you.”
It’s normal to feel some resentment toward your job, especially when your children are young and you feel like you’re missing everything. Be careful not to let that resentment fester. It’s easy to think you’re feeling this way because working isn’t the right choice for you, only to realize later that you wished you hadn’t lost any traction in your career. Which isn’t to say that you should stay in a position you hate, but merely to suggest that you think long and hard before making any drastic decisions. The most important thing you can do for yourself, especially in the early years of parenting, is give yourself space to feel a multitude of emotions without putting pressure on yourself to make immediate changes.
There was a time when mothers were expected to pretend their children didn’t exist when they were at work. Thankfully, times have changed and working environments continue to evolve in respect to parents.
A partner can easily get shuffled in somewhere below children and work. If you’re a working mom, then it’s easy to think that you and your partner will find time together when the children are older or you’ll be inclined to feel guilty about taking precious time away from your children now. But when you don’t make your relationship a priority, you’re more likely to grow apart.
Ask another family if you can trade babysitting services for a date night out. Meet your partner for lunch or coffee during the day. Set aside at least one night per week where you don’t do chores and you spend time together, however you choose. Also, remember to prioritize intimacy. Physical connection can help foster emotional and mental attachment, keeping you in sync with one another even when you don’t have much time alone.
Making time for your children, your work and your partner can leave very little time and energy for your friends. But, these relationships can provide you with an outlet and support in a way that neither your children nor your partner can.
Luckily, staying in touch is easier these days. Start a virtual book club with a friend – read on your Kindle app as you breastfeed in the wee hours or as you wait in the doctor’s office; discuss the book via email or text, if necessary, or hopefully on an evening together once a month.
Quiet evenings at home after your children are asleep work, too. A glass of wine with a friend outside on a warm night can do wonders to revive your soul. So can a cup of tea over the kitchen table. Keep in mind that true friends, those who will be around for years to come, will understand when you have to cancel at the last minute because of a sick child or an unrelenting desire to sleep.
Last, but certainly not least, find time for self-care. When you’re being pulled in a million directions, self-care is integral to surviving with your sanity intact. Realistically, most mothers won’t be able to find the time to indulge in lengthy spa visits, no matter how much we wish we could. This leaves us with the small minutes to take advantage of.
Get up slightly earlier one morning and drink your coffee in the silence before your household wakes. Ask your partner to give you 10 minutes to shower alone, with no interruptions. Carve out 15 minutes at the end of the day to do whatever it is you miss most since becoming a parent, whether that’s flipping through your favorite magazine or making yourself a delicious cup of hot chocolate to enjoy without having to hear a chorus of “I want one!” Sit in the blessed silence.
And, if all else fails, remember what they say about parenting: The days are long, but the years are short.
Are you a working mom? How do you find balance in your day?
Feature Image via Maddy Corbin