IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Mom's guide to a happy work-home balance

In their new book "Happy at Work, Happy at Home: The Girl's Guide to Being a Working Mom," authors Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio share their fresh perspectives on how working moms can balance their hectic schedules while still addressing their own needs.
/ Source: TODAY books

Who says you can't have it all? In their new book "Happy at Work, Happy at Home: The Girl's Guide to Being a Working Mom," authors Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio share their fresh perspectives on how working moms can balance their hectic schedules while still addressing their own needs. Read an excerpt:

Chapter 8: Traps we fall into

All of us reading, contributing, and writing this book have something in common. We are ambitious; perfection-seeking women who want to stand out at everything we attempt. We’re not saying we want to have it all. We’re saying we want, more than want, we expect to excel at everything we do. We’ve done well in school and in our careers. Now we’re having babies, so we’re going to be great mothers. And great partners to our significant others, too. The sad fact is we just can’t do it all well all the time. Sometimes something has to give — work, motherhood, marriage — choose one. And that’s what this chapter is all about — successfully navigating the negative traps to help us make better choices. Choices that will help us be better wives, mothers, and career girls. None of this is easy, and much of it is downright unpleasant. But forewarned is forearmed — and so we go ably forward and we offer some ways to avoid the five most common traps we fall into.

Trap #1: Vilifying and/or romanticizing stay-at-home moms
Sadly, there remains a lot of tension between stay-at-home moms and stay-working moms. For the working moms, the ones at home appear to be quickly going brain dead, more interested in The Backyardigans than Baghdad. For the moms at home, the ones heading into offices each morning seem selfish and shallow, more interested in their careers and mani/pedis than their children.

Sigh.

Why the passing of all this judgment? Could it be because none of us are 100 percent satisfied with our decision and secretly wonder if we got it wrong? Could it be because some of us wish we could have a little more choice in the matter — we work because we need the money, and many of us stay home because it’s cheaper than child care?

Does jealousy contribute to the great divide? The stay-at-home mom longs for what she thinks is a more stimulating environment while the working mom longs for more quality time with her children? There is also a whole lot of projecting going on. We had one interviewee tell us that she has been “envious of stay-at-home moms because they seem to build in more socialization time for themselves and their children, have time for exercising and hobbies and have done a good job of building support systems and staying connected.”

From J.Lo to Madonna, take a look at famous moms and their adorable celebutots.

When we first read this answer we immediately thought of a handful of women who have, in fact, figured out how to have it all while on the clock at home, but then we remembered the other 95 percent who were just as confused about the choice to opt out. You see, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to getting what you want out of life while being a great parent, spouse, friend, daughter, colleague, employer, and employee.

Whatever the reasons for the rift that keeps on growing, we simply don’t appreciate how difficult it is for all of us. We all know how hard it is to be at home with children. They take an enormous amount of energy, time, and attention. It’s exhausting and depleting in a way that work just isn’t. On the other hand, working while parenting is as challenging but in a different way. When you work and parent you are managing two different lives, each with relationships and responsibilities. You can’t let anyone down because the stakes are so high.

What we have in common is this: Both of our jobs (don’t kid yourself that running a household and parenting full-time is anything but a job) require us to put others first. So rather than beat each other up about what we’re not and what we should be, let’s support one another. It may make all of our lives a little easier because the truth is we’re actually not that different. It’s time we appreciated that and united.

Relationships with other parents are important, whether they work or stay at home. Other mothers could have the answers you are looking for when it comes to how to get your child to sleep before midnight, or how to get him to eat carrots. Why do you want to rule out a huge chunk of the population as a potential resource or friend just because she made a different personal choice than you? Not only can you meet lifelong friends on the playground, but one working mom we spoke to told us that she relies on stay-at-home moms because they “are so helpful with school and practice drop-offs or pick-ups if you can’t get off of work in time.” Although, don’t take too much advantage, this is exactly the kind of scenario that leads to resentment. Lorraine Nellis tells us that “Maintaining friendships with other parents is a great way to know what your kids are doing at all times.”

Like politics and religion, working moms versus stay-at-home moms is a topic often best left out of discussion at a dinner party. Unfortunately, each side has clung to their distinct and divergent view, leaving little room for any gray area or respectful discourse. We’d like to try and change that; we’d like all moms to start focusing on our similarities and not our differences. Maybe there won’t ever be a truce (though we can hope), but can there be a little more understanding? Civility and consideration can go a long way in this world. There is no one way to parent a child. In other words — in case we haven’t driven the point home yet — all stay-at-home moms are not the same and all working mothers are not the same. The choices do not define the woman and they shouldn’t pigeonhole others’ opinions of them. But it often does and the debate gets heated and women end up skewering one another instead of supporting one another.

In the end, does it make you feel more confident as a mother, better about your working situation, superior to the woman who has the different life?

No. So what’s the point?

For a little light on the situation, we go to Oprah. On her show, women took part in a heated and often nasty debate about the choices they and those around them had made. But the results of an Oprah.com poll, in which more than fifteen thousand women (working mothers and stay-at-home mothers) responded, show the divide might not be as great as we think.

From stay- at- home moms:

Do stay-at-home moms get the respect they deserve?

5 percent — Yes

85 percent — No

Do you wish you worked?

36 percent — Yes

64 percent — No

Overall, are you satisfied with the job you are doing as a parent?

80 percent — Yes

20 percent — No

Would you describe your children as happy?

97 percent — Yes

3 percent — No

Is it possible to give 100 percent to motherhood and a career?

71 percent — Yes

29 percent — No

From working moms:

Do stay-at-home moms get the respect they deserve?

17 percent — Yes

83 percent — No

Would you quit to stay home if you could?

66 percent — Yes

34 percent — No

Overall, are you satisfied with the job you are doing as a parent?

71 percent — Yes

29 percent — No

Would you describe your children as happy?

93 percent — Yes

7 percent — No

Is it possible to give 100 percent to motherhood and a career?

61 percent — Yes

39 percent — No

The word: It’s more than bake sales and carpooling
Stay-at-home moms work hard, too. They may not be career girls like us, but many of them contribute to their communities in ways that we could only imagine and that benefit all of us. Their stories are as inspiring as those of women juggling work and family. Jennifer Heth should be the poster girl for a mother who has this job.

Service and volunteerism have been an intrinsic part of Jen’s life since she was a young girl. She volunteered during high school and college and, armed with a journalism degree, was accepted into the Peace Corps after college. She was stationed in the Dominican Republic and responsible for establishing a Parent Teacher Association and convincing the community to become involved with the local school and their children’s education. She’s also a girl who operates best with a full plate and thrives on being busy.

After the Peace Corps, Jen moved home to Colorado and got married. She and her husband moved to a nice neighborhood in downtown Denver and decided to start a family. Jen was working as the marketing director of the nonprofit Denver Children’s Museum. In that job, Jen worked twelve- hour days and many nights and weekends. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to create the kind of family she wanted without making a change.

When she was pregnant with Emma, she decided not to return to her job. She gave her employer ample notice and even helped find and train her replacement. As a manager she had more than a few bad experiences with women who went out on maternity leave, planning to come back, only to tell her two weeks before they were expected back that they weren’t returning.

She planned to stay home with Emma for six to twelve months and then start looking for a new job. Shortly after Emma was born, Jen’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jen spent the next year raising her daughter and taking care of her ailing mother. Eighteen months after Emma was born, Jen’s mother died.

“I needed the time with Emma, and I needed to grieve for my mother,” Jen said when recalling this time. “My mother and I were very close. I think after she died, it reinforced the mother- daughter bond I was creating with Emma.”

Six months later, Jen landed a job where she could work from home. As the marketing manager for a nonprofit, Denver Tele comm, she organized meetings, members, and conferences. It worked out great until Charlie was born. While Emma had been a great sleeper, Charlie never slept. He didn’t nap, he never wanted to be put down, and he constantly needed attention. Jen put Emma in preschool three days a week, quit her job, and poured herself into her kids.

Sending her kids to public school was a priority for Jen and her husband. As their local school district was populated with affluent families, many of them chose to send their children to private school. To increase enrollment, the local school became a magnet school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as offering a traditional curriculum and a program for the gifted. Many of the students were bused in from other parts of the city. It led to an interesting and diverse student population but little parental involvement in the school.

A combination of Jen’s professional training and her personal convictions led her to become very active in the school almost immediately after Emma enrolled. She spent Emma’s kindergarten year volunteering and assessing what was needed. When Emma started first grade, she had a plan to present to the principal. Her year of observation and research led her to a couple of conclusions: The school needed a PTA and an enrichment program that wasn’t available just to the gifted and talented, but one that was available to all of the student body.

Jen got to work. She became the president of the PTA and began recruiting parents and running fund-raising activities. She also began to formulate the enrichment program. Throughout this her goal was to create programs and systems that other parents could be trained for and take over. When the PTA was up and running, she tackled the enrichment program, which presented a number of unique challenges.

The goals for the program were to include all of the students from kindergarten to fifth grade; to mix them up so they could meet other children in the school of other ages and backgrounds; and to offer a wide range of activities that the students could choose for themselves. To do this required energy, principal buy-in, and funding.

Jen wrote and won a grant from the city of Denver, got the PTA to match it (because her fund-raising efforts had been so successful, there was a surplus of money), and set about to create the programs. During this, we should mention that she was a full-time mother of two kids and handled all of the responsibilities at home while also carving out time for herself. Her husband’s job required a lot of travel and his schedule was very unpredictable. We should also remind our readers that she wasn’t being paid to do any of this.

The program was finally ready. Armed with $4,500 and a cadre of volunteer instructors from the community whom she had recruited, she launched the first session of the enrichment program, with twenty- five classes offered every Friday afternoon in four week sessions. The classes were all taught by professionals in the community, were available to 350 students, and included cooking, yoga, architecture, martial arts, cultural studies, animal care, firefighting, and various sports. They ran three sessions throughout the year.

The program was so successful that the agency that awarded Jen the original grant, Community Resources, has adopted it and is marketing it to other school districts in Colorado. They also did a very smart thing. They offered Jen a part- time job running one of their other programs. She is now working part-time for Community Resources, raising her family, running the enrichment program for the school that Charlie now attends (this will be her last year, as she’s got a new team almost trained and ready to go), and is setting her sights on the middle school. We think she should run for office. Seriously.

Trap #2: Hiding out at work
Work is our safe place. We can control it and most days have a really good time when we are there. We use our brains to solve problems, work under deadline pressure, and get paid for what we do. We believe we’re good mothers because we work and we’ll admit it: Many days we’d rather be at work than at home, changing diapers, running after toddlers, or arguing with our partners about who’s going to get up in the middle of the night.

When we searched “hiding at work” on www.workitmom.com, one of our favorite working- mom blog sites (check out the sidebar later in this chapter for more), we found this one from Diane, who works at home: “I shut myself in the bedroom to get a project finished. Well, I want to share my little secret: I’m done, but I’m hiding in here just enjoying the relative silence, the pit-pat of rain on the roof, and surfing the Web. Every now and then a horde of dogs, cats, and a toddler can be heard clamoring outside the door wanting in. Hee hee. I wonder how long I can stay in here . . . ??”

Diane’s hiding is perfectly harmless. It’s when hiding evolves to avoiding that problems can occur. Kim knows this all too well. As a business owner and primary earner for her family, she could always rationalize the extra hours at night in the office or the time on the weekend. Her son wasn’t suffering. He was with his father or grandmothers. Her marriage, however, was a different story.

Here are some ways to stop hiding:

  • Ruth Klein in her book Time Management Secrets for Working Women: Getting Organized to Get the Most out of Each Day”(Sourcebooks, Inc, 2005) recommends “The Three- Ds FilingSystem,” which we like. The Ds stand for “Do it this morning,”“Do it this afternoon,” and “Do it now.” We can apply iteasily to our e-mail in-box, which has become our de factoto- do list. When you get to work, open your e-mail and organizethe Three Ds. Be realistic about what you can get done inone day and don’t forget to factor in time- sucking meetingsand conference calls. When you’ve gotten all of those thingsdone, go home to your family (or run to the gym — as we keepreminding you, one of the secrets to happy working motherhoodis for your life to include more than just work and mothering).
  • Schedule the nights you need to work late in advance. If your child or spouse knows that one night a week you need to work late or attend evening work functions, then you are no longer hiding. You’ve set the expectation for your schedule. Now stick to it. Nothing upsets children (and spouses for that matter) more than constantly changing the schedule.
  • Honor your commitments. If you’ve promised your family you will be home for dinner, go home and eat — even if you have heaps of work to do. You can always work remotely after the kids go to bed or get up early the next morning.
  • Make sure you include a little down time in your day, even if it’s just to read a magazine, listen to the radio, or sit quietly on your commute. A little break from work and mothering and the needs of others may be all the recharge you require.
{
  "type": "Slideshow",
  "element": null,
  "html": null
}

Trap #3: Buckling under the weight of guilt

Oh, the mother guilt. Blogs, Web sites, and psychologists’ couches are filled with mothers describing their daily feelings of guilt. Every single working mom we interviewed for this book mentioned the guilt they feel about any number of aspects of their lives. And the guilt begins before your baby is even born. Linda Barnes Gray, a college librarian from Tyler, Texas, and mother of two, tells us: “After reading a number of books, I thought about going without any drugs to deliver my first and then my husband said people no longer bite a bullet for surgery, why should I go without pain medication? He made sense, but so many women (and so many books!) are so adamant about the effects of medication on the baby. In the end, my baby was in distress and I had to have a C-section, so all my guilt was for nothing. And then I picked up a book that had a chapter on breast- feeding with the following chapter about bottle feeding, which was laden with guilt trips about not breast- feeding. It made me pretty angry, since breast- feeding is not for everyone. I believe if it is not good for mom, it is not good for baby, since they can feel our stress.”

All mothers feel guilt occasionally, but ample evidence suggests that working moms face an inordinate amount of guilt, especially from outside sources and most heart wrenchingly, when it comes from children themselves in the form of that dreaded question, “Mommy, why do you have to go to work?” Mother guilt will always exist whether we put it on ourselves or not. Our goal isn’t to eradicate it but to manage it better. Based on the recommendations of the experts, our interviews, and personal experience, we’ve created a “Five-Step Program for Managing Mother Guilt.”

1. Assess if the guilt is deserved. Before you make a ruling, remember, by definition, guilt is an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes — whether justified or not — that she has violated a moral standard. A moral standard is a pretty strong litmus test, but if you can’t be objective, ask your partner or working- mother friend to make the ruling. Most mother guilt is unwarranted. Chrisi Colabella expressed how many of us feel: “After my daughter Kali was born, I felt very guilty all of the time. I felt like I wasn’t being a good mother, but I also felt like I wasn’t working as hard as I should.”

For the record, Chrisi changed her entire work schedule to spend more time with her daughter, hired extra people to cover the missing time at work, and reduced her pay to offset the additional head count. Kim feels guilty that she can’t be the room mother for her son’s class, even though she knows she not only would hate it, but would be terrible in the role. Caitlin gets the “guilts” when she spends one- on- one time with her daughter — even though it means that her son is spending the equivalent time with his father. If the guilt is unwarranted, then let it go. Just like that. If the guilt is warranted, make amends. A heartfelt apology is an easy place to start.

2. Assess your priorities, create your boundaries, and stick to them. If you’ve set up a four-day workweek to spend more time with your child, then don’t work on your child’s time. And vice versa. If you are telecommuting, don’t play with your child on work time. If it’s important that you take your child to the doctor, then take her. Make up the time you missed from work on your own time. Breaking promises and commitments leads to guilt, so stick to your word.

3. If the guilt is coming from an external source, then stop it as quickly as possible. Don’t apologize (remember, you didn’t do anything wrong). Explain why the guilt trip that is being laid on you is inappropriate and move on. If you are dealing with habitual guilters (such as Kim’s grandmother, who has done post- doctorate work in guilt- tripping), then minimize your contact with them.

4. Just say no. Much of our guilt stems from the feeling of letting others down. If we don’t make the commitments in the first place, we can’t let anyone down, and we don’t feel guilty.

5. Forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. You will be overextended, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. Go back to step one. Make amends and try to learn from your error.

Trap #4: Not appreciating ourselves

After interviewing the hundreds of women for all of our books, we realized that we all suffer from the same thing: We don’t appreciate ourselves. We discount and downplay how much we accomplish in a day and minimize how hard it really is. We can all find someone who is doing more or juggling more than we are. It doesn’t mean we’re not juggling a lot. And all of a sudden before you know it, you are piling more and more on your plate and eventually something gives, and for many of the women we’ve talked to, it’s their health. Stress-related illnesses are real and prevalent. Irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandibular joint disorder, migraine, take your pick.

Laurice, a mother of four boys (three of whom are triplets) and owner of a cleaning business, has been suffering from debilitating migraines for the past year and doctors can’t find a cause. None of the migraine medications are working. She describes her situation: “The doctor did mention that it would certainly help to eliminate as much stress as possible, avoid caffeine, and get a good night’s sleep. How interesting . . . I get woken many nights, I drink Diet Coke and tea daily, and I’ve spent almost every waking moment this entire summer with three seven- year olds and a five- year old while running a business. I think a weekly root canal may be less stressful!”

We couldn’t agree more, but she continues: “I’m being funny and my husband is fantastic! My business does not take that much of my time and the kids are pretty good, and my husband is very hands- on. I have to start taking better care of myself. I need to drink more water, lay off the caffeine, etc. Things I know to do, I just don’t always actually do.”

Laurice is not unusual. Most of the women we talk to minimize the challenges they handle on a daily basis and take too much blame for what doesn’t go right. Would Laurice’s headaches go away if she drank more water and slept more? Maybe. But is that really the point? Isn’t the point that she’s managing a ton every day, which she discounts, and then when something suffers (her health), she blames herself because really it’s no big deal to take care of a business, four kids, and a house all on your own because she has a supportive husband.

In 2000, Naomi G. Swanson published an article in the "Journal of the American Women’s Medical Association" stating that “ high-strainjobs have been linked with psychological distress, pain, and reducedphysical functioning among nurses; increased sickness absenteeismand depressive symptoms among female workers in a widevariety of occupations; significant increases in blood pressureamong more highly educated female white-collar workers; an increasedrisk of myocardial infarction; and more than twice the riskfor short (24 days or less) menstrual cycles.”

But the answer isn’t to stop work. The article also showed that “overall, employment has many benefits for women, including increased financial resources, a sense of achievement, and reduced social isolation, all of which can benefit health. Additionally, some research has indicated that women who occupy multiple roles (mother, worker, spouse) experience better mental and physical health than women who occupy few roles, perhaps because with multiple roles, the stresses of one role may be offset by the rewards of another.”

The kicker apparently, though, is when one of the role’s negatives offsets the other’s positives. For example, if you lose your child care due to a sick child, more often than not mothers leave work, therefore increasing stress. It’s more of what we know — this job is really hard and when it gets off track it can make us sick. Swanson’s article offers recommendations for how organizations can reduce stress for working mothers that include “expanding promotion and career ladders, introducing such family support programs as flexible schedules and dependent care programs and introducing clear, accessible, and enforced policies against sex discrimination and sexual harassment.”

We would add that working mothers can reduce their own stress by asking for more help — especially when their health is being affected.

Trap #5: Seeking perfection
Oh, for overachieving women, good is just not good enough. We need to be perfect — at work, at home, in bed with our partners. When we asked working moms if they thought they were good mothers, they all answered that they “could be better if . . .” We know most of these women whom we polled. And they are great mothers. Why aren’t they satisfied? Nicki’s story will shed a little light on the topic.

Excerpted from "Happy at Work, Happy at Home: The Girl’s Guide to Being A Working Mom"  by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio.  Copyright 2009 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by Permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New  York.