If you’ve ever wished that you could completely skip sleeping and use all 24 hours of each day for productivity, chances are you’re a working mom! I can remember many times, especially when my children were very young, that I simply knew there were not enough hours in the day for balancing motherhood and a successful career in the way that I wanted to. Fortunately, I’ve learned something important since then, and I want to share it: The reality is that you can have it all; you just need to redefine what “all” means.
Why We Struggle with Balancing Motherhood and a Successful Career
Women today are bombarded on all sides by endless streams of advice and expectations for parental involvement, alongside more elaborate expectations for women in the workplace. We should all be breaking glass ceilings from 9-5 and then finding time to prepare organic, homemade snacks for our kids’ soccer teams, right? Working moms are waging an internal battle with themselves about balancing motherhood and a successful career because we’re made to feel like we’re supposed to be more with fewer resources on both sides. It’s an exhausting, defeating mindset that can make many of us feel like we’re failing.
Here’s what I’ve come to realize, though. A lot of what society tells us about being the “perfect” mother and employee are simply unrealistic. If you want to win with the cards stacked against you, you have to change the rules of the game. Here are four ways to redefine having it “all” and feeling more confident about balancing motherhood and a successful career.
Tip #1: Prioritize Quality Over Quantity in All Things
Being there for your kids when it counts is usually much more valuable than just being there. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics records the number of hours mothers spend with their children, and that number has risen since 1985, even as more women have joined the workforce. At the same time, however, studies have shown that the actual amount of time spent with children from ages 3-11 has very little effect on their overall outcome emotionally or academically. Sitting in your house for six hours with a preschooler may not be as beneficial as being there for story time and working your way through a chapter book series together each night. You know your kids and what’s important to them, so be there when it counts.
This same principle can be applied to your career. Of course, you need to work your scheduled hours, attend meetings, be there for your team, and accomplish tasks assigned to you. However, you do not need to be the go-to person for any and all extra work, and you don’t need to make yourself available at all hours of the day and night. Being seen as professional and productive at work, while going above and beyond once in a while and really knocking it out of the park when you’re able, can elevate your status at work without compromising your family time.
Tip #2: Build Your Village
Do you have a partner? If the answer is yes, do you feel they do an equal share of the housework and child labor? If the answer is no, then you are not alone. According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, working women still do more home tasks than their partners. Women are also 10 times more likely to take time off from work to care for a sick child. Communication is key in addressing this imbalance so you and your partner can tackle all the to-do items in a more equitable way. Try to remove any blame or resentment from the conversation and make it about getting your household to function optimally. Balancing motherhood and a successful career will benefit everyone in your orbit.
If you’re a single working mom, finding balance poses an even greater challenge. Be intentional about building your village. The right combination of family members, friends, neighbors, and daycare providers can fit together like puzzle pieces in your life to enable you to juggle all the balls you’re required to – without dropping any of the critical ones. It can be difficult to ask for help, but it’s essential as you work toward balancing motherhood and a successful career.
Tip #3: Get Comfortable Saying ‘No’
This statistic has always made me laugh, in that “it’s funny because it’s true” sort of way: 35% of parents say that managing their children’s extracurricular activities is more stressful than doing their taxes. Can you relate? Kids are overextended these days and the busy schedules are not only costly (cleats, dance recital costumes, long drives to away games), but they are also time-consuming. And, for working moms worried about balancing motherhood and a successful career, extracurriculars create more opportunities to feel like you’re missing out or failing your kids by putting time in at work.
Of course, we all want our kids to be well-rounded, but like most things in life, moderation is key. Your child doesn’t have to do every activity/class/sport that’s offered, nor do you have to go to every event. For instance, sometimes you have to say no to birthday parties that conflict with family calendars, no to volunteering at events after an exhausting work week, and no to being a chauffeur all the time. Learning you can say no and have more control over your non-working free time will help build a bridge to the balance you seek.
It can be very difficult to say “no” in the workplace because, after all, women are still battling a persistent wage gap. Sometimes, though, you simply can’t work late. Sometimes you can’t take on another project. Women have often been conditioned to be accommodating, piling on requests like a waitress carrying plates. Finding the strength to have boundaries will make a big difference in your work and home life. Try clarifying exactly what you hope to excel at in the workplace, or what you would like your next step up the ladder to be. Then, be prepared to say yes to extra responsibilities and tasks related to that specific goal, but no to things that fall outside your vision for your professional future.
Tip #4: Stop Neglecting Your Own Needs
When you’re a busy working mom, it feels like something always has to give. Too often, it’s our own needs that get put on the back burner. But the old adage is true: you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you fail to take time to refuel yourself, you’ll find you have less energy at work and on the home front.
We hear a lot of messages about self-care these days, and I know a lot of moms who say, “But I don’t have time to go to a spa or binge-watch the new season of my favorite show.” However, I would challenge working moms to reframe what self-care means. Think about the small margins that most of us find once or twice each day (and often fill with doom-scrolling social media or news sites). Use that time for small acts of self-care instead. These acts can be small, like reading for pleasure before bed, taking a quick walk, buying yourself fresh flowers, sleeping an extra 15 minutes, or listening to a few minutes of an audiobook or podcast that makes you happy. (Most of my Flourish Financially podcast episodes are less than 10 minutes long!)
These things might seem small, but they’re important. Having a few minutes each day dedicated to something just for you can provide a wonderful sense of having control over balancing your day – and in a way that goes beyond successfully managing the needs of your family members or colleagues.
Change Your Perspective to Win at Balancing Motherhood and a Successful Career
There is so much pressure on working moms, and I’ve experienced it first-hand. If you’re feeling burdened by perceived failures at balancing motherhood and a successful career, know that you’re not alone. But, also know that you can take control over what “having it all” means to you! Change the rules of the game, clarify what’s most important to you, ask for help, and set healthy boundaries where needed. You’ve got this, mama!