I’m frequently in awe of women who manage to successfully and smoothly balance professional and family commitments. Over the years, working moms have let me in on how they do it.
I know working mothers who have always made work-life balance look so easy, but when I peek behind the scenes, I see how much of a high-wire act it all is, requiring highly specific, carefully-poised steps. Making the time to spend with family must be an intentional goal, and careful planning can make that goal attainable.
One of the most valuable assets a working mother can have is a supportive, flexible partner. When it comes to male partners, those who adopt a more egalitarian attitude towards tasks such as housework, cooking and childcare make it easier for both people to strike a healthy balance. Today’s society encourages dads to take a larger role in raising children, with sitcoms about single dads and other media reinforcing the message. But let’s face it: Centuries-old ideas about gender roles weren’t killed off overnight by second-wave feminism and the cultural changes it brought about. If you feel your partner is falling into the same pattern as his parents, where mom was expected to do the lion’s share of childrearing by virtue of being female, the “who does what” discussion should be an ongoing one—successful working moms negotiate the division of labor with their partners in a way that works for both parties, so neither is overburdened.
Working moms know better than anyone that it takes a village to raise a child. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—encourage your parents and siblings to become part of your child’s regular routine whenever possible. I fondly remember spending Thursday afternoons with my aunt, whose job was more flexible than my mom’s. Only years later did I realize that my parents took Thursday afternoons off too—to spend some quality time with each other. Saturday nights with grandma were a treat for me and my sister, who now invites her own daughter (guilt-free) to sleepovers with another beloved relative (me) whenever she wants to enjoy a date night with her husband.
So many mothers I talk to express quite a bit of guilt about working, and much of it is misplaced, in my opinion. Women worry that their children feel deprived somehow because they work outside of the home, but if you ask people who were raised by working mothers, they usually see their upbringing as overwhelmingly positive and normal. Unfortunately, this misplaced guilt often leads to attempts to overcompensate, which manifests as overspending on children. I like to advise clients to take a portion of the money they were going to use to shower their children with expensive gifts and instead put it towards a vacation fund, which would allow for plenty of one-on-one time and family fun. Use the rest of the money to help fund your child’s education by contributing to a 529 college savings plan.
I also like to help my clients find room in their budgets to give themselves “permission” to outsource some of the time-consuming, mundane tasks that can get in the way of quality family time—many friends, family and clients of mine swear by this approach to life. You can often give up expensive morning lattes or other small luxuries in order to hire a cleaning person once a week, send your laundry out and/or have your groceries delivered. The bits of time you save will add up, allowing you to relax with your family, instead of your time at home being taken up by chores.