Summary: Learn how to balance a career with motherhood from the personal examples of four different mothers.
Cindy Woods is the mother of three young children, a business owner, and a selectman in her Wisconsin hometown. Juggling work and children has become second nature for her. “It all comes down to having things organized and making the most out of every step,” she says, busily chopping onions for a crock pot dinner. She credits years of waiting tables for teaching her how to make each step count.
Woods’s interior design business takes her 85 miles out of town twice a week. Handling office chores fills up the other days, and her town meetings and other associated duties take several nights a week. She plays on a women’s hockey team during the winter and a softball team in the summer. Yet, she claims her children rarely eat a frozen dinner or takeout, and they often find her volunteering in one their classrooms at school.
How Does She Do It?
“A very wise woman once told me,” Woods says, “if you think of your time in blocks of hours, you become overwhelmed. But if you think of your time in seconds, you have infinite possibilities for that day.” Woods maps out her week each Sunday, scheduling both official business and personal time. “I always have my roller blades in the back of the car,” she confides. “So, if I know I’m a half-hour early coming home, I stop at the bike trail and roller blade for a while. You have to find something to release that pressure.”
Color-coding her appointments helps organize her thoughts quickly, too. Cub Scout meetings are in purple and select men’s meetings in blue. A quick glance at one huge calendar tells her what’s on tap for that day. Woods carefully organizes her schedule around certain priorities and tries hard to keep those priorities on track. “The kids are first,” she says. “I turn work away in order to do things with them. I would rather be more creative financially than cut back on the time with my family.”
Setting and Adhering to Priorities
According to Susan Dawson, setting priorities is an important way for parents to make sure they are properly balancing their professional and family lives. Dawson is a family therapist based outside Chicago. “Life is too complicated to wing it any more,” she says. “We have e-mail, voice mail, real mail, bosses, and yet we still have the demands of the family. I’m seeing kids suffering from it.” Dawson, who has a 12-year-old son, said her own experience has taught her well. If she does not keep her son and husband first – and arrange her schedule accordingly – the stress builds up.
Dawson counseled one woman who had three sons in six years and was finding it hard to balance that commitment with her work. “She was in tears week after week,” Dawson remembers, “like super mom, with homemade snacks in their school bags. She thought she had planned it perfectly, but it just wasn’t working. She felt constantly guilty and didn’t feel good at work or at home. I kept asking her what was missing and finally she decided it was her own ability to let herself be less than perfect.”
Employers See the Light
Employers are becoming more aware of the demands on working parents – and more willing to help meet their needs, says Laurie Cervantes. She is the associate director of human resources at a large manufacturing company. “Our company is the industry leader right now,” says Cervantes, “and if we want to stay that way, we have to take care of our employees.”
Her company employs 32,000 people nationwide, offering split shifts, part-time hours, evening hours, weekend shifts, and job sharing to help their workers. And, Cervantes says, the company even allows part-time employees who work 20 or more hours a week to take part in the firm’s benefits package. Tuition assistance programs, value appreciation rights (similar to company stocks), and lunch-hour training seminars on such topics as parenting and time management skills are also part of the Verizon package. It’s clearly designed to help parents seamlessly blend their work and home lives.
Regrouping at Day’s End
Barbara Neuman, a child therapist in New Hampshire, believes today’s parents should push through fatigue and connect with their children at the end of each day – even if only for a few minutes. “Children need the availability and acceptance of their parents,” Neuman says. “It doesn’t need to be complicated, and kids don’t need to stay up as late as many do. They can help make dinner or set the table, for example. Your day-to-day relationship is often enhanced by doing those simple tasks together. Then, young children can be in bed by 7:30 or 8:00 and you still have some time to relax.”
Many years in counseling have convinced her that parents should spend as much time as possible at home with young children. But she also notes that you have to be happy about your own work/life equation.
Wendy Fitzgibbons, a mother of three and nurse practitioner in Hudson, OH, echoes this sentiment. Fitzgibbons believes in feeling good about whatever choice you make, because that sends the best message to children. She went back to work part-time when her oldest child was three months old. “I knew I would be a better mother if I could pursue my career,” she recalls, “and I was lucky enough to have good daycare and a strong extended family as back-up. So, going to work was never a concern for my kids. It was natural to them that I was at work.”
Like many working parents, Fitzgibbons believes that finding good childcare is the most stressful component of parenting young children. Reliable, positive caretakers are essential to peace of mind at work. “If you have unreliable daycare,” Fitzgibbons says, “you’re not only missing work, you’re often unable to focus at work once you get there.”How to Balance a Career With Motherhood by Granted Contributor