The COVID-19 epidemic threw any workable solutions for work-life balance out the window for working moms. When the pandemic erupted in the spring of 2020, many women had to choose between their work and their jobs due to unavailable childcare. According to the Census Bureau, roughly 3.5 million mothers with school-age children either lost jobs, took leaves of absence, or left the labor market altogether, For those mom's who can work, the increasing demands caused by the epidemic and a lack of adequate maternity leave and daycare beg the question whether a balance is achievable at all?
This article looks at how to achieve work-life balance as a full-time or part-time working mother and how to accelerate your career while still being present with your young children.
What exactly is work-life balance for a working mom? Trending social media might show an impeccably-dressed professional rushing through the streets of New York, Starbucks in hand, nailing client sales presentations with aplomb. Professional mom then returns to a tasteful contemporary home with kids rushing to greet her at the door. A wonderful family dinner where a supportive husband does the dishes is followed by a tear-free homework session (yes, both mom and child keep it together over Algebra I). Oh, and there’s a power yoga and Peloton class thrown in at 6 am.
The trouble is, life happens and this does not. Family life means elderly parents to care for, sick kids to care for, and pets to care for. It means juggling shopping, cleaning, time with friends, sporting events that require weekend travel, and pandemics and job layoffs that sabotage daily schedules. Me-time is rare and creates mom guilt.
We need to change how we envision work-life balance. We need to set priorities, and that includes critical self-care.
For more on living and working smarter, read "Work-Life Integration: Gaining Control of Your Life"
Work-life balance is really about priorities—what you actually need to achieve in the time you have. That, and preserving your mental health. Here are some steps to defining and improving your idea and expectations for work-life balance.
I hate to burst your bubble, but there are 24 hours in each day, and six to eight of those should be reserved for sleep. That’s step one of balance. So, all your priorities need to be achievable within the amount of time you have. What is most important to you? Family and work most likely. There are some ways to manage your life so you can attend to your own self too. Here are some examples.
Life changes. One week might be a balancing act of tight deadlines at work and attending school events. Another week you might have some flexibility and enjoy more family time. You might have to work part-time for a while until things calm down. Try not to become so fixed to one schedule that you don’t see where you can make changes that will make life easier.
For moms with remote work arrangements and those that don’t, disconnecting is hard. Even with flexible work arrangements, there are always dishes to wash, laundry to do, groceries to buy, children to entertain, and zoom conference calls looming. It can be doubly hard to find balance when you can divide and control your time. Should you go to the soccer game or finish that report instead?
Try to think about what your priorities are. How many more soccer games will you have the opportunity to watch? Does that report really need to be done today? Whatever you decide, try to focus on that one thing so that you optimize your time. Otherwise, at the end of the day, you will end up doing everything poorly.
Research shows that when dads take leave to look after babies, they are more involved with the domestic duties as the children grow up. That's great. But when the fathers return to work, a survey by Parents found that the domestic duties—laundry, shopping, cleaning— that might have been shared pre-kids now become largely the mother’s job, even after you both return to work. So, working moms need support.
The good news is that by being a working mom, you set an example for your children. A Harvard Business School study found that daughters of working moms are more likely to be successful in the workplace, and sons of working moms are more likely to contribute to chores and spend time caring for family.
If you have older children, you can encourage them to help around the house without feeling guilty because you are preparing them for life. Children can learn a sense of accomplishment from cooking a meal or cleaning for the first time. After all, everyone should contribute to the family team, and everyone can do chores.
It helps if working parents accept that the house will not be perfect, and they may have to do food shopping in an organized way less often. If you can enlist the help of extended family members like grandma or grandpa to help with the children, that might relieve some of the time management pressures.
Hire a cleaner, and order groceries for delivery or pick-up. Ordering food does not mean that you have to eat an unbalanced diet. Try always to have fruit and vegetables at home. That way, you can order pizza and steam some broccoli to have with it.
At certain times in your professional life, you won’t be able to attend a PTA meeting once a month, volunteer to read to your child’s kindergarten class, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity with your team, and organize the next six month’s agenda for the executive board room. Next year, maybe. Now? Definitely not. Pick wisely, and don’t feel guilty. The study by Parents magazine found that when asked, “What could you do to feel more balanced? Seventy-three percent of mom’s said, “Make more time for me.”
There are ways that work itself can help to better work-life balance. Work is focus time. At home, there are children to entertain, a house to keep up, pets to care for, and a zillion other things competing for your time. Work is a little different.
You might have a ton of calls to return in the morning and a meeting with the CEO, but you also have a lunch break. Perhaps you can use that break to go to the gym and catch a yoga class? Perhaps you can have lunch and catch up with a friend? Having your own career gives a sense of identity and purpose, which we all need to find balance.
Balancing work and home life as a working mom is different for everyone because each person has different priorities. Decide what yours are so that you don’t overreach. Then, find the strategies, support, and tools you need to move forward. If anything in life is certain, it is change. So, be flexible, because being your best self for your family and your career is a work in progress.