More moms than ever are in the workforce. According to American Progress, "women now make up half of all workers in the United States, with nearly four in ten homes having a mom that is also a working mother."
Being a full-time working mother can lead to feelings of guilt and stress because of divided attention between work and family. The key is to focus on a plan, get organized and find the right balance between your profession and parenthood. Here are ten ways to help make sure both your career and your family flourish.
Let Go of the Guilt
Rather than dwell on how you're not with your child, think about how your role in the company is benefiting the family. Perhaps you can afford certain classes or educational opportunities for your children, or you're able to put away savings for college. "The most successful career moms have found ways to be efficient in both worlds--and that requires being able to come to terms with choices and focus on the priorities that are in the moment," says Lisa Pierson Weinberger, a lawyer and the founder of the website Mom, Esq.
Accept that there will be good and bad days. Mothers should know they are not alone, and they should discuss their feelings with partners or support groups. Local mom blogs, such as Working Moms Against Guilt, are a great way to reach out to others trying to find the same work-home balance.
Find Quality Child Care
Ask your network of friends and family for references to nannies, babysitters and daycare centers. Create a list of criteria that are important and then schedule time to interview qualified child care providers or to tour local daycares. Sharon Tepper, the president of Brownstone Nannies, Inc., recommends hiring nannies with a history of long-term commitments to families. This shows they have excellent experience and are adaptable to various age groups, caring for newborns and older children who need homework help.
Tepper also encourages families to schedule a paid playdate with the candidates: "This playdate (typically two to four hours) allows the family to evaluate how the nanny interacts with the child in a less formal setting." A good child care provider should have extensive experience, excellent references and a record to prove it. A good daycare facility should have flexible hours, a low teacher-to-student ratio, outdoor space, up-to-date licenses and employees who have had their backgrounds checked.
Create and Organize a Family Calendar
Figure out your family's priorities. A calendar can include dates when bills are due, a chore chart for the kids, a list of school and family events, extracurricular activities, birthdays and more. Amanda Wiss, the founder of Urban Clarity, a Brooklyn-based organizing service, suggests using Google calendars, which can be easily shared and synced on smartphones, because "they are color-coded and get superimposed on each other, so you can always be on top of scheduling challenges."
Fran Durekas, Founder and Chief Development Officer for Children's Creative Learning Center, suggests "setting aside 15 minutes each Sunday to review and prepare for the upcoming week's schedule. This helps eliminate surprises during the week. Families should share the calendar with their babysitter or nanny so that everyone is up-to-date on activities." Staying organized is also about having a clean environment. Wiss advises having a "family command station" near an entrance, where important papers and documents are placed, along with keys, chargers, batteries and petty cash. Carving out dedicated spots will save time and improve efficiency in your home.
Make the Mornings Easier
Avoid starting the day on a frazzled note by getting organized the night before. Pack the kids' lunches, lay out their clothes (plus your own) and have everyone shower. "You should also decide what to make for breakfast, and repack the diaper bag, backpacks, purses or work bags to be placed by the door, right next to your keys, so you can grab them and lock up on your way out," suggests Wiss. Look over the next day's to-do list and divide the schedule, determining which parent gets the kids dressed, buys necessary groceries and cooks the meals. This is also a good time to discuss any changes to the family schedule. Knowing that a lot of the mundane tasks are completed will allow you to spend a few minutes eating breakfast with the kids without rushing out of the house.
Communicate With Your Employer
Before talking to your employer or HR representative, construct a written plan detailing what you need. Weinberger suggests "researching whether other employees have flexible arrangements and using this information to your advantage. This information will help tailor your proposal to the terms that your employer has already embraced with your co-workers." Every employer is different, and only you will know how much to share, but try to be as open and honest as possible. Be prepared to present alternative solutions, such as a trial period of your projected work schedule so you can show how the arrangement won't restrict productivity.
Moms seeking maternity leave should ask questions when speaking with a supervisor. The two biggest questions to ask are, "How much time can I take off?" and "How much of that time will be paid?" Discuss using short-term disability or vacation/sick time to cover some of your time away from the office. Weinberger adds, "It's best to know those answers to avoid any confusion during your leave."
Stay Connected During the Day
Stay connected with your children even when you're not together. For moms with younger kids, consider recording yourself talking or singing on a video, or record your voice reading along to a children's book. (Hallmark has a series of recordable storybooks.) If you're going to miss or be late to an older child's event, give her something special in the morning, like a good-luck charm or a personal note. Look into options for filming the event so you can watch it later and not miss a moment. Hang pictures of yourself and your partner, so the kids can see your faces. During your breaks at work, call your child; hearing her can help you get through a rough day, and she'll be comforted to know you're near.
Limit Distractions and Time Wasters
Be disciplined and set time limits when checking email or making phone calls, things you can do when the kids are sleeping. Reduce TV watching to once a week to maximize time with your partner during the evenings. Try to avoid multitasking, especially when spending time with your children. At your workplace, try to avoid wasting time. Of course you want to have a rapport with co-workers, but numerous email exchanges, casual Internet surfing, gossiping and long lunches are distractions that will make you less productive. Focus on your tasks at work and talk to co-workers during breaks or lunchtime.
Create Special Family Activities
Making time for your kids is crucial, both during the week and on the weekends, to nurture your family dynamic and allow everyone to bond. If you're pressed for time, have a family breakfast or a family night with board games or movies. "Create activities that regularly fit into your schedule so everyone knows what to expect and what to look forward to," Wiss suggests. When you do have family outings, avoid talking about work or checking your phone. Instead, focus on your kids' interests such as friends, classes and hobbies. With older children, ask for their activity suggestions and try to meet their needs. In the end, it doesn't really matter what you do as long as you do it together.
Spend Time With Your Partner
Remember to nurture your relationship with your partner, who will often be the number one person by your side. Start by having monthly date nights to get closer, feel rejuvenated and enjoy each other's company. Often, if you're busy with work and home, your partner is the first to get neglected. Fostering this relationship will bring back some excitement to the marriage or partnership and help you to "check in" with each other. For some couples, going out on a monthly date can be difficult and expensive, but that doesn't mean you can't focus on each other. Have an indoor date night by cooking an elegant meal together or even sitting together with a glass of wine and talking (but not about work or the kids).
Create Moments for Yourself
By managing time wisely, you can fit in valuable "me" time regularly. A refreshing break will help you recharge while taking care of personal needs. "Because your time is divided between your home and your career, make sure to manage your energy well. You can't be an effective spouse or parent if you're cranky, so take time to care for yourself to feel relaxed and effective," says Wiss. Lose yourself in a book before you go to sleep, take a bubble bath once a week or treat yourself to a spa day. Fit in time for exercise (like a yoga class) or focus on a hobby. Remember to eat well and get enough rest--simple things that even the smartest moms neglect.
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This original piece was featured in an issue of Parents magazine and on Parents.com. Reprinted with permission from Meredith Corporation. Copyright 2012