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Life is a Teeter-Totter: Five Ways for Working Mothers to Balance their Career and Family

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Life is a Teeter-Totter: Five Ways for Working Mothers to Balance their Career and Family


Life is a Teeter-Totter: Five Ways for Working Mothers to Balance their Career and Family
By Pam Molnar


Today’s working mother struggles to split her time between her career and her family. The demand of her two worlds can be a constant battle. A successful working mom does not strive for perfect balance, but in fact, lives her life like a teeter-totter. Although every rider tries to achieve perfect balance at some point, most find it more fun to enjoy the ups and downs.

In 2011, just over 70% of mothers worked outside the home, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost two-thirds of those mothers had children under six years old. Those numbers have increased dramatically from a generation ago. This is new territory for today’s moms, who did not have the benefit of learning how to balance family and career from their own mothers. Working mothers in 2013 are inventing better ways to have it all by learning from others like themselves.

Make a plan but be flexible. A working mom will tell you that spontaneity is overrated. It is much better to plan ahead. Each day, make a list of what you hope to accomplish. Prioritize your to-do list, but keep your schedule flexible enough to change things if you need to. The little surprises that come up in your day can really make it feel like that teeter-totter ride. Control what you can by organizing ahead of time. Tara Springer, social worker and mother of two teenagers suggests planning meals in advance. “I usually plan for the week ahead by planning breakfasts and lunches for the kids to eat while I am working.”

Keep the lines of communication open. The key to success in today’s busy world is to know the ever-changing plan of attack. “My husband and I tend to communicate every morning about what the evening will bring,” says Anna Kooi, Senior Manager at Deloitte and mother of three. “Our children are very active, so communicating about the evening schedule is crucial – who has taxi service, who will be home when the kids get home from school, and what activities are going on for the evening.” Be sure to inform your family when a work-related project will interfere with family time. It is important to know that both your worlds have must-not-miss dates.

Limit work at home. Whenever possible spend uninterrupted time with your family by shutting off your phone and computer. If you cannot avoid it, try not to let it eat into family time by putting in work hours while your children are otherwise engaged. “I try to fit in my work around their schedule,” says Sally Mueller, single mother of teenagers and a project manager. “I often sit with my laptop and answer emails while watching TV with my girls or while they are doing their homework.” Mueller adds an important reminder, “Kids are very aware, however, that while you are there in body, you are not with them in mind.”

Learn when to multi-task and when to ask for help. In order to get everything completed on your to-do list, the working mother has to multi-task. Multi-tasking works best with things that do not require your full attention. For example, a mundane chore such as folding towels or doing dishes can be combined with returning phone calls. Mothers often overestimate the amount of tasks they can do at the same time. By doing too many things at once, you will likely forget a step. Do what you can, but know when to ask for help. As a single mother, Mueller often has to rely on others. “When I have to travel out of town for work, my girls either stay with their dad or grandma comes for a visit.” Outsourcing projects at home or work may give you the extra time you want to spend with your family.

Take time for you. Splitting yourself between two worlds can be stressful. Working moms must find time for themselves as a way to recharge. Much needed “Me Time” can be as simple as a bubble bath, a walk around the neighborhood or a workout at the gym. It is also vital to include your partner in recharge time. Springer and her husband feel couple time is very important. “My husband and I try to schedule couple time every weekend depending on what we have planned. If our kids are not home, we usually go out to dinner or breakfast.” Spend time doing something you both enjoy or simply catch up over a glass a wine after the kids have gone to bed.

As the saying goes, “This, too, shall pass.” Your kids will get older, life will slow down and one day it won’t seem like such an effort to make it all work. Relish your time as a working mom. Every once in a while, stand in the middle of the teeter-totter and see if you can get it to balance. Then sit down, throw your head back and enjoy the rest of the ride.

Pam Molnar is a freelance journalist and small business owner. She has been enjoying her teeter-totter life for the past 15 years.