I was putting my 7 year old to bed when she turned around and said “you’re the best mum a daughter can ever have, I am so proud of you and want to grow up to become like you.” I hugged her and kissed her, told her how much I love her and how much I am proud of her too. That night I couldn’t sleep and kept thinking to myself that between being a career driven woman, and a mother (and a good one too, at least that’s what I think) whatever I am doing, it must be right.
Just how difficult is it to be a mom and have a full time job at the same time? Ask any working mom and she will say it isn’t easy. Balancing the two roles takes great talent, not to mention effort, to be able to switch between hats. Women are famous for their ability to multi task, and multiply this several times for women applying this skill to both a job and motherhood. We tend to go through guilt pangs every now and then, guilt that maybe we are not dedicating enough time to our children, that perhaps we will be seen as neglecting our jobs if we take those couple of hours to attend that sport event at school, etc…. We often do not stop for a moment, to take a deep breath and admire our resilience, stamina and our genuine efforts to keep both worlds seamlessly on track.
In an article published online in Time Health and Family in 2011, titled “Working Women Who Try to Be ‘Supermom’ May Be More Depressed”, the author makes reference to research that shows working mothers who think they are able to juggle between a career and motherhood effortlessly are in fact more depressed when compared to other women who really don’t overdo it.
Let’s stop here shall we?
Does trying to balance between our careers and our duties as moms mean we are overdoing it? I personally don’t think so. And by the way, which type of mom classifies as a ‘supermom’ anyway? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word ‘supermom’ as ‘a woman who performs the traditional duties of housekeeping and child-rearing while also having a full-time job’. According to this definition all working moms classify as one by default. The research goes on that apparently by embracing the fact that it is ok to ‘let things slide,’ working moms can happily combine both roles. On the face of it this makes sense, but there is a caveat, or at least that’s what I think: where do we working moms draw the line when ‘compromising’ on stuff at work before they are perceived as becoming slackers and their career growth suffers? And alternatively can working moms really let things slide when it comes to their children in any aspect related to their well-being, not just physically but equally important, emotionally?
Well I finished reading the article with one conclusion. The ‘supermom’ journey is filled with challenges, no doubt. I’ve been one for 7 years now, and I experience them first-hand every day. It is not easy to juggle between a demanding job, meetings, overseas assignments, projects, play days, doctor appointments, violin rehearsals, school concerts, sport days etc…. yet I still do it. How do I manage? I really don’t know. I’m not perfect, but who said that being a perfectionist is the road to happiness? Has it been a rewarding journey so far? It’s a straight ‘yes’. The personal gratification that comes from watching our children grow to be healthy happy individuals without compromising on career aspirations or vice versa is worth every moment of it. Maybe we are overcomplicating this ‘supermom’ case. Maybe all we have to do is realize we are doing our best and self-appreciate that. Apparently our children do.
Being a supermom is a matter of personal choice. Those of us who walk into it knowing we must spend a great portion of our lives balancing the heavy weight we carry on our shoulders become mentally prepared to face the challenges. There are plenty of days when we feel proud of what we are accomplishing, times when we feel the load is too much, and many more moments when guilt that maybe we are not giving it our best shot overtakes us, but you know what? The truth is that we are super and we have deservedly earned the title.
Being a stay at home mom has its perks – you don’t have to get dressed up, you can work out on your own schedule, and you don’t need to have the children’s lunch ready at 7 a.m. However, the most amazing and obvious benefit of being a stay at home mom is the opportunity to intimately know your children and to share all of the milestones of their young lives. No one can truly understand and love a child like their parent. Choosing to stay at home had its financial and career limiting consequences, but it’s a choice that I will never regret.
Being a stay at home mom however does not mean that you must put your brain or skills on hold. Especially in today’s modern world where there are countless ways for you to expand your horizons. And that’s exactly what I did. After driving many, many miles to practices, games, lessons and recitals, making sure that the homework was done and dinner was prepared, I spent countless late nights looking on the computer for ideas to sharpen my skills, and technology is what I came to love.
I am a problem solver. I love when I am given a challenge; know how to fix it, and how to fix it better. It started with setting up my own home wifi network. To most of my friends and co-workers, it’s probably no big deal, but in the stay at home mom arena – I was “big stuff”. Everyone wanted to know, “ how did I know how to do that?” Before I knew it, I was helping my neighbor, her friend, and then their elderly parents. And so began my journey, I became even more motivated to challenge myself. From school sports teams to the theatre department, the needs, as well as the expertise grew. I taught myself HTML, CSS, and how to create a Joomla site.
With each growing project a new skill such as Photoshop and Gimp emerged. I began to get noticed and was offered a position by my local principal in the Career Tech Department. The launching pad was perfect, it allowed me to further develop my skills and opened my eyes to the world of other opportunities out there. With my newly minted resume, an opportunity presented itself. The Global HR consulting firm, Exaserv, was looking for a Product Manager and the job description fit me perfectly. Some of the main requirements were organizational skills and the ability to prioritize, and all those years of being a stay at home mom had definitely helped to hone those skills. Not to mention my developed computer expertise!
It’s been over a year now since I’ve been back in the workforce and I have loved every day of employment. I am constantly learning and growing in my new role and enjoy all the “doors” that are opening for me. Staying at home to raise my children was the best decision I ever made, but taking that time to also sharpen my skills has given me the opportunity to go back to work and grow my career. It’s an experience for which I will forever be grateful.
About the author: Sophia Lidback is Product Manager at Exaserv, where her responsibilities include managing product development, writing and editing technical and functional user manuals and managing customer relations with respect to product implementation. Sophia is a wife and mother of 4.
Defining balance can be tricky.
In my opinion finding balance between one’s work and the remainder of their life is very personal and varies from person to person. What may be a life that is in balance for one person could be a life ready to go off the rails for another. It all depends on our perspective on our life at work and our life outside of work.
Nonetheless, along my career and life journey I have found a few things that work for me in terms of balance that I think are worth sharing with others who may be struggling with the issue.
Seems like everyone everywhere is trying to find the right work-life balance. I have a very challenging job and a husband and three children. I am often looked to at work as a role model of someone who has found work-life balance even with a demanding job and family.
I often find myself embarrassed by that because unlike others, I am fortunate to have an incredible support system. My mother lives with us and does many things to help run the household. She gets the kids off to school (makes all the lunches), does our laundry, and cooks dinner every night. My husband, Shaun, is also a big contributor. Additionally, he works out of the home so he is available to run daily errands. Nonetheless, I have a very busy lifestyle and work hard to find “balance.”
There are however, a couple of key things I have learned about balance. Again, defining balance is unique to every individual. What balance means for me, can be entirely different than what it means to others. Additionally, I believe that finding balance isn’t a constant state. Sometimes, work has to take a priority and sometimes family life does. The key is to not let one always take precedence over the other, but to ebb and flow with the situation at the time.
Based on my particular circumstances, while I do not see myself as a role model of work-life balance, I have learned the following lessons along the way that do help and are worth sharing:
You don’t have to be perfect. There was a time that I thought I had to be the perfect leader, employee, wife and mother. No one is, or can be perfect. The earlier that you realize that, the better off you will be. When you expect perfection in all things from yourself, you are setting yourself up for constant failure.
Set your own boundaries. People will allow you to do whatever you allow yourself to do. No one is going to say, oh don’t take on that additional work, you have a family to care for. After awhile, they will come to expect from you whatever you have willingly done in the past. You have to set your own boundaries. Just as people will come to expect you to do everything that you always have, they will come accustomed to, and accepting of your boundaries.
Know your priorities. You have to decide what is important for you and what isn’t. I take my job very seriously. In the past, maybe too seriously. One of the best ways I have learned to set priorities is by asking myself a simple question, ” In five years, will it matter that I did or didn’t do this?” It is amazing how often the thing that you feel a strong obligation toward doing won’t even matter in five days.
Accept help. There are many people willing to help you out. Never turn down someone’s offer to help. This relates to number 1 above. Our drive to be perfect sometimes leads us to deny ourselves help. If someone offers to pick up your kids from school or drive them to practice, let them. You can always reciprocate in easier times.
Take time for yourself. If you spend all of your time taking care of others and things you will become resentful. Find something that you enjoy and that is just for you (exercise, reading, etc.) and make the time to fit it in. Taking care of yourself re-energizes you.
Above all, keep in mind that life is too short and goes by far too fast. We all need to earn a living but more importantly, we deserve to live life to the fullest. This requires a balance between doing the things we have to do and doing the things we want to do.
About the author: Lisa Emerson is the Vice President — Global Total Compensation at McDonald’s Corporation. In this capacity, she has responsibility for all aspects of compensation and benefits globally. Lisa and her husband Shaun created Tutto Persona to share their experiences and thoughts on work, family, and other odds & ends.
“The balance what?” you ask.
I am referring to the burden and guilt trip we give ourselves each day over our attempt, and quite often failure, to balance all aspects (mom, caretaker, professional, student, friend etc.) of our lives.
I call it the Balance Burden and, truly, I spent my first year and a half of motherhood often riddled with guilt because I couldn’t seem to juggle it all. It wasn’t until the birth of my second daughter (18 months after my first) that I finally threw my hands up and admitted defeat.
With the slow realization and acceptance that balance was unattainable came a sudden relief, and the mommy baggage was quickly lifted off my five-foot two-inch frame.
In the days (specifically 20 months) since becoming a mom of two amazing, extremely energetic, and willful little girls, I have learned a few things about the best approaches for me to manage my multiple roles. I learned most of these lessons the hard way, as in coming home from work stressed about an undone project, only to be a bit cranky and short-tempered with my family followed by a sleepless night feeling downright crummy for not being a better worker, spouse, and namely mom.
Through trial and error I have discovered that these tips work for me and I hope they are of value to you:
- Create a priorities list and re-evaluate it monthly. Take stock of what you value and write it down. Make choices on how you spend your time based on that priorities list. This list can change as your work goals change, seasons pass and kids’ extracurricular activities and hobbies change.
- Take charge of your schedule. I have been notoriously terrible at saying no. I am slowly learning the art, beauty and necessity in saying no. Decline requests that don’t fit into your priorities list. Say no kindly but firmly and embrace the freedom of not adding something to your plate.
- Give your kids uninterrupted kid time. When I got home from work, I would be greeted with a cluster of hellos, cries and questions. I tried to tending to my girls’ needs, inquiring about my husband’s day, and making dinner – all at the same time. How did that work? Terribly. Now when I come home, I devote 30 minutes with my daughters. I then chat with my husband and think about dinner. This works much better.
- Give yourself “me” time. I am no pro at this and don’t practice it as much as I should but when I make time for myself, I am a better mom. I’m kinder and more patient and I feel like me. One piece of advice I received not too long ago was to put “me” time on the calendar. If my Outlook calendar says yoga, I am more likely to pull out my mat and work on my yoga warrior pose.
Above all, stop comparing yourself to others. Embrace and accept who we are as women, mothers, and professionals. Unfortunately, girls are taught at a young age to compare themselves to the females around them from the classmate with the better math test grade to the supermodel on the cover of the tween magazines. This self-comparison carries itself into motherhood and we are constantly contrasting our mothering skills with those of the stay-at-home mom down the street or the VP who seems to have it all.
Stop it. Embrace yourself in all your glories and flaws. Your kids, your spouse, your boss only want you and no one different. Say goodbye to the balance burden and hello to you.
Photo credit iStockphoto
This is the 11th post in our Women of HR series focusing on career. Read along, consider the advice and we invite you to comment with insights of your own.
“How can I find time to attend this networking event when I am already spread too thin between work, my 2 year old, and my graduate studies?” asked one thirty-something overwhelmed professional/student in my office a few months ago.
Great question. And one I didn’t have the perfect, fix- it solution for. If I did, I would perhaps be better at my daily juggling act as well.
A typical morning for me often involves acquiescing to my 3-year-old’s desire for a little Yo Gabba Gabba before preschool, chasing my 18-month-old who has found diaper cream and proceeded to spread it all over her cherubic cheeks, and hopefully catching a quick glance in the mirror to ensure my ensemble is professional enough to greet the recruiters looking to hire the MBA students I work with.
As a career coach working with graduate business students, I have found that more and more students are coming to me with similar questions about balancing motherhood, professional careers and aspirations, and graduate studies. No small feat.
I have taken to reading many expert opinions on the subject in hopes of gleaning tidbits of advice that will provide solace and practical solutions for the students I work with. There seems to be a general consensus among career experts and life coaches on this topic of work life balance. The advice given is, stop trying to balance it all because you can’t, seems contrary to what we, in corporate America, have been focusing on for the past few decades since women came into the workforce in numbers.
Think about it. Giving up the goal of a perfect balance of equal parts time, passion, and energy in all aspects of life actually takes a huge weight off of a working student mother’s shoulders.Rather than continually beating yourself up because you couldn’t give your children the same amount of time and energy as you did your work that day, instead focus on the time you do have with your kids.
Productively managing multiple roles in life can be accomplished through making choices that match your values. Working overtime is a necessity if your boss comes to you with a last minute deadline. When your child has a lunch concert you make a choice to put that obligation first. If your Organizational Behavior professor piles on the number of papers due in a week, you might have to block out weekend time to study at the library. All choices are valid and none of them makes you a bad mom, worker, or student. Instead, it is an incredible exercise in prioritizing.
Making choices that match your priorities takes away guilt, provides confidence in your lifestyle, and helps you focus on the positive. Give yourself the freedom to give yourself a break and stop aiming for balance.
Aim for choice and embrace the fact that we as women have one.
At least focus on that when you are lamenting the fact that you are headed home from work at 5:30pm and you still have a night of dinner making, bath time rituals, and paper writing ahead of you!
Photo credit iStockphoto
A few weeks ago, week my constant state of being over committed caught up with me and I fell ill.
My body was telling me to slow down and I fought it with everything I had, but I lost. The result of what happened was exactly what I needed.
You see, I had an ENTIRE day to myself. No one at home. No one at my office door. No electronic device tempting me to answer it for the next great blog post, tweet, DM or Facebook note. At first, I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, I fought an amazing pull to do SOMETHING because that’s what we wired to do. Doing nothing means being lazy, nonchalant or just slacking off.
The reality of this day to myself is that it allowed me to just empty myself out mentally and get reset. I’ll be honest. I don’t do this nearly enough. Like many of my friends, we just keep adding on more and slogging through it because we have an immense capacity (or so we tell ourselves).
When I was better the next day, I was sharp, revived and ready to face things once again. This time, however, I didn’t do the mad jump into the rush. I sat back and thought about how the tidal wive of commitments I’ve chosen could very easily come back and jump up to attempt to drown me once again.
So, I thought it was time to get back to what works for me – feelin’ groovy!!
The phenomenal duo of Simon & Garfunkel had many memorable songs, but one of my faves was The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) because the lyrics and the feel from the song give you perspective. Look at this:
“Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the mornin’ last. Just kickin’ down the cobblestones, Lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy. Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy.”
It may seem naive, or even a waste of time, for folks. That’s a shame. I know that when I woke up to head back into work and heard this song, I thought let’s try something renewed today. So, I was kinder to my family, excited to get to work, and geeked to see my friends and co-workers. I called some of my friends from the “social media space” just to check in and see how they were doing, etc.
The groove hasn’t left and I hope it doesn’t. As you approach your day, your work in HR and life in general, remember – HOW you approach it makes all the difference in the world.
I need to go kick some cobblestones now . . .
You arrive home after a long day at the office with lots of calls and meetings.
After doing a few household chores, it’s tempting to grab the television remote control, put your feet up and call for take out.
That’s fine … once in a while. However, do this night after night and you may find yourself out of shape, carrying extra pounds, and feeling less energetic overall.
So, how can you live a healthy lifestyle when you spend a great deal of time sitting at a desk and have a mile-long list of household and family obligations? Here are a few tips:
Schedule in Wellness
You schedule department meetings, interviews and conference calls at work. Why not schedule in exercise or sleep and relaxation at home? That’s right, open your calendar and mark off 30 or 45 minutes of time each day for your workout. You may want to have this at regular times so that exercising becomes routine in your life. In his book “Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” psychologist Barry Schwartz writes about how making an activity routine, or setting a rule of thumb (e.g., “I will workout right when I wake up.”) takes the recurring choice out of the equation. Instead of agonizing each day about whether or not to go for a power walk, have it scheduled so you just do it, as you would attend a morning department meeting.
Exercise, Even in Short Bouts
Now that it’s in your calendar, get your sneakers on and get moving! Research studies show that regular exercise helps prevent weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. It also can boost your immune system so you can fight viruses and bacteria before they keep you sick in bed.
How much exercise do you need? As little as two and a half hours per week of aerobic exercise like walking or bicycling is beneficial, with more exercise adding even greater health benefits. You can break your exercise up into multiple short bouts, say 15 minutes each, if it is more convenient than one long session.
A diet filled with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein helps you maintain energy, boost immunity and prevent unwanted weight gain. It’s a good idea to plan your family’s meals ahead of time. That way, you have the necessary ingredients and your not as tempted to pick up fast food or eat frozen dinners (often filled with sodium and saturated fats) at the last minute. Visit the USDA’s MyPlate to learn more about building a healthy plate of food.
Take Care of Your Body
Thomas Edison once said, “The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.” In order to ‘carry our brains around’ well, we need to take care of our bodies. Yes, that means avoiding those habits that sap our energy and increase our risk for chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. Chief culprits are smoking, drinking more than a serving of alcohol per day on average for us women, and not getting our recommended screenings (e.g., mammograms starting at age 40, pap smears starting at age 18, cholesterol tests).
Keep in mind that you aren’t going to live a perfectly healthy lifestyle ALL the time. That’s okay. It’s important to be nice to yourself and if you have a lazy day or eat a less healthy meal, move on and make the next day/meal healthy. Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services SmallStep website for ideas of small changes you can make to live healthier every day!
Photo credit iStockphoto
About the author: M. Courtney Hughes, PhD, is Founder of Approach Health, a data-driven health behavior change company. She is an expert in corporate disease management and wellness and enjoys working with employers on employee health promotion strategies and programs. Courtney lives in the Chicago area and can be found on Twitter as @ApproachHealth.
Remember when a simple jolt of caffeine or a little cocoa du jour were enough to snap you back to life? Combos of the two were delightfully invigorating.
What do you do, though, when your chocolate binge or triple espresso or monstrously bullish beverage are falling far short of five hours of energy? Start an I.V.? Yes, I mean, yikes! You’re probably under enough stress already; the aforementioned “medication” may just lead from metaphor to cardiac floor…in your local hospital. Since that scenario won’t serve you well as a leader, stop, take a breath, and give a little thought to what’s actually going on in you.
Stress, if it doesn’t kill you, leads to burnout. How do you know if you’re there? When those familiar feelings of post-lunch lethargy are no longer preceded by lunch or simply saying the phrase, “Leadership Challenges,” evokes a sigh, you’re probably there. Have you ever noticed when you have endless high-energy and excitement you are more alert, focused, positive and productive? Energy is what makes time more valuable. Energy makes time fly!
What’s eating your energy and what refuels it? Consider this: every thought, feeling and action expends or restores energy.
Beyond all the affirmation exercises, choose thoughts that are factually true and focus on reasonably possible, positive outcomes. For example: instead of, “We’ve cut everything we can, barely managed to survive the economic down-turn and now we’re not sure what to do next; think, “We’ve discovered and eliminated hidden waste, simplified our financial picture, maximized our efficiency and created a “lean, mean fighting machine.” The feeling that follows can’t help being more positive!
Feelings are influenced greatly by where, how and with whom you invest your time, so be keenly mindful of each. Find or create a place where you can simply “be.” One where you can go, virtually or actually, to release and re-set. Exercise – there’s a reason why this is always mentioned – your life, or at least quality of life, depends on it. Like it or not, there are people that are emotionally exhausting and those that are a font of positivity. Limit your time with the former…and be mindful of which one you are.
High performing leaders are fully engaged: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This doesn’t happen by accident. To a large degree, it happens through action and alignment. When you can align what you choose to do with how you want to feel and what you choose to think with your essential beliefs, you begin introduce alignment. When you create an environment that enables the people you lead to do the same, you ignite brilliance.
Leadership happens one conversation at a time. Devote at least five minutes of pre-meeting prep to think of 3 to 5 thought-provoking questions that will lead to a more productive meeting. Create internal alignment. Step back and ask yourself: What am I resisting? What am I judging? What am I attached to? You’ll gain clarity, insight and a foundation for momentum. Get more sleep, take a hike, improve one diet choice or simply change environments.
It’s all about integrating the concept of energy management with your everyday, “twenty things on your top-ten must do list” life.
So…where do you start?
I used to not work so much.
At the start of my career I did and when I began having children, I went part-time in my own staffing firm as Chairman on a board which consisted of my husband and myself. We sold that business and honored non-competes for three years while I had another kid. After the hiatus, we started up again, much the same as before, and I served as board member and advisor while mostly I chauffeured, volunteered and organized the lives of three little girls.
I kept in touch, however, and stayed involved, balancing personae of working mother and stay-at-home mom. 2009 brought shifts in business and changes at home, thrusting me full-on into a new role, completely unfamiliar and altogether strange. Finding myself suddenly a single/co-parent who commutes and cooks, I work more than full time as I try to keep up with what’s going on at school.
The thing about it is that I love my job and I love my kids.
Flashing back to the early days, my new mommy friends and I debated, at length, the merits of staying at home to nurture and to raise the kids versus the mental stimulation and economic benefits of returning to work. I now realize that life has twists and turns that we cannot foresee and for which we cannot plan and I do my best to enjoy the ride. The ride is sometimes hectic and manic, often stimulating and fun, and usually warm and fuzzy as I kiss my daughters, “Goodnight.”
Juggling between business woman to mom is fine. I just don’t like taking out the trash.
Photo credit iStock Photo
Employees who work crazy hours aren’t necessarily more productive. There is no advantage to employees working long hours and it may even be bad for their physical and mental health.
In Rework, a new book from the founders of 37signals, the authors call this “workaholism” and assert that it creates more problems than it solves them. Staying at work for long hours doesn’t automatically mean that more work is getting done or especially that good work is getting done.
Those who will work long hours will compensate by taking more breaks during the day or they become tired and increase the risk of making mistakes or becoming disorganized. Once that happens, they enter a bad cycle and have to work longer hours to compensate. And what about the pressure it puts on the other employees that leave at a normal time and feel bad or inadequate? As mentioned in Rework, ‘That leads to guilt and poor morale all around.”
Fortunately, we are starting to notice a shift with managers encouraging their employees to leave after their regular work hours to go home, see their family, visit with friends go to the gym, take to piano lessons, practice yoga or whatever it is they enjoy doing.
I’ve been on both sides through my career.
In the first 10 years, I was completely devoted to my work and probably didn’t have much of a life. I would get in the office very early and come out at 7pm every night. Completely exhausted and stressed out, I would go home most of the time to rest and prepare for the next day. And during the weekend, I would try to relax knowing that another intense week was around the corner. I always felt tired when I wasn’t working.
Today is very different. I am married and a mother of 2 young kids. I’m an athlete. I take time to get involved in with projects like with my HR association and as a member of the board for my children’s daycare.
I know the kind of work I use to do back then and what I’m able to do now. Because I am able to manage my hours, it’s very clear to me that I’m a better HR professional and my perspective on things has changed for the better. I react to things differently and what used to be important isn’t anymore. I’m a better judge when confronted with a complex and stressful situation and I’m surely not as emotionally involved.
I really love my job but it also doesn’t define me. When I’m in the office, I am efficient. I don’t waste time and make sure to do the things that are most important. And I have more energy and feel more organized in my head.
You don’t need to work long hours to be a great HR professional or whatever it is you do as a profession. What you need is time to stand back from work once in a while to be able to come back strong. And don’t you want to set a good example throughout your company?
So, what are you still doing at work at 6pm reading this blog?
Go home to see your family and friends, get involved in community work, learn to play hockey, start a new home project, take time with your love ones, enjoy a good book in your favorite couch . . . get the idea?