It’s time for working mothers to realize that having it all doesn’t have to mean doing it all—all at once. Small deeds can lead to big satisfaction at home and on the job.
Katie Bailey’s life is just about ideal. The 33-year-old Colorado mom has a great job as a post-secondary coach who helps low-income high school kids prepare for college; a terrific 2-year-old, Henry (and another baby on the way); and a husband, Connor, whom she calls her best friend. In fact, four months into motherhood, things looked so good that when the family took a trip to Hawaii, Katie congratulated herself: “Hey, we can do it all!”
Well, almost all. “I was so tired, it was hard to really enjoy the trip—especially my time with Connor,” Katie admits. And once back at work she was stretched even thinner. While she felt she “could be doing more in all areas,” if she could make just one change, it would be in her relationship with her husband. Katie feels—and here comes the million-dollar word—guilty that she’s not doing enough. “Ideally I’d have the energy to have a glass of wine with my husband and really be present at the end of each day,” she says, “but usually all I want to do is sleep or watch TV or read.”
Yep, it’s that “have it all” thing again. We working moms continue to torment ourselves about doing more—and doing it perfectly—in every area, from parenting to marriage to housekeeping to career advancement. But we need to fight this desire and realize we are doing it all, just not all at once. Sound unrealistic? experts say there are small changes you can make that will nudge you a step closer to your ideal without wrecking your sanity. Here are 10 “shoulds” working mothers plague themselves about, and then tips to help you get the most bang for your buck in work, family, love and life. caveat: Don’t try these all at once.
1. Career Building
Almost Perfect I work really hard at the office and put in more time once the kids are asleep. and I network, mostly virtually, via Linkedin and such.
But I should be making more connections with senior people during and after work if I want to win that next promotion.
Easy Does It Find a sponsor. “It’s the biggest investment a woman can make in career progression,” says economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, PhD, president of the center for talent innovation and author of Sponsor Effect 2.0. “You need someone senior in your organization who’ll champion you when your name comes up for a promotion—not an old-style mentor who just gives advice. Having a sponsor is how well-qualified women break through to the top.”
2. Kid Time
Almost Perfect Weekends are for family, and during the week I try to make it to soccer games and recitals.
But I should be spending more moments with my children every day, like my mom did with me.
Easy Does It First, drop the comparison: today’s working moms actually spend as much time with their kids as stay-at-home moms did in the ’60s and ’70s, says Kei Nomaguchi, PhD, associate professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Second, make your time together really count: turn off your iPhone. “Kids want focused time with their parents,” adds Dr. Nomaguchi. “It doesn’t have to be long— 20 minutes may be enough—but give them all your attention.”
3. Personal Health
Almost Perfect I get in a 20-minute walk every day, no excuses (unless something comes up with the kids or work).
But I should be doing more to get into better shape—running, spinning, weight training, maybe a killer boot camp.
Easy Does It Do your 20, but pick up the pace. “Intervals—alternating some minutes of intense effort with some of moderate exercise—are very potent,” says Gretchen Reynolds, the Phys Ed columnist for the New York Times and author of The First 20 Minutes. One study shows that adding as little as six minutes of hard-as-you-can-push exercise in a week delivers the same fitness benefits as hours of a moderate workout. And hey, your walk is already cutting your risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Another small but mighty maneuver: Stand up every half hour at your desk and move your body a bit.
4. Love Connection
Almost Perfect My partner and I go out for a romantic dinner once or twice an month–and try not to talk about the kids.
But I should be making sure we have a date night once a week and some intimate time every day.
Easy Does It Figure out how much couple time is really “enough,” given your life, and do your best to commit to it. “Research shows that when women feel they’re not spending enough time with their partner, it affects their well-being, though not men’s,” says Dr. Nomaguchi. and as with kids, turn off your cells and focus on each other, even if it’s for 15 minutes.
Almost Perfect When younger 5 staffers seek me out, I’m generous with my advice and time.
But I should be actively mentoring my company’s up-and-comers. Paying it forward is the right thing to do.
Easy Does It Take on a promising protégé or two and sponsor them. “Having a powerful posse behind you—a group of younger colleagues attached to your coattails—isn’t just about paying it forward. It also has real value for you,” asserts Dr. Hewlett. “In the long run, it’s a reciprocal deal— another way to build your career, too.”
Almost Perfect I manage about six hours a night and try to catch up on weekends—if the kids don’t come in and jump on the bed.
But I should get eight hours. That’s the gold standard, right?
Easy Does It Think of getting enough sleep as a smart career tactic, and set your alarm so you score at least seven hours. A University of Pennsylvania study found that less doesn’t cut it for most of us (Martha Stewart and Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi excepted). Research subjects getting six hours a night struggled to focus their attention, had slower response times, tended to go off task and even drifted into “microsleep” while sitting at a computer. In another study, subjects getting seven hours did better; eight, better still.
7. Family Dinners
Almost Perfect I make sure we eat healthy food, even if it’s takeout and we’re eating on the run to extracurricular activities.
But I should be serving a balanced home-cooked meal every night with everyone around the table. Isn’t that what good moms do?
Easy Does It Don’t worry about home cooking if it’s not your thing, but do sit down to dinner together as often as you can. Family meals boast an outrageous ROI: Kids who eat with their family five or more times a week are more content, say there’s less stress at home, believe they can confide in their parents and get better grades than those who do it fewer than three times a week, according to Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. And teens are less likely to drink or smoke tobacco or marijuana.
Almost Perfect I handle the laundry, the dishes and the dust bunnies. My partner helps some, and the kids do, too. But sometimes it’s harder to get them going, and they don’t do things my way.
But I should be keeping a squeaky-clean house like my mom did.
Easy Does It Lose the idea of a perfectly clean house and enlist your troops to do more—their way. When you feel the division of labor’s too lopsided, especially between you and hubby (and it likely is, since moms in full-time dual-earner couples spend four more hours a week on housework than dads do), it doesn’t just affect your well-being, it weighs on the whole family, says Dr. Nomaguchi. and start the kids on chores young: A University of Minnesota researcher found that the best predictor of success for young adults was whether they’d done chores as preschoolers.
Almost Perfect I spend time in my kids’ classrooms a couple of times a month and help out with field trips when I can.
But I should be leading the PTA or at least the school fundraiser. I’ve got the skills that could really make a difference. And then there’s the soup kitchen ...
Easy Does It Take the long view. Right now, family and work are your priorities. If you can volunteer some, great, and you’ll be able to handle more later. You’re probably already doing more than most of us: According to a recent Volunteering in America report, while 63 million adults average about 2.5 volunteer hours a week, a big majority of us don’t log any at all.
10. Me Time
Almost Perfect I try to sneak in a pedicure or a quick coffee by myself or with a girlfriend when I’m running Saturday’s bazillion errands. Other than that, does a shower count?
But I should be spending more time thinking, planning, problem-solving, dreaming and nurturing friendships.
Easy Does It Schedule a date with yourself (and a friend, if you like) once a week, and put it on the family calendar. To fit it in, drop one errand or do one less chore (or hand it over to your kids and/or partner). If you think taking time for yourself is selfish, get over it. “A mom’s sense of well-being is crucial to her and to the well-being of her kids,” says Dr. Nomaguchi. “If she’s constantly stressed or depressed, it affects her kids negatively. When she feels balanced and satisfied, it’s better for her and her children.” So “me time” actually translates to “we time.” Hmmm, almost perfect.