I’ve been a working mom the entirety of my children’s lives. I never intended to go down that path. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, because growing up in the South, in the church, that is the traditional, obvious path.
Life throws you curveballs though, and when my husband lost his job shortly after we found out we were expecting our first child, leaving the workplace after having him was no longer an option. So I stayed in it, and I will be the first to say I have no regrets.
Being a mom is tough, no matter how you slice it. Stay-at-home moms have one set of challenges, and working moms have another, and neither group of parents can really say the other has it any easier. Working parenthood is what I know, and I have struggled over the last 12 years or so to achieve a balance. It’s not perfect, but no parenting journey is. It is what works for me, and maybe some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way will help some other working parents achieve a better balance in their lives.
1. Compartmentalization is your friend
As much as possible, focus on what’s in front of you. If you are at work, focus on work. When you are home, focus on being present at home, with your family. In these modern times of flexible work arrangements, you might be working at home, during non-traditional work hours. Your kids might be home, too.
I will admit, my kids love screens. I love screens. Technology is their future, and I generally don’t have strong limits on how much of it they deal with (though I do stay aware of what they are watching and have access to). They will tell you that their dad and I spend the bulk of the day in front of a computer or phone, and that’s completely accurate and can’t be helped; it’s how we do what we do. But when I switch to my “mom” hat, I’m not answering work calls or emails. I’m focused on them and try to make that time count.
2. Paid time off is a gift. Don’t waste it.
In my job, we plan our paid time off, or PTO, for the whole year at once. Some employers do this quarterly or monthly. Your employer may be very generous with PTO. Some companies are even going to an “unlimited” version of PTO. Other employers are more limited with their offerings. No matter how much PTO or vacation time you have, use it well.
My plan this year with my generous PTO allotment was to take one week a quarter, and every other month, plan one long weekend. Now, this did not leave me a lot of extra days. But planning my time out like this gives me always a break to look forward to, especially when I am feeling run down and burnt out.
Many employers allow you to carry over some time year to year. My advice – unless you have a particular need coming up, like maternity leave, a surgical recovery period, or extended vacation, don’t carry it over. Use it. Your mental health is important, and using those days helps balance out the time away from your family to focus on them, and on yourself.
I use my time for appointments, errands, going to eat lunch with my kids at school (when pandemic precautions permit it), and sometimes just to relax and read a book in the quiet of a kid-free house. Companies consider PTO and vacation time a benefit offering like health insurance or vision coverage. Make sure you are making the most of yours!
3. Drop the ball or pass it off
Motherhood often feels like a juggling act. We have the housework ball, the childcare ball, the work ball, the romantic relationship ball, the health ball, and there are others thrown in there, depending on your circumstances.
Quite honestly, every mom I admire, picks a ball to drop or pass off. Maybe it’s the housework ball for you. What that looks like in real life is standards of cleanliness slides a bit. Or maybe you can budget to outsource some of the cleaning. Maybe your children and spouse pick up that ball instead. That particular ball is the easiest to drop or pass off.
Childcare passing the ball might mean finding ways for you to step away and let someone else take over so you can pick up your mental health ball. For me, this meant letting my husband take over one night a week for a month so I could take a painting class. Sometimes it means a last-minute moms night out with a friend who needs support as much as I do.
Work-Life balance is no easy feat. It takes work, planning, and a healthy support system. Managing to create the best work-life balance possible helps me be the best parent I can be to my kids, demonstrates to each of them the value of hard work, and helps me be the best employee I can be at work.
I love being a working mom, and even though that was not my original plan, now I can’t imagine life any other way.