With 40-plus hour work weeks, young children tugging at you and a laundry list of household to-dos, it seems a superhuman feat for a career mom to do it all, and stay sane.
It's possible, some experts say, and in fact many women prove so every day. But some strategies are essential.
"When you're a working mom you have to figure out creative ways to make it work," said Michelle LaRowe, executive director of the International Nanny Association and author of "Working Mom's 411" (Regal Books, 2009).
Here are some tips to help you along the way:
Embrace your choice
Women are sometimes torn between heading to work and staying at home with infants or young children. A 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center found that men and women mostly agreed that a full-time working mother isn't best for a young child. And while more than 50 percent of dads say the ideal situation for a child is to have a mom who doesn't work, nearly 50 percent of moms say part-time work would benefit a child the most.
Full-time work, then, can lead to feelings of guilt. "Just because you feel guilty doesn't mean you are guilty," LaRowe told LiveScience. "That's very important for working moms. They can so easily get caught up in the emotional aspects of going to work."
And so at the end of the day, LaRowe recommends: "You have to embrace your choice. If you know you've made the right choice for your family then that's all that matters."
Gather a Momtourage
"Find the people, places and things in your community that support you and can make your life easier so you can get more time to do what you need to do during your day," LaRowe said. "You have to get your momtourage." But that doesn't mean assembling a large herd of helpers, says Russell Matthews of the Department of Psychology at Louisiana State University. "The larger your social network, the more likely people are going to be drawing on you as well," Matthews points out.
Set up childcare
"You absolutely, without a doubt, have to secure quality childcare," LaRowe said. Traditional daycare or nannies are not the only options, she adds. For instance, moms can swap childcare duties with another mom, or have friends or relatives provide stints of care during the days when your child isn't at a daycare center.
There's always a partner or spouse, though some research has shown moms don't always ask for help. Mothers and fathers can do split-shift childcare, particularly if one parent works from home. That way, dad can watch the kids in the evenings while mom works in her home office.
Take 'Me' time
"If you are very involved in your work and in your family, the first thing you're going to start taking time away from is yourself," Matthews said during a telephone interview. He recommends taking that pottery or cooking class, or just some R and R for yourself.
He realizes such advice is easier said than done. "They need the bubble bath but they can't take the bubble bath because they need to clean up the kid who just threw up on themselves," Matthews said. That's when mom's social support group comes in, he added. Asking a partner or friend to, say, pick up the kids from school, while you take an hour for yourself could be just what the doctor ordered.
"A lot of folks know they need to do this stuff, but it's trying to figure out how to do it" that proves challenging, he added.
Create flexible boundaries
When kids are sick, mom might have to miss a meeting at work, or if there's an overload at work, that means less time with the family. While some of this give-and-take is okay, Matthews doesn't recommend too much of it. (He realizes taking care of a sick kid is a must.)
"You don't want to constantly take a resource from one domain and give it to another. That can become very depleting and very exhausting," Matthews said. "My recommendation is focus on one domain at a time."
That doesn't mean putting up impenetrable walls between your work and family life. For instance, he explained, moms who work from home could set some boundaries and communicate these with family members. One boundary: "When my door is shut that means I'm working and not available at the drop of a hat." For offsite moms, a boundary could mean letting your boss know you can stay late sometimes but there are certain nights you must be home to take your kids to soccer practice or another activity, Matthews said.
"Working moms have to be super organized," LaRowe said. "For example when you have school-age children, you can spend so much time looking for shoes and homework, if you have a place for everything you could avoid the scavenger hunt in the morning."
On her blog, LaRowe recommends keeping a small notebook with you with a running list of items you need at the store, projects you need to complete and daily appointments. That way you can save time by making fewer trips to the supermarket.
Make meals easy
"The crock pot is the working mom's best friend," LaRowe said. In addition, rather than spending hours at the grocery store, she says, order groceries online to be delivered. Some moms are already skimping on the gourmet front, as some research is showing they are turning to fast-food restaurants for meals.
Put kids to bed early
LaRowe says children elementary-school age and younger should have lights out by no later than 8 p.m. That gives kids a healthy amount of sleep and parents some time alone.
- Modern Moms: More Work, More Guilt
- The Science of Raising Children
- Video - A Mother's Touch
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Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.