Is There Really Balance as a Working Mom?

working mother greeting children

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In today's world, many moms work both inside and outside of the home. We want it all and we should be able to have it, but is it realistic? Achieving a perfect work-life balance would assume that both parts are created equal, 50/50, and that you can divide your time accordingly. Doing so will result in satisfaction and happiness both at home and at work, right?

The reality is that whether you work from home, part-time, full-time, or have a flexible or rigid schedule, it can't be perfect all the time. Somewhere along the line sacrifices will be made. The best balance is different for everyone. For some of us, this will depend on our ability to find help, while for others it may come down to scheduling, time management, or flexibility.

We have heard from a number of working moms, and found that they share lots of commonalities; they are working hard, and should be able to have the best of both worlds.

We've learned that balance can be found once you are able to define it, set boundaries, ask for help, be realistic and kind to yourself and to each other. It's not always easy, not always perfect, and often very tiring, but imperfect balance is possible.

Find Your Definition of Balance

Constant even balance is probably unrealistic because there will be times when one responsibility takes over more of your life than the other. For example, when your child is sick you'll need to be mommy 100 percent, or if you have a deadline you might have to make a family sacrifice to get your work done.

The first thing you must do is define what balance means to you and don't compare yourself to others. Let's say you have a big job, with big responsibilities. That probably means that you can't pick up the kids from school or that you may miss some of their activities, but that doesn't mean you are doing a bad job at being a mom.

For these types of moms, finding balance may be defined as disconnecting from work when they are home. Leaving phones, tablets, and computers off during dinner time, and committing family time to weekends is one example of how balance can be achieved.

But, this may also mean that they have to work when the kids go to sleep and sacrifice their rest. It doesn't work for everyone, but it works for them.

Some other moms define balance as being able to work a few days a week. They may have not have to be or want to be the breadwinner and can afford to work part-time so that they can keep their foot in their career door, go to work, get out of the house, and engage with adults. These moms find balance by working part-time and are also able to do drop off and pick up, after school activities, and attend to other household priorities.

The bottom line is your definition will vary based on your job, your support, your wants, and priorities. The right equation that makes you happy and works for your family will likely be different than your neighbor. And as your job changes and your kids get older, this may also change. All of that is okay. Continue to redefine your definition of balance and be honest with your partner about your needs, wants, and level of happiness.

Separate Work From Home

Easier said than done, but moms say that when they do do it, it works. Ever worry about work when you are with the kids or worry about the kids when you are work? This happens to all different types of working moms frequently. The best way to conquer this is to set boundaries and attempt as best as possible to separate work and home.

For example, you may set a rule that when you are with the kids you don't work and when you are at work you don't do things for the kids. This may not work for everyone, considering the high demands of both work and home. Some moms suggest putting their phones on silent when they get home and not answering emails, phone calls, or texts at designated times. Because most moms can't silence their phones at work, this probably won't work vice versa, but you may make a rule for yourself that you will only do kid stuff during your lunch.

That time can be spent doing whatever you want—enjoying a nice lunch, meeting a friend, running errands, etc. Another way moms separate work from home is by not working on weekends, or if you have weekend shifts or must work on weekends, not feeling guilty about having your partner, relative, or friend take over when you are not around. A guilty mommy serves no purpose for anyone. When your child sees you working hard, you are teaching them values. Don't let yourself feel guilty for that.

Schedule the Time

Schedules are super helpful and important, particularly to women who have little flexibility in their schedules. For example, teachers have limited flexibility while they are at work. They have to be at work early and while they may get off earlier than others, when they are teaching they can't run an errand or leave school.

Schedules can help carve out some much needed "me" time, but this takes discipline and consistency. For some moms this works at night when everyone is asleep. When all the kiddos are tucked away in their beds, many moms enjoy this time to veg out and watch a show, to read, or just relax with a cup of tea. For others, scheduling exercise, friend time, or a nail appointment may be important.

The key is to have it on the schedule so that you can't let it slide. Additionally, calendars, to-do lists and shared schedules help to organize activities, deadlines, and other important events.

If you can, make a list each day and prioritize the essential things versus the things that you want to get done. You'll be surprised at how great it feels to check things off.

Practice Self Care

Most moms sacrifice something to make family and work happen smoothly. Whether they are sacrificing sleep (to work or to get other home errands done) or skipping meals due to chaotic schedules (this is not recommended), some sort of sacrifice is being made.

But, finding even a few minutes for oneself during the day can help mentally. A happy mommy has a happy home. If you are not at your best (physically and mentally), both your family life and your work life will suffer. Whether its getting your hair or nails done, exercising, meditating, taking 10 minutes to drink a cup of coffee in silence, making yourself a yummy meal where you take time to sit down and eat, or scheduling a girls night, self care is extremely important.

Repeat this affirmation: "Self care is not selfish." Think of it this way, practicing self care teaches your children to love themselves and helps you be the best version of you. It's a win-win for everyone. When you are feeling good mentally and physically, you are sharper and have more patience. When you take care of yourself, you are better equipped to take care of others and are happier doing it.

Ask for Help or Hire Someone (If Possible)

Many moms today don't want to ask for help or feel guilty asking for help. They think they should be able to do it all. But that's just not fair or realistic. Asking for help is actually a sign of strength. It represents an understanding that you know what you need.

You can ask your partner to help you unload the dishwasher or a neighbor to carpool your children. Perhaps you ask your children to help with the laundry, cut and wash produce, or take out the dog. Some moms need to hire babysitters to take care of their children after school when they work.

If you find that you are running around in a million directions, rushing from place to place to maximize time you have with or without kids, then you probably could use more help. This might be a tough one for some moms, but carving out even a small amount of time where you have assistance in an activity can be very helpful, and make everything run more smoothly.

Disconnect to Reconnect

We live in a world of instant gratification, constant stimulation, and so much distraction. Phones are now a universal device—we use them to check our kids sports schedules, to order house supplies, and to work. But, there needs to be some separation. Many moms say that setting boundaries with the work phone when they are with their kids is very important.

For example, you may set a no tech time from 530pm-730pm. Between these hours you are home with your children, and are not answering work calls, emails, or dealing with the schedule. Many moms say that disconnecting and creating boundaries has helped them to relieve some anxiety and develop a deeper sense of presence. When you are more present, you are not only happier and less anxious, but you are less likely to miss fine details and forget important events both at work and at home.

Find a Shortcut and Simplify

One of the biggest complaints working moms have is simply finding the time to get it all done. Finding a shortcut to save on time can allow you more time for work or the kids.

For example, some moms say that ordering groceries online helps them to save time on food shopping and meal prep. Nowadays, companies such as Instacart offer services that provide same day delivery from major stores, such as Target and Costco. These types of services require either a small delivery fee or monthly subscription. If a product isn't available, no problem, your personal shopper will provide you with something comparable.

Or another option is curb-side pickup. Many stores allow you to shop online and pick up your supplies at a designated location at the store. Oftentimes they even have someone walk your groceries or household items to your car. Other moms like to create a dinner schedule for the week so that they do not have to think about dinners. This type of preparation also ensures that they have all ingredients on hand to make meals. Another option is a meal delivery system. You can select a few different recipes and have all the ingredients sent to your house for assembly.

Some moms told us that another way they find balance through simplicity is by making a conscious decision to not "overbook" their families. For example, some moms who work full-time have chosen to enroll their kids in less activities (not none, just less) so that they can enjoy more quality time with them on the weekends. They feel that it makes life less stressful because they don't have to worry about running all over the place.

Quick tip: you don't have to say yes to every single birthday party or every single activity. It's okay to say no sometimes, in fact, it's likely beneficial.

Accept Some Imperfections

Many of us would like to have a perfectly neat house, organized laundry, properly fed children, and tidiness throughout our home. It makes our lives easier and eliminates clutter anxiety which most people struggle with, especially when you have multiple kids.

The trouble arises when we are constantly breaking our backs trying to make it all happen all the time. Sustaining this type of lifestyle can be extremely taxing both mentally and physically. The best way to approach this is to accept that not everything can be just right all the time.

Decide what's most important to you and let a few other things slide. For example, if a clean kitchen before bed makes you feel less stressed in the morning, than make it a point to have the dishes in the dishwasher and sink cleaned each night. If a few dishes in the sink doesn't bother you—let it slide. Once you figure out what you "need" to happen to make things run smoothly, you may be less stressed if a coat or hat is out of place.

Another good tip is to get your children involved from early on. Make sure they put their coats and shoes in the same spot daily so you aren't running around in the morning looking for them. Giving them responsibilities will not only help you out, but will make them more independant. Let them pick out their clothes for school so you aren't scrambling to get them dressed. If they aren't matched perfectly, it's okay. Compromise on a few things that you are willing to be imperfect and you will likely save on time and sanity.

Make a Mommy Alliance

Find your community of moms that you click with. These are the women who've got your back, are pleasant to be around, and don't judge you. Reach out to them for advice and for help when you need it. Set up carpools or playdates. Schedule time to be with them outside of sports.

Get to know them and bounce ideas off each other. In addition to making a new friend, you are likely to learn from each other and realize that everyone's journey through motherhood is different and that no one has it all together all the time.

Be Kind. Don't Judge. Everyone's Situation is Different.

The grass is always greener on the other side. Perhaps you are yearning to work from home or to work part-time because another's moms' life looks easier and better. Odds are that mom is struggling with some of the same struggles you are. Her story isn't exactly the same, but she is still trying to be a great mom, raise awesome little people, and do well at her job. Instead of judging her, get to know her. You may learn something that can be helpful to your situation.

A Word From Verywell

Finding balance at home and work means constantly reflecting on what you need and want, and what works for your family. Some moms have difficulty asking for help, while others really struggle with carving out time for themselves. Whatever you are struggling with, know that you are not alone. Take the time to define your meaning of balance and create that for yourself and your family.

Keep in mind that we are all in this together; it certainly takes a village to raise kids. At times it might feel wild and out of control, but if you can find your support, be kind to yourself, and refrain from judging yourself and others, you'll find your balance. You may sway from it from time to time, but that's part of the parenting process. Don't be afraid to ask for help and don't be afraid of change. Whether you have a flexible or rigid schedule you'll find a way to make it work and your children will love you for it.

By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.