Women face multitudes of challenges each and every day.
I personally have struggled with challenges most of my adult life. One that consistently shows up in therapy sessions with clients is the seemingly impossible quest to obtain balance with family and career.
As much as we would like to believe we can have it all, it still feels that we have to make a decision and choose either one.
In many cases, two incomes are needed to support a household. If we get that job out of college, and begin doing great things in the business world, how do we announce that we are shifting gears to start a family?
But if we focus on finding love, getting married and making babies, we feel as though we are falling behind in the career world.
Why do we have to shift gears to accommodate all our life’s desires?
Women are often scared of telling their potential employers of their plans to have families for fear that they will be discriminated against and not get the job. Female professionals in the workplace refrain from announcing pregnancies to peers and supervisors for fear of negative response—there tends to be a perception that once we have kids, our work performance slips.
I firmly disagree.
Generally, the US system lacks flexibility and does not adjust to fit the needs of Mothers and Fathers in the workplace. We struggle each day to get it all done, and rarely feel successful.
When I became a Mom, my health became more of a priority, so it dramatically improved. My self-awareness heightened, my strengths blossomed and I learned how to tunnel my “motherhood skills” into my work, which helped me to read people better and connect more authentically.
I find that when things are operating on all cylinders at home, I am less engaged with work, and when I am succeeding at work, something slips, gets forgotten, missed, or I feel less connected at home.
Can we really have it all?
Why does this balance feel impossible?
Here are a few lessons I’ve gleaned from my “balancing act” years:
1.The system is not set up for us to achieve balance.
We still live in a world where it is frowned upon to take a short maternity leave, and most men do not get a leave at all. We abide by the rules and leave our babies at six weeks to three months of age, then when we come back to work, we are a mess. We are not ready. The guilt comes rushing in that we left too soon, and we wonder how that will impact our kids. How can we focus, engage, and thrive in the workplace when we are experiencing these intense feelings?
2. We have unrealistic expectations from society—both those that we place on ourselves and each other.
On TV we see the skinny, beautiful, happy Moms holding their non-burping babies while dressed up perfect business casual attire…please! This is not my reality. It’s amazing I make it out of the house with a bra on, and I’m always forget a thing or two—my planner, my son’s homework, the permission slip, workout clothes. Instead of accepting the glorious mess, we judge and compare ourselves to other Moms to appear to have it all together. Comparisons don’t help, and what we see on TV is not reality.
Can’t we just begin to celebrate the messes we are together and laugh about it?
3. We hide in our Mommy shame rather than reaching out and sharing our struggles courageously.
We like to be perceived as that working Mom on television, trying hard not to be found out. But I say, let’s all expose ourselves at once. Let’s say it together: “Being a working Mom is tough. I never feel like I have it all together, I have not achieved the perfect balance, but I am doing the best I can, and that is enough!”
Once we reach out and share our struggles, we are no longer isolated and we immediately begin to feel better. Connect by joining a support group, having a girls’ night out, calling a friend or a neighbor. Talk to your Mother if possible—as she will surely remember how tough it was.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
There were so many times in my young professional life that I would be torn from the inside out because I felt guilty asking for time off to attend my son’s events or just be with my family. I felt bad if I had to leave early or ask another Mom to pick my son up from school.
But if I wasn’t there for all those special moments with my son, I felt even worse. What’s the lesser of two evils?
If we were to have work environments that embraced parenthood, we wouldn’t have to choose. Although many employers are working to improve this mindset, we have a long way to go. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
As I look back, I wish I didn’t carry the guilt for doing what was best for me and my family. Now, I ask for what I need and I have realized all along I was harder on myself than my supervisors and employers ever were. I had this image of what a working Mom was and when I didn’t see myself upholding that image, I became extremely critical.
5. Identify transferrable skills.
If you are creative enough to get on the floor and play make-believe with your toddler, you have creative energy you could be applying to your work. If you are great at negotiating and mediating at work, you can leverage those skills to argue with your teenager.
We tend to fall into this trap of having two or three identities—the Mom, the professional and the crazy wild one that comes out when my son it at his Dad’s and I am off work! Why can’t we tap role strengths and use these interchangeably in our personal and professional lives?
It’s already challenging to wear so many different hats, so how can we make the transition a bit more organic and true to who we are? I used to try to control my emotions at work for fear of being labeled unstable. Now, I bring work home and I bring life to work if I have to. Maintaining rigid, self-imposed roles like this is simply too much to manage. Integration of all parts of who we are into one authentic identity is part of the process of accepting and loveing ourselves.
I am a lot of things, and I can be all of them everywhere I go—within reason, of course. I can’t necessarily bring the wild one into a work presentation or to my son’s parent/teacher conference, for instance. But by choosing to be true to my self, I can shine brighter in the world and connect with people.
Not everyone will like and appreciate me all the time, so I might as well stop trying and just be. This brings a sense of relief that gives me more energy to do and to enjoy the important things in my life.
As women, we should not have to choose between career or family—both are endeavours we are allowed to indulge in and experience. We should not be shamed or judged for taking maternity leave and for coming back exhausted and emotional. We should be supported through this phase with family, friends and yes, professionals who can assist with coping and stress management skills required for these life transitions.
We may not ever achieve the ultimate balance, but if we can just be who we are happily and confidently, we are doing more than enough. If we can relinquish the pressure to fit the standard and allow ourselves to enjoy the chaos, we can truly relish this crazy ride.
Remind yourself to slow down and take a deep breath.
You are doing a great job!
Author: Brooke Jean
Volunteer Editor: Tess Estandarte / Editor: Renée Picard