By Elizabeth Bales Frank
Work-life coach Amber Rosenberg recently released a survey citing guilt as a top challenge for working mothers. Fast on the heels of this not-so-happy announcement came a story in the Wall Street Journal detailing a study conducted by a graduate student in sociology which concluded that working mothers who accept that they can’t do it all are less prone to depression.
Although it’s easy to tell a working mother to accept that she can’t do it all, it might be more effective to deliver that message of acceptance to her boss, clients, spouse and children. In the meantime, how to deal with all that multi-tasking and all those expectations?
“Women in particular have more trouble delegating,” says Deborah Epstein Henry. Henry, a consultant and speaker on work-life challenges who runs the website Law and Reorder, is a former litigator and a mother of three. “Take an assessment of what’s on your plate and determine what you need to be involved in.”
Further, “When people allocate time that’s really protected, they feel less guilty,” Henry adds. This may entail more than sending laundry out and ordering dinner in. It may involve enlisting an administrative assistant to monitor email messages during a personal blackout period on the Blackberry and entrusting entire duties, not just specific tasks, to another – for example, not just picking up milk, but the whole duty of grocery shopping.
And of course, to delegate means you have to let go of micro-managing.
In a piece written for Lisa Belkin’s New York Times blog Motherlode, advertising executive and mother of five Kerry Lyons specifies:
“*Treat your kids like colleagues or clients. I would never yell at my clients or suggest that something must get done at work simply ‘because I said so.’ In the office, there is a prevailing sense of mutual respect that I think I’d do well to apply more frequently at home.
“*Treat your colleagues and clients more like kids. Showing some empathy in the workplace goes a long way toward building those ever important relationships. Co-workers, like kids, like to feel appreciated and valued. While I’m quick to praise a tiny tot for a job well done (using the potty or setting the table, for example), I think I’d do well to more frequently let my colleagues know how grateful I am for all they do.”
And in an astute blog post at Working Mother magazine’s website Ellenore Angelidis recounts an anecdote involving one of her sons, who wonders why she doesn’t cook the same elaborate meals as a friend’s mom does. Although her initial reactions are guilt and defensiveness, Angelidis chooses to explain calmly, “I have to make hard choices about how I spent my time and right now that has not been priority.”
Her son accepted this explanation, but the conversation also helped her realize that such meals were important to her son, and she made it a point to readjust her schedule to include them when she could.
Henry is a strong advocate of scheduling and routine, and of reassessing that routine on a regular basis. “Force yourself to have coveted time,” she advises. “One time each day which is protected time. Decide to devote that time to your kids, yourself or your work.”
Children welcome structure and many professions measure success by the hour, so treat the schedule as your ally and not your bully. Commit to it, reassess it periodically, and communicate it to everyone who will be affected by it.
You can multi-task. But do it thoughtfully. Henry cites a few examples. Say you need to work out, but you haven’t seen one of your close girlfriends in ages. Voilà – work out with your friend. You need to take a CLE class and could use some bonding time with a client: suggest that you take the CLE class together. If volunteering is important to you: give your time to something your kids can participate in with you.
Ellenore Angelidis recommends learning to “revel in the messiness, joy and exploration inherent in this type of juggling.”
A simple tip is to focus on what is being done in the moment. Not on what is not being done, or what needs to be done, or what else you could be doing.
Remember that you’re juggling, not struggling (even if you feel like you’re struggling). And you’re not alone. Avail yourself of the resources out there, from books like Henry’s, to The Glass Hammer’s own working moms group on our social network, to the quite specific blog Working Moms Against Guilt. Wonder how they came up with that one?