The Top 3 Hurdles Working Moms Face and 3 Ways to Clear Them
Being a parent is arguably the most challenging and rewarding thing you will ever undertake in your life. It’s true across all genders, ethnicities, and social demographic groups. Parenting is hard work. If you are a parent that is not a working mom, I am not saying you have it easy. No parent does. But, research shows that working moms face unique hurdles that other parents may not. We’ll go over the top three working mom hurdles and three tips for clearing those hurdles.
The Top 3 Hurdles to Success
Working Mom Hurdle #1: Shame and/or Guilt
While all parents feel some shame and/or guilt, working moms corner the market. It is natural for a mother to want to be present for and involved with the growth and development of her child. In the past, almost all women cared for the home and raised the children instead of pursuing careers. But, times have changed. It is more socially acceptable for a woman to want to work. In many larger U.S. cities, the cost of living is so high that couples with children have little choice but to have both parents work full time. It’s no wonder that more and more devoted mothers also have careers.
Society may be okay with women having careers, but it does not seem okay with your work being at the sacrifice of your family. The expectations for working men and women are different. While men now take on more of the caretaker role than in generations past, studies show the housekeeping and child-rearing burden still largely falls on the mother. You may come home from work just as tired as your spouse, but that isn’t supposed to stop you from having perfect kids, keeping a spotless house, and serving homemade, well-balanced meals. How dare you think that you’d get some slack!
You won’t get much slack at work, either. Your employer may claim to be a parent-friendly workplace, but they notice when you have to leave in the middle of the day to pick up Johnny because he’s come down with a fever. Co-workers that don’t have children complain that those with kids get special treatment. They don’t realize the “extra time off” is spent cleaning up puke puddles while panicking about all the deadlines you are now falling behind on.
In short, shame and guilt go hand in hand with being a working mom in our society. When your list of essential tasks is longer than you are tall and constantly growing, it feels like all you do is fail. You feel bad about not having it together like you think you should. Instagram and Facebook make it seem like all the other working moms have their isht together.
Truth is, they don’t. No one does. We’re all faking it. Your super-put-together friend feels shame and guilt too. She also feels…
Working Mom Hurdle #2: Burnout
All that shame and guilt leads to burnout. When you’re feeling guilty and shameful about not being that all-around perfect Super Mom, you work extra hard to try and become her. You push yourself harder at work, skipping lunch and breaks to maximize productivity. (Skipping breaks will lower your productivity, not raise it, but we’ll get into that later). You push yourself harder at home, insisting on a home-cooked meal even on those nights when you want to order a pizza and kick your feet up. You spend more time with the kids, trying to soak up every moment with them like a sponge soaks up water. Only your sponge can’t soak much up because it’s full and hasn’t been allowed to dry out.
The harder you try to be Super Mom, the harder you crash. It’s inevitable. A car cannot run with an empty fuel tank, and neither can you. When you burn the candle at both ends, you will burn out. You might wake up with raging flu or a migraine that keeps you locked in a dark, silent room unable to function. This is the body begging for the rest it was not getting.
Remember that co-worker or friend that you think does manage to have it all together? Not only does she feel shame and guilt, and suffer from burnout, but she also faces…
Working Mom Hurdle #3: Professional Impact
If you got into your career because you are passionate about it and it is your calling, this one hits you harder than those that work because they have to, but I believe that all working moms suffer to some degree. When you devote eight or more hours of your weekdays (and probably additional time on the weekends) to something, you expect to have an impact. You expect to be recognized for your hard work and contributions. Normal, right?
Except when you’re up for a big promotion, your boss only remembers the extra days you were out cleaning up puke puddles and not the way you initiated a new process that streamlined operations and increased profits. That time you had to work from home after school for a week because the daycare staff all got COVID caused you to miss an impromptu opportunity to lead a team for a high-profile project, simply because you were not there to volunteer. You went to a better university than your male colleague and have more experience, but he makes 30% more than you because he never took time off for maternity leave and puke puddle duty. Ouch.
I realize I’ve depressed you by reminding you how freaking HARD it is to be a working mom. Try not to have an anxiety attack (although if you are, I once wrote a post about breathing techniques that help). All is not lost. There are ways to clear these hurdles…
How To Clear The Working Mom Hurdles
In track, when a runner successfully jumps over a hurdle without touching it, it is called “clearing the hurdle”. To clear a hurdle, you don’t ignore it, move it out of your way, or go around it. You jump over it. To me, this is significant. Clearing working mom hurdles is not about avoiding them, it’s about facing hurdles head-on and getting over them. It is growth. So, how do you clear these working mom hurdles?
Clearing Hurdles Tip #1: Let Go of Perfectionism
It’s first because it is uber important. Let go of being perfect. You will not be a perfect mom, but that is okay. You will not be a perfect homemaker, but that is okay. You will not be a perfect partner, friend, employee, daughter, or anything. Perfect does not exist. It is an illusion that we kill ourselves trying to obtain.
My husband loves to say, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Obsessing over making a thing perfect can ruin it. You or your mother has had at least one holiday where you/she wanted things to be “perfect” and the day ended up a disaster. The turkey never got defrosted, the kids stained the color-coordinated outfits before the pictures were taken, or your Aunt’s emotional support dog knocked over the table and spilled cranberry sauce or red wine all over your white carpet. If the expectations for perfection were extra high, it was all three, because Murphy works that way.
Life can’t live up to the expectations of perfection. You can’t live up to the expectations of perfection. That report you are writing will never be perfect. Do your best, let it be good enough, and move on to what’s next.
Once you stop worrying about being perfect, you start just being, and that feels good. Now you can…
Clearing Hurdles Tip #2: Give Yourself a Break
Remember when I said that skipping breaks at work only lowers your productivity? It’s true, and Courtney Seiter wrote a piece about it for Buffer’s blog in 2016, which you can read here. To sum it up, our brains need a reset every so often to work at their best. Kind of like shutting off and rebooting your computer once in a while.
Not all breaks are productive. Snacking on junk, another afternoon coffee, or scrolling social media are counter-productive to your goals.
There are two kinds of productive breaks, and it is important to take the right kind at the right time for maximum efficiency.
During the day, when you need to be productive right away, the best break to take is a quick walk outdoors. Walking or other light to moderate cardio can increase productivity for up to two hours without making you all sweaty and gross in the middle of your work day. Being outdoors in the fresh air and (maybe) sunlight refreshes the mood and reduces stress levels. Lowered stress levels are good for increasing productivity. Another good break option is a healthy snack of complex carbs and protein. Veggies dipped in hummus are an easy choice.
At night, the best break is (duh) sleep. Set yourself up for sleep success by:
- Put your phone/tablet/laptop away at least an hour before bed
- Avoid caffeine late in the day and excessive alcohol intake after work (I know, I know)
- Soothe tired muscles and joints with a warm bath or a good stretch. I love doing this yin yoga routine from Yoga With Adriene’s YouTube Channel before bed
- Read or watch something you have seen or read before. Predictability helps to convince the brain that nothing too exciting is going on and it is safe to shut down and relax.
Okay, you are now free of perfectionism and give yourself breaks. Time for our last tip for clearing those working mom hurdles…
Clearing Hurdles Tip #3: Communicate
Your boss is going to understand when you have to leave in the middle of the day to pick up your kids from school if you have communicated with them in advance that things like this will sometimes happen and you have a plan to make sure that you still meet your deadlines and take care of your clients or team even when you have to take time away from the office for your family. After a few instances where family obligations have not stopped you from performing, your boss should trust that this will continue, and stop taking a negative view of absences. If not, find a new boss.
Your spouse will help more with the kids, meals, and the house if you talk to them about how overwhelmed you are feeling. We think they should just know these things, but they often don’t. We have to tell them, although how you tell them does make a big difference. Blaming or nagging will not get you anywhere, but an honest conversation will. If not, you and your spouse have some issues that this blog can’t help you with. I suggest couple’s counseling. Or a divorce lawyer. I said what I said!
Your kids are going to be more understanding when you have to work late or miss a school field trip if you tell them honestly (and age-appropriately) about the burdens you carry as a parent. Kids should know that cleaning the house is hard work and if they run with muddy crocs all over the freshly mopped kitchen floor you’re going to be upset about it. They should know that sometimes you come home from work without enough energy left to even change out of your work clothes. They should also know that you love them so much that you think that all your parenting struggles are worth it.
Remember that you are easily replaced at work, as much as you might not want to hear it. You are irreplaceable to your family. Your home, your family, is your life. Not the other way around.-Unknown
BONUS BONUS TIP: Make your mornings a little less hectic and a little healthier with my make-ahead, reheat and eat Easy Baked Berry Oatmeal.
Working Moms: I Want Your Feedback
I hope you found these tips helpful, and I would love to hear from you with hurdle-clearing tips that I should add to this list! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
72% of American women with children under 18 and at least 77% of single mothers are working mothers. If you learned something, do me a favor and share this with another working mom who needs it.
A working mom hurdle that wasn’t listed here is a lack of energy. If you need help to get (or stay) energized between workday breaks, I’ve got you! Sign up to receive my custom curated playlist of 3+ hours of motivating music to improve your mood even if you’re having a terrible, no good, really bad day. It’s FREE! All you have to do is agree to get weekly emails from me full of helpful hints like these. I promise I won’t spam you!
Whether you sign up or not, I think you’re amazing and I’m cheering for you!
Love and Laughter,
Your Favorite Basic B 😘
For more tips on how to live a more balanced life, check out 5 Reasons Why You Need Fun (and 5 Ways to Have More) and 9 Simple Shifts to Create a Life You Don’t Need to Escape From by yours truly!