Being a working mother is a constant juggling act that involves balancing the deadlines at work with the school calendar, project meetings with children’s classes and traveling for work with dinner table conversations. Instead of constantly struggling with guilt, we can and should develop coping mechanisms to deal with this precariously tilted balance. Indira Nooyi, the former CEO of Pepsico, shares how as a CEO she realized quickly that she was managing three full-time jobs. This acceptance helped her develop a strategy that brought some harmony to her hectic schedule.
As working moms, here are some ways to carve out our coping mechanisms to deal with work-life imbalance.
- Prioritize. Decide what is important for your family—a clean home or home-cooked meals? Not everything matters equally. If the school events happen during work hours, request the school to reschedule or ask if they can squeeze time later in the evening. If not, then having a conversation with your child about why you have to skip the event helps. Even better, check with fellow working mothers in your child’s class who did not attend the event and discuss it with your child. This is exactly what Indra Nooyi did to assuage her guilt.
- Divide and conquer. Many working mothers bear the bulk of stress when it comes to thinking and planning for the family. This is because the worry quotient spikes up when we think of family while also handling stress at work. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, noted late US Supreme Court Justice, persuades women to find ways to defy the stigma and guilt associated with being a working mother. RBG, as she was known, was an iconic feminist—a first-time mom while being a female law student at Harvard. She wisely said: “You can’t have it all at once, but you can choose what and when you want certain things to succeed as a working mother.” If she was working as a lawyer from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., she devoted her time to her children after work, which was a welcome respite from the demands of her law research. She used each of her roles to gain respite from the other.
- Say No. Our roles are already very hard, so we need to learn to let go and not apologize for it. Identify the meetings that are absolutely essential and the ones where you can delegate another team member to stand in for you. If you can’t enroll your kids in all the classes for this season, choose only the important ones. When you have prioritized early on, saying “No” would not be considered a sign of weakness. It is certainly a sign of unwavering authority you have over your own life. Instead of overloading your plate and setting yourself up for failure, say “No” with reason.
- Lean On. Do not hesitate from asking your family for help. Go over the chores with your spouse, plan meals with your family and see how each one can pitch in. Not everything has to be done by the mother. Vijayalaxmi Harsh, who owns a boutique in Chennai, states that when they decided to have a second child, they wrote down a list of people who could help juggle their professional and personal lives. They extended their babysitter’s responsibility to cooking, her parents stepped up to drive their first child to school and classes and her husband pitched in on the weekends at her store. They hired more help, but knew it was only temporary. “Some choices need to be made for the greater good. The swifter we are in making these decisions, the better prepared we are. Almost all of our support system was in place when the baby arrived,” she beams.
- Quality over Quantity. Meena Kaul, who works at Accenture in North America as project manager, leaves work at 5 p.m. every day. In order to achieve this, she arrives at 8 a.m. and is also open for offshore meetings after 9 p.m. Meena said she was particular about spending quality time instead of quantity time. The evenings are strictly gadget-free and homework time is also a way to connect with the kids’ emotional state. “Being a working mother has helped me be more attentive with my kids since I know that the time is limited,” she said. Her daughter is nine-years-old now and constantly refers to her mom as her role model. Meena affirms that, “I have learnt that having goals and schedules for yourself and strictly adhering to them brings a sense of balance and peace for the rest of the family. Don’t apologize for your absence every time. People will learn to deal with it.”
As working mothers, it is easy to succumb to the guilt. New research shows that children of working moms thrive not only by picking up life skills but also by having a head start with strong role models at home. As former First Lady Michelle Obama said: “Being a mother made me a better professional and vice versa. Throw the guilt out, because you’re setting a great example for your children on how to pursue their dreams.”