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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Life-work balance and the working mom

[This is an article I wrote for my Mothers Club's newsletter. I've omitted names here since the moms presenting weren't aware there was a Citizen Journalist in their midst.]

If you are a full-time or part-time working mom--whether you work in the home or out of the home--you realize what a balancing act it is to juggle the demands of family and job while also attempting to find time for yourself.

How do working moms find this elusive life-work balance?

The April general meeting of the Mothers Club featured a panel of five women who represent a broad spectrum of moms. One mom left a high-powered law career to stay home full-time with her son. One mom quit her demanding job as a software project manager after the birth of her first child and started her own e-commerce business working part-time in her home. Another mom decided that being at home full-time left her wanting something more and now she works part-time out of the home. The fourth mom works full-time in the home and employs a nanny to care for her son three days a week. And the fifth mom works full-time out of the home as an in-house corporate attorney.

Mom #1: Full-time SAHM
Attempting to do it all yet failing to succeed at anything is how this woman describes her efforts to work full-time out of the home after the birth of her second child. She attempted to maintain a part-time law practice, but it simply didn't work out. With the support of her husband, she quit her job and now she's a stay at home mom.

She says her relationships with her husband, stepdaughter, daughter, and two-year-old son have improved dramatically since she quit her job and she's very fulfilled with her new life, more than she ever was when she was working as an attorney.

However, she knows that her mom and Gloria Steinem disapprove of her choice and she sometimes feels she's letting down the feminist sisterhood. She also mentioned that it is a financial hardship (i.e., they spend more than they earn), but that she and her husband consider it as much of an investment as a mortgage.

Mom #2: Part-time WAHM

This mom gave four pieces of advice for other moms and would-be moms:

1. Don't presuppose you will know how you're going to feel after you have a baby. Tell your job that you'll be back after maternity leave, but mentally leave your options open. Once the baby's born, some women realize that they can't imagine going back to work. Others can't wait. You won't know how you'll feel until you have the baby.

2. The idea that you can "have it all" is BS. With any path comes sacrifice.

3. If you work from home, you need daycare or someone watching your kids.

4. It doesn't get easier as your kids get older. It changes, but there still are many demands on your time as a mom.

Mom #3: Part-time work outside the home

This mom thought she could maintain her career as a lighting designer but realized after the birth of her first child that her job was less flexible than she thought. There simply was no support for a working mom who couldn't work 70 hour weeks. She quit and enjoyed being a stay at home mom until the birth of her second child when she felt herself going a little stir-crazy. She was at home 24/7 with two kids and her husband was out of town on business for extended periods of time. To save her sanity, she now works part-time out of the home for her father-in-law's company.

Her job is flexible, but she admits that the administrative work she now does isn't quite as challenging or fulfilling as her work as a lighting designer. She hopes to one day return to her previous career but she's not sure if she'll be able to (because she’s been out of the industry) and she's frightened by that possibility.

Mom #4: Full-time WAHM
Mom #4 is the sole proprietor of her own marketing communications business and she was very positive about the opportunities for woman to continue or to create their careers without giving up their home life. The trick to doing this successfully is to evaluate which skills and tasks from your current job can be most easily done as work for hire.

She previously worked as the vice president of corporation communications in a software company that was acquired. Rather than move to the acquiring company, she carved out a piece of her marketing communications / PR job (the writing portion) and now she sets her own rules and is her own boss. Many of her clients are contacts from her previous job. She feels like she works for a company because she's usually one of a team of people working on a project; the team aspect is something she likes and is glad she still has.

She does admit that there are downsides to working at home. When the nanny leaves for the day, she has to stop working whether she's finished her work or not. Often she works at night when her toddler is in bed.

She emphasized that for her, freelancing is more lucrative than corporate work.

Mom #5: Full-time work outside the home
This mom is a full-time attorney. She previously was an associate in a firm, but "that was insane." Now she works as in-house corporate counsel for a large company. She works full-time in part because she feels that if she opts out she won't be able to opt back in. "The law passes you by" is the perception of employers who employ attorneys. She also works for her own personal security. She doesn't ever want to end up a woman without options. She admits to putting up with a crazy lifestyle, but says that she loves her job and that helps. If she hated it, it would be different. She also agreed that the support of her husband and the flexibility of his job were important factors in allowing her continued success in her career.

She would love to go part-time when her kids (she's pregnant with #2) get older. She feels right now with a foot in both worlds, that she has best of both. Although she laughs when she says her life "lacks finesse" and is "a work in progress."

After the five moms spoke about their lives and the choices they had made, the audience of about twenty moms asked questions. Many of them also spoke about what was most frustrating to them as they attempted to balance motherhood with work.

I asked about what the working moms did when their children were sick. The mom who worked outside the home (and the ones that used to) admitted to lying to their employers about sick days. A working mom never uses her sick child as the reason she's taking a sick day; she reports that she is sick instead.

When the full-time SAHM was an associate at a law firm, she would use an expensive emergency nanny service. She felt horrible leaving her sick daughter with a nanny whom she didn't even know just to avoid calling in sick, and financially she knew she was breaking even that day, just to keep her job.

There was talk of discrimination in the workplace against moms and pregnant women. Much of this discrimination is by other women--even other moms. One woman spoke of talk in the workplace regarding a woman who was on maternity leave with her second child: She's having another kid.

The working moms recommended compartmentalizing, multitasking, and efficiency (e.g., no chit chat around the water cooler or random web surfing) as ways to get your work done when overtime is not a possibility because you have to pick up your kid from daycare or the nanny is scheduled to leave at 4:00 sharp.

Several women from the audience said that their moms, too, disapproved of their decision to quit their jobs and stay home with their children.

All of the working moms--whether full-time or part-time--advised the audience that letting go of the myth of the "perfect mommy" was the first step in achieving any kind of life-work balance.

We ended the evening with the idea that nothing's permanent. Therefore, if you are now a SAHM, consider the idea you might one day go back to work and consider what you can do to keep your foot in the door when you're home. Examples include reading trade journals from your previous career, doing volunteer work, maintaining old work contacts, and networking with other moms.

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