The Working Moms’ Guide to Surviving Enjoying the Holidays


‘Tis the season to be jolly, right?  If you’re like a lot of other working moms, the holidays can be a stressful time, no matter how hard we try ( or maybe because we try so hard) to enjoy them.  On top of our already packed schedules, somehow we have to squeeze in shopping for gifts, wrapping, decorating, sending cards, baking, holiday parties and family visits.  It can be overwhelming.  Worse, the holidays fall during the shortest days of the year, which, for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, can spell depression.  So what’s a busy working mom to do?  Here are some ideas for not only surviving the holidays with your sanity intact, but actually enjoying them.  I’ll be exploring each one in detail over the next few weeks.

1.  Take care of yourself.  The “winter blues”, neglecting workouts, overeating, drinking too much, putting pressure  on ourselves to do it all:  these things can make us feel awful.  On top of that, we feel guilty for feeling awful when we’re “supposed” to be full of tidings of comfort and joy!

2.  Prioritize your time and simplify your schedule.  When I stayed home with my kids, we made cards from scratch, plates of cookies  for everyone we knew, and gave handmade gifts.  After returning to work full-time outside the home, I knew something had to give.  Also, now that the kids are involved in their own activities, we don’t attend every event. There is such a thing as too many parties.

3.  Make the holiday meaningful.  For those for whom the holiday has religious significance, maintaining religious tradition is the obvious way to do this.  But even non-religious people can find ways to focus on the spirit of giving and sharing love with family and friends, for example by volunteering.  Giving gifts  that have meaning is another way to reduce the commercial aspect of the season.

Happiness is something we can choose, and there’s no better time to focus on being happy and peaceful than the holiday season.  It’s the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our  families.  Tune in next week for tips on caring for yourself through the holidays.

 

How to Really Feel Thankful


With the holidays upon us, we may look forward to enjoying the company of family and friends, good food and time off.  Or we may not.   Extra shopping, preparation, travel and other additions to our already packed schedules can make the holidays feel stressful.  Also, as the days grow shorter and winter approaches, many people feel depressed (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed when we tell ourselves we are supposed to feel cheerful can make it even worse.  We feel guilty about feeling sorry for ourselves when we know we should be grateful.  After all, we have much to be thankful for:  if you are reading this, it means you have a computer with an internet connection, making you more wealthy than 95-97% of the world’s population.  Still, knowing we should be grateful and actually feeling that way are two different things.  So how do we get back to feeling thankful?

One simple technique is to keep a gratitude journal.  It sounds too easy, or maybe too cheesy.  How can writing down what we’re thankful for help when we don’t feel that way?  The answer is to start small.  Promise yourself that every day for a week, you will write three things you are thankful for, either when you first wake in the morning or right before you go to bed.  Try to write three different things each day.  You will be amazed when simple phrases and sentences turn into paragraphs and pages.  Albert Einstein said, “Everything’s energy and that’s all there is to it.   Match the frequency of the reality you want and you can’t help but get that reality.”  This quote explains why gratitude journals work.  I find that writing in the morning changes my outlook for the whole day.

Remember to give thanks.

Keeping a gratitude journal can re-focus our priorities:  if we’re grateful for our husband and kids, why are we spending more time working and less time enjoying them?  It also sets a great example for our children.  When we can articulate what we are grateful for, it helps them to do the same.  That’s important, with Christmas approaching and long lists being written; it can help kids to re-frame their outlook as well.  Why not try it for the days leading up to Thanksgiving?
How do you remember to feel thankful?  Please share in the comments.

 

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A Working Mom Success Story


Last week, I wrote about Why you deserve to be happy and questions to ask yourself if you’re notSo what happens if you decide you’re NOT happy in your current work situation and you want to change it?  The very thought can be overwhelming to a lot of moms:  we have children to support, and some of us are single parents.  We also have to consider what will work for our families; if this job doesn’t allow me to have a good work/family balance, what will?  What does that look like for me?  Since I have already shared my journey to “having it all”, I wanted to share a success story with you from Kelly, who had a tough decision to make last summer.

Stacy has an 18 month old daughter, and was shocked by how much becoming a mom changed her life.  Before becoming a mom, Stacy had always been very successful in her career – when she found out she was pregnant, she was just about to begin working on her dissertation for her PhD.  Needless to say, becoming a mom put those plans on hold.  Stacy found herself torn between wanting to continue moving forward in her career and missing her daughter terribly during the day.  She said she was afraid that she would miss her daughter’s childhood.  Stacy was working outside the home, and didn’t feel like she was fulfilling her potential professionally.  Worse, she was bringing a lot of work home, and was so tired at the end of the day that she often fell asleep reading bedtime stories to her daughter.  She had no time with her husband, or for herself.  She wasn’t exercising or making time for relaxation and re-charging.

Stacy came to me needing to make a quick decision about whether to return to her current job for another year.  Though she didn’t want to go back, she wasn’t exactly sure what she would do instead, or how she and her husband would pay the bills in the meantime.  She also wasn’t sure about how or when to finish her dissertation.  Together, we looked at her goals for all areas of her life, prioritized and created a workable action plan.

In the end, she made peace with returning to her current job for one more year, but was able to create a plan for transitioning to working part-time, which would allow her time to spend with her daughter AND finish her dissertation.  Also, she’s making time to walk outside every day, has gone for a couple of hikes with her husband, and has successfully transitioned to having her daughter sleep in her own room – no more falling asleep during story time!  I am amazed by the progress Stacy made so quickly and wanted to share her story to inspire more moms to find that balance.  Please join me in congratulating her accomplishments – way to go, Stacy!

Working Mom: Why you deserve to be happy and questions to ask yourself if you’re not


In my last post, Can working moms really have it all, I said I would write some posts about how working moms can plan and create their ideal work/life balance.  However, I think there’s one question that many moms need to ask themselves first: do I really deserve to be happy?  Of course, the answer is YES.  It seems so obvious, yet after having children, we become accustomed to putting their needs first.  Sometimes, we feel that we can’t put their needs first because we must earn an income to support them.  Either way, our own happiness can get put on the back burner.

When I was contemplating leaving my teaching position last year, thinking about my own happiness made me feel guilty.  I was surrounded by other teachers who were experiencing the same situation I was, and still managed to stay positive and enthusiastic.  What was my problem? I wondered.  Why couldn’t I just put on a happy face and plug through, for the sake of my steady income, for the sake of my students?  Thinking about leaving to make myself happier only made me feel selfish.

Finally I came to realize that not only did I deserve to be happy, but that my happiness would benefit my whole family.  As the saying goes,

If Mama Ain't Happy Ain't Nobody Happy
In my constant state of stress and unhappiness, I had less patience for my children.  My discontent was affecting everyone in the family.  Though I still miss my students, I know every day that I made the right decision, not only because I’m happier, but my whole family is happier.
So what if you are unhappy in your current work situation?  Is it always necessary to quit your job and work from home?  Absolutely not.  Career coaches often suggest that clients look at the LEAST amount of change that would make them happy.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Would I be satisfied with a promotion, or even a lateral move to a new position?

Do I just need a new supervisor, or is it time to leave my job?

If it’s time to leave, do I need a new company, or a whole new career?

What is our family’s financial ability to handle risk?

Do I really want to work for  myself?

Feeling unhappy in your current situation drains your energy and makes it difficult to take care of your own needs, as well as those of your family.  On top of that, uncertainty about the future can be overwhelming.  Taking some quiet time to answer these questions is a great place to start the process of achieving your ideal work/family balance.

Can working moms really have it all?


In talking with my clients and friends, it seems there’s one wish most of us have in common:  to “have it all”.  We  want quality time with our kids, to be a real, caring, patient mother.  We also want a career – not just a job, not just to help with the family finances, but something fulfilling – a purpose.  If not our mothers, certainly our grandmothers were expected to feel that being a mother was purpose enough.  And it is.  But even my grandmothers worked outside the home when their children were older.  Womanhood, and motherhood, is fraught with changing seasons.  Sometimes we can work this to our advantage.  Because I didn’t have kids until my 30’s, I had already been Mary Tyler Moore or Ally McBeal, the independent career woman.  I chose to stay home with my kids, feeling that I’d waited a long time for this experience, and I wanted to enjoy it fully.

That decision was immensely rewarding and unexpectedly difficult.  I missed interacting with other adults.  I felt guilty that I wasn’t contributing financially.  However, I knew it was a season, and that I would go back to work as soon as my kids were in school.  I was a teacher, so I assumed this would be somewhat easier than it is for many working moms; after all, I would basically working the same hours and days that they were in school.  This worked well when I was an Instructional Coach because I didn’t have any “take home” work.  However, when we moved for my husband’s career, I landed back in the classroom, which was much harder.  I felt like I had to make an almost nightly choice between helping my kids with their homework or doing mine – lesson planning and grading.  In the end, I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job anywhere:  I was emotionally drained, all my patience used up at school and none left for the two kids dearest to me – my own.  And I felt like I was always behind at work – that I could always be working harder, doing more.  It wasn’t working.  Something needed to change.
This is the dilemma of so many working moms:  how to have a fulfilling, rewarding career, and be a fantastic (not just ok) mom to their kids.  But there are inevitable trade-offs.  Rewarding careers often require a lot of commitment.  Is it possible to “have it all”?  Maybe not in the purest sense.  There are only 24 hours in the day, and we must make choices about how we spend them.  That being said, when we stop to really examine our priorities and we’re willing to sacrifice a few things that don’t measure up, we can come very, very close.  Employers are becoming more and more open to alternative working arrangements; a couple of my close friends negotiated a job-share when their kids were little so that they could each work half-time and spend the other half at home.  More and more companies are open to telecommuting or offering more quality childcare options.  Also, many women are figuring out how to work from home.  While writing this post, I ran across an infographic stating that “96% of professional women believe having it all is attainable”.  With that kind of optimism, surely many women have figured this one out.

In the next few weeks, I’ll post some questions to ask yourself when planning your ideal work/family balance, and ideas for making it a reality.

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