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.


Ten Mistakes People Make When Planning for the Future

Eighties music fans will remember the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime“:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

Probably most of us can relate to this sentiment, waking up one day and wondering how we ended up in a dead-end job, or a life that is somehow not what we want.  Well, how did you get here?  What leads us away from our true hopes and dreams?  It’s true that there should be no regrets in life because every situation, for better or worse, is a learning opportunity.  Still, many of us find ourselves repeating these “learning opportunites” ad nauseum, as is repeated in the refrain at the end of the  song, “Same as it  ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was….”  Why do we keep ending up someplace other than where we thought we were headed?  Here are some common mistakes people make when planning for the future:

1.  Trying to live up to the expectations of others.  We do what we think our parents want, what society expects, what our high school guidance counselor advised.  As most brides discover when planning their wedding, you can’t please everyone, so you might as well give up trying.  Just please yourself.

2.  Not taking time for self-discovery.  (See last week’s post, “Who are you? Exploring the wilderness of your intuition”)  It is amazing how many people, when asked what they want, are surprised to discover that they don’t know.  They’ve never stopped to think about it.

3.  Thinking in terms of “should”, as in, I should focus on earning a lot of money, I should stay home with the kids, I should pursue this career because it’s what’s “hot” right now….

4.  Underestimating yourself.  Way too many brilliant people I know have a horror story about what an “advisor”  or authority figure told them they weren’t smart enough to do.  We tend to internalize these negative messages, and when opportunity knocks, talk ourselves out of it because we think we aren’t smart enough, experienced enough, tough enough, etc.  Why not give yourself a chance?

5.  Not addressing your skills.  I recently attended  a workshop in which the presenter said that many people make decisions totally with their hearts or their  heads.  Your unique gift to the world is a combination of the two.

6.  Not addressing your passions.  See #5.

7.  Allowing life to decide for you.  Many people just float along, working at whatever presents itself.  As the saying goes, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice – just not necessarily in your favor.

8.  Feeling like you can’t change the path you’re on.  Repeat after me:  it’s never too late.  It’s never too late.  It’s never too late.

9Not being willing to be a life-long learner.  Many times, taking a new direction will require learning new skills, going back to school, or doing things differently.  Don’t let this hold you back from your future.

10.  Quitting too soon.  “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” – Ross Perot

I admit I’ve made most of these mistakes in my life.  Which of these mistakes is holding you back?

Want to Succeed? Let Yourself Fail

We’ve all heard the catch phrases attributed to people we envy for being the most successful:  “failure is not an option”;  “Never settle for anything less than perfect”.  We tend to think of our heroes as magically ascending the ladder of success without any setbacks along the way, but is this really true?  According to what I’ve read this week, no.

An article in Time magazine, “Back to School:  Why Grit Is More Important than Good Grades”, argues that failure is, in the long run, a key to success.  The author states that in an “ultra-competitive academic environment, the idea of failure — even a small, temporary failure — can be very scary, to students and parents alike.”  I would argue that while this is definitely the case in schools, it is also true for adults trying to earn a living in our struggling economy.  However, the article goes on to say that, “experiencing failure and adversity, researchers have found, is a critical part of building character. Recent research by a team of psychologists led by Mark Seery of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, found that adults who had experienced little or no adversity growing up were actually less happy and confident than those who had experienced a few significant setbacks in childhood. Overcoming those obstacles, the researchers hypothesized, “could teach effective coping skills, help engage social support networks, create a sense of mastery over past adversity, [and] foster beliefs in the ability to cope successfully in the future.”

This idea is supported by a book I’m reading, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, a Psychology professor at Stanford.  Dweck studied people’s attitudes about their own intelligence and found those who though of intelligence as being “fixed”, (I’m as smart now as I’ll ever be and there’s nothing I can do about it) tended to give up easily when they failed.  However, those with what Dweck identified as a “growth mindset” viewed their failures as temporary setbacks, even learning opportunities.  She  says that if we look at our heroes, we will find that, contrary to popular myths about innate talent and luck, they succeeded by using their failures as opportunities to learn and grow, and they kept on trying until they succeeded.

So how do we cultivate a “growth mindset?”  Dweck says to think of times that others did better and ask if they really were more talented or just more tenacious.  Identify times when you have had a fixed mindset and brainstorm ways to change it.  She also says to stop telling our kids that they’re smart, citing research that shows that praising kids’ intelligence actually LOWERS their IQ scores!  Instead, she says we should praise effort, reinforcing the idea that trying again and learning from mistakes is more important than innate ability.
While being open to failure is scary (and in the case of earning a living, not always economically feasible), it seems to be a necessary component of success.  Most important is to remember that any failures are not indicators of a lack of ability, but merely an opportunity to learn and grow, paving the way for success in the future.

Mothers Returning to Work – How to Ease the Transition

When I was a teacher, this time of year meant returning to work after having my summer off with the kids.  Though it was never as hard as the first time, each fall was a difficult transition for the whole family:  suddenly I was not there full-time to clean the house, prepare meals, do laundry, buy groceries, etc.  Though heading back to work after being home with kids is a challenging time, there are several things moms can do to ease the transition.

Plan and Practice Ahead of Time

The transition will be easier on everyone if there is time to adjust to the new routine.  If your children are not yet in school, research and commit to a childcare option that is comfortable for everyone.  Transitioning a breast-fed baby to a bottle will be less stressful if you give it some time – you don’t want to worry about whether or not your child is going hungry on your first day back to work.  Give yourself and your child plenty of time to take care of learning new skills like potty training.  It will go better if the pressure’s off.  In the days leading up to the Big Day, practice getting up and dressed by the time everyone needs head out the door.  Practicing ahead of time can instill confidence in kids and ease anxiety for mom.

Enlist Help

Starting back to work part-time is a great option for moms if it is available, but often it is not.  If you’ll be working as many hours as your spouse, make sure he knows that you will need an equal partner in household chores.     Most husbands are more likely to respond positively if presented with a request for help instead of  a demand.  Make a list of what needs to get done and divide it up based on personal preferences.  Maybe your husband is a master with the vacuum, but isn’t big on cleaning bathrooms.  Older kids can pitch in, too.  Even if they are ambivalent about mom going back to work, you can sweeten the deal with an allowance or reward for completing chores.

Go Easy On Yourself

This is the most important part!  It seems that guilt and motherhood just go together; stay-at-home moms often feel guilty that they are not contributing to the family’s income, and working moms feel guilty about kids having to go to daycare, or just spending less time with them.  Remember that quality, not quantity, counts when it comes to time with your kids.  It’s better for kids to get a few hours per day with a happy, fulfilled mom than a whole day with a resentful one that doesn’t really enjoy staying home.   Also, give yourself permission not to have a perfectly clean house or home-baked cookies for your kids’ snack.  Trying to do it all is the fast lane to burnout.  Finally, remember to make time for yourself – for exercise, relaxation or girls’ night out.  By taking care of yourself, you are taking care of your kids’ mom, and that benefits the whole family.
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