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Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern Ph.D.

6 Tips for Overworked Working Mothers

Women have been juggling since the beginning of time.

If you're like most working moms, you've probably wished for a wife, or a magical nanny who would cheerfully and efficiently tidy up the house, fold the laundry, settle the disputes among the kids, organize the play dates, do the grocery shopping, get the household bills in order and put dinner on the table. Ahh-hhh...imagine the sheer joy and relief of knowing that you wouldn't have to do it all! You could actually plant yourself in a comfy chair for the evening and read a book, watch TV, or flip through your favorite magazine without jumping up a million times to change laundry from washer to dryer, empty the dishwasher, and fix tomorrow's lunches.

But the truth of the matter is, women have been juggling since the beginning of time, and working women often juggle even faster. We all know that a mother's day never ends. But when moms add an additional job beyond tending to kids and home, the pace really picks up.

Look. No matter what helpful numbers your rolodex does or doesn't hold, here's the reality for women: We live, breathe, and sleep our multiple roles. Some of us with help, some of us without it.

The bottom line difference between working mothers who are challenged yet happy, and those who are continually frustrated and down in the dumps, is to first recognize and embrace this one fact: Being a working mother is hard. Period. Don't pretend that it's not or that you should be able to make it easy.

You may feel like you live on a roller coaster or that your life is one giant game of tug o' war-with your job tugging you on one end and your husband and kids tugging you on the other. But collapsing into a pile of exhaustion and guilt isn't the answer. Instead, grab a giant dose of "Hey, this is my life, and I'm going to make it work for me."

Here are six things to do when you're feeling overwhelmed and sorry for yourself.

1. Put YOU at the top of your priority list-even when you're sure you don't have an extra minute for yourself. Successful working moms have learned that when they don't take time for themselves, they aren't as efficient and they're not as happy. Both your kids and your husband would prefer a happy mom and a messy house to a perfect house and a grouchy mom!

2. Give yourself a hug, ask for a hug from your kids and your spouse, and think about how lucky you are to be a mom. Even on a bad day, remember what deep joy your children bring to your life.

3. Remind yourself of the benefits you gain from your paid employment. Studies show that women work for many of the same reasons men do. It's not only financial gain or economic necessity that drives women to the office, but also personal fulfillment, self-actualization, a sense of power, independence, social status and social contact. When women find meaning, challenge and potential for career growth and development, it brings bring them personal gratification.

4. Step back and take a moment to celebrate yourself. Most career moms feel increased self-esteem that mitigates other stressful aspects of life and results in an overall positive effect. Just don't forget to take time to allow that feeling to flow through you so you can really absorb it.

5. Learn to cope for success. Of all the coping mechanisms working moms use to balance their lives, giving up perfectionism is at the top of the list. Superwomen went out decades ago, so get ready to lower your household standards. No one cares except you. Find a healthy source for quick meals, order out or go out and spend the time you save with your family. And enlist your husband to become a home and child care partner-or hire help.

6. Find a friend who can listen and give you support. No matter how organized you are, there are most likely times when you get frazzled-days when you just want to bitch and whine. So get it out of your system and move on.

If you work full time, you spend eighty percent of your waking hours at your job, so you'd better be having fun doing it. Some working women even think of their workplace as a "health spa" in comparison to the frenzy at home. But if you don't love what you do, begin looking for new employment because job dissatisfaction most certainly contributes to your stress, frustration and fatigue.

Sadly, it seems that our culture doesn't value parenting-even though we believe the future of our world depends on our kids. Society even expects us to believe that parenting comes naturally rather than to believe it's a job that requires great awareness, intention, knowledge and skill. Until our society opens its eyes-or until Mary Poppins magically appears at our front door-it's up to us to recognize our own value and to feel confident in ourselves as we juggle our multiple roles.

For suggestions on how to build an unbreakable bond with your kids, please check out my book, "Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life."

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