When my first child was born 15 years ago, I phoned my editor at the Elizabeth Daily Journal where I had worked as a staff writer and said, "Rich. I just can't come back." He understood, expected it even. I began freelancing at home, working part time, fitting my schedule around my kids' needs.
"If, as many women, you feel guilty and feel you have to overcompensate for the time you are not catering to your children, you should probably be working on that rather than how to fit everything into your daily schedule. Figure out where the guilt is coming from. For some of us it comes from lack of self-love or fear we won't be loved. But whatever it comes from, working on these feelings would be the solution to the problem and not looking for tricks to being super-mom".
Then, a few months ago, with my children now 15, 13 and eight, I was offered a job I couldn't refuse -- running the Parent Center at WholeFamily. The catch? I had to work full time. Because the business is geared towards families, management is sensitive to the needs of working mothers. I was able to arrange to leave early three days a week so I could be with the kids in the afternoons and make up those hours at home.
But a week before my starting date, I began to panic. How was I going to handle a full-time job and raising kids?
The anticipation of going back to work full time after 15 years at home was overwhelming. I was nervous, stressed, okay -- freaking out -- about how I was going to do it all. Everyone says not to try to be super-mom, but there are things I'm just not willing to compromise on, e.g. good nutrition for the kids, the one thing everyone I talked to mentioned first. ("Let them eat pizza," they said. "Have them warm up hot dogs." "Give them Burger King once a week.")
I know mothers all over the world do it, but, frankly, I don't know how they do it. So, I did what I always do when I have a problem: I turned to my friends. I sent out 50 e-mails to working moms and dads I know and asked for their advice.
Here's the best of the lot:
YOU ONLY NEED TO BE GOOD ENOUGH
Keren, who has three kids and works part time at home suggested that more than any practical tips, a change in attitude was called for. "You only need to be good enough," she wrote. "Don't worry so much about not being with your kids. They are old enough to be on their own more. You can't have it all or do it all or be it all." Like everyone else, Keren suggested using more take-out, frozen and prepared foods.
"Don't worry if the floor is dirty, the bathroom stinky, etc. Concentrate on work and being as relaxed as possible for your family. The other things will more or less fall into place as time goes on."
Jay, a father of two who works more than full time as a television producer and is married to a doctor who also works full time (see her article, Through a Child's Eyes: Reflections on Birth and Death), had only one piece of advice: "Make regular, sacred time with your spouse." In his own marriage, he said, doing this makes a big difference in how he and his wife feel about each other and about everything else -- yet it's often the first thing to go.
WORK ON YOUR GUILT
Rozy worked full time as a computer programmer while she brought up her two girls, now grown. What she learned was that "You CAN'T be a full-time mom and work full time. Children need love more than they need your time."
Rozy also pointed out that since both my husband and I will now be working full time, I should not be expected to do more around the house, with the kids, in our relationship. And again, the junk food advice: "This may mean getting a cleaning girl, eating out a lot more, eating more junk food and prepared food, having the kids make the meals and fend for themselves when the both of you are not around and doing less things with them and for them than before."
Rozy also had some of the deepest and wisest advice: "If, as many women, you feel guilty and feel you have to overcompensate for the time you are not catering to your children, you should probably be working on that rather than how to fit everything into your daily schedule. Figure out where the guilt is coming from. For some of us it comes from lack of self-love or fear we won't be loved. But whatever it comes from, working on these feelings would be the solution to the problem and not looking for tricks to being super-mom".
"If your kids and spouse are not trained to expect perfection from you, they will appreciate you much more when you are able to do things for them. Being super-mom will only get you sick and turn them into ungrateful, spoiled family members."
Beth, mother of two who works full-time as a school psychologist and has a private practice, says she's been "doing the work/family thing" for so long that she no longer feels panic. "So that's an indication that you'll get used to it; the feeling of being scared everything will fall apart and be terrible will pass. It does stay pretty stressful and overwhelming at times and balance is just about my major issue."
From the vantage point of working full time while raising kids for years, Beth ends with: "The rewards of a good job are tremendous and even though it's really hard to do everything, I'm still glad I have both a wonderful family and an interesting, though relentlessly demanding career."
Copyright Ruth Mason, 2000