Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘The Working Moms’ Lament’

NSTTTracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article: “The Working Moms’ Lament”:

As the owner of Next Step Therapy, Inc., and a Speech Pathologist by trade, I have been a working mom for 13 out of the last 16 years. By “working mom,” I mean a woman with kids who has a paying job outside of the home, in addition to all of the responsibilities of homemaking and child rearing. We currently have 39 employees, 36 of whom are women, and 90% of whom are moms. Everything I’m about to say is based on my personal experience and those related by my employees. For you dads and stay-at-home moms, you know I have love and respect for your roles, too, but today is for the Working Mom.

One of our wonderful therapists, an employee who gives 110%, had a complete and total meltdown at the end of August, during the first week of school. Seven of our other female employees found themselves during that same week crying, or pouring an extra glass of wine in the evening. Why? Because the start of school for the Working Mom is one of those critical times of the year when you question EVERYTHING about your life. (The end of school and the Christmas season will get you, too.)

For a Working Mom, the SCHEDULE is the Holy Grail of maintaining some semblance of sanity. The beginning of school changes the schedule, and therefore, the sanity of many Working Moms. If you think about it, one of the fundamentals of being a “good” employee is that you show up for work on time, preferably dressed and groomed appropriately. As a man, or a woman without children, this can be challenging enough (between alarms that don’t go off, electricity outages, traffic, construction, blah blah blah…). For a Working Mom who also has to get kids ready and be somewhere (bus stop, school, or daycare) on time, mornings at home can appear more like the psych ward on a full moon day than being in charge of your castle.

You have the kid who won’t get up, the kid who doesn’t want to brush their teeth, the kid who can’t find a shoe, the kid who suddenly remembers something that needs signed…just trying to get out of the house on time is a nightmare. Stay at Home Moms have these same issues, but if they show up at the bus stop without makeup or in yoga pants, nobody cares. The Working Mom needs to deal with all of this crap, and still be showered, dressed, made up, and have her briefcase loaded, too.

Here’s the dirty little secret that Working Moms don’t often share…frequently, after the kids are dropped off, on the drive to work, Working Mom is dealing with a split brain. Half the brain is preparing for work: What do I need to do first? Who do I need to call? Who is my first appointment? The other half of the brain is still on the kids: Do they have lunch money? Is all of their homework done and in their book bags? Did I yell too much? Did we have a “family” morning or a “corporate” morning?

The Working Mom is ALWAYS divided, which is exhausting, and stressful. When at work, the Working Mom is wondering how to pull off dinner, and baseball practice, and she’s thinking, “When is that next orthodontist appointment?” At home, the Working Mom is thinking, “Oh my, tomorrow is such a busy day at work. I have to do this, and that, and what if the school nurse calls and a kid needs picked up? What will I do?”

We working women also have a nasty tendency to take nearly full responsibility for the household, too. The vast majority of the women I know who work also do the cleaning, most of the cooking, the shopping, and the errand running. Most of my employees make a trip to the bank, post office, or dry cleaners during lunch at least once a week. While we may know that there are four people living in our house, we do not tend to divide the chores into four distinct lists for our housemates to complete.

In addition, the Working Mom frequently finds herself overcompensating for not being a Stay at Home Mom by picking up extra responsibilities, such as being in charge of a fund raiser for PTO, or being scout mom, or spending hours each week running a concession stand. We KNOW we are spread too thin, but we feel we must show that we are absolutely devoted to our kids and therefore will do these things to participate.

As with Stay at Home Moms, in most families the Working Mom is the manager of the SCHEDULE – doctor appointments, dentist appointments, school activities such as open house, haircuts, birthday parties…the list is endless. It is usually the mom carrying that calendar with her. Working Moms seem to be genetically unable to hand that job over to anyone else; say Dad.

In short, Working Moms that I know, including myself, have way too many responsibilities to handle, not nearly enough help, and a sometimes overwhelming feeling that they don’t do anything very well.

Now, before you all start commenting that if it’s so bad and so hard to be a Working Mom, then maybe women should just quit working, let’s get real for a minute. Ok? Please? In our society, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Young girls are encouraged now to get a college degree or some form of formal training, so that they can be self-supportive. Regardless of marital status, it only makes sense that women be capable of supporting themselves. Husbands get injured and go on permanent disability (at 60% or less than their normal pay). Husbands occasionally die young, without enough life insurance to support the family for the next 20 years. Not every woman will find herself married.

Once a woman gets that degree or training, it seems a waste not to use it. So, most women go to work. For most of us with professional jobs, leaving the field to stay home with kids for 15-20 years is not a viable option. No one wants to hire a 45 year old woman who got her degree 25 years ago and never used it. You are no longer qualified.

So, to all of you Working Moms, including our employees: Kisses and hugs. This is a busy, chaotic, exhausting life you are trying to pull off. I can’t fix it for you, as nobody can, but I can try to give suggestions for easing the stress.

1. Accept and embrace the simple fact that you cannot work outside of the home, spend adequate time with your children, run the whole house, cook organic meals, stay a size 6, have a beautifully manicured yard, save the whales, and have a nice pedicure all at the same time. It can’t be done, not by you or anyone else. Prioritize the top three, and go with that. You can have a clean, organized house when you retire, or when you make enough money to hire someone to do it for you. Until then, let the dust bunnies be.

2. Stop comparing yourself to those other women who would appear to be doing it better than you. While they might have a similar job with similar hours and the same number of kids, they are not you, and are not going through the same things. One of you most likely has a more supportive significant other than the other one does. One of you is dealing with a kid with an anxiety disorder, while the other is dealing with a kid with a learning disability. Your situations may seem to be similar, but in reality, they are very different. If you actually do know a woman who always seems to have it together in a way that makes you want to claw her eyes out, might you consider that she is snorting her child’s Ritalin, or she drinks like a fish, or she suffers from insomnia and is mopping floors at 3:00 a.m.? Do you really want to be her? Just sayin’.

3. If there is a significant other in your life, is it possible to have a quiet, calm, away-from-the-kids’ discussion about what it REALLY takes to manage a house and how maybe somebody needs to shoulder more of the load? It has been my experience that most men will do whatever is asked of them (vacuum, load the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry), but most men wait to be told what needs to be done…they don’t want to step on the woman’s toes or imply that she isn’t capable of doing something. So, give it a try and see if you can’t get others to step up a little.

4. As your children age, give them more and more responsibility. Working Moms sometimes feel that if they make their teenagers do their own laundry they are not “doing enough” for their kids. Wrong. Every kid needs to learn to do laundry before they move out and years of experience is better than teaching them the basics two weeks before they go. You work and have three kids? Why are you preparing the meal, setting the table, and doing the clean-up? Teach the little one to set the table, the middle one to put away left-overs and load the dishwasher, and the oldest should be learning to prepare simple meals. As shocking as this may sound, kids take great pride in doing things independently, and families that work as a team tend to be closer.

5. Learn to say “no.” This is so hard for women. We lean towards wanting to help everyone, and we feel that saying “no” is a hurtful rejection. That is simply not true. Every woman I know has agreed to work a fundraiser, open house, or concession stand when it genuinely put them in a bind time-wise, or forced them to juggle an already too full schedule. Why do we do this to ourselves? Learn to say no when something is asked of you that truly is a burden.

From one exhausted Working Mom to another: Carry on. You really are doing a great job! Go you!


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