I was a working mom, myself, for 18 years. I won't kid you: It wasn't easy. A lot of it is a blur. So, I polled my co-worker moms, friends, and neighbors to see what skills they need to keep the "working mom" machine running. Here are some of the top life skills they rely on day in and day out.
1.The Ability to Find Support
"I'd be so screwed if I didn't have my family close by."
All moms interviewed cited the "ability to find help" answer as their most-needed skill. My group relied on husbands or partners, family members (usually their own mothers), babysitters, daycare, after-school programs, neighbors, and friends to help take care of children. A sick kid meant taking time off, but if that wasn't possible, they relied heavily on spouses or family. Struggling the most in my group was "S," a mother of three, going through a difficult divorce without family close by. She gave credit to her boss, who allowed her to work flexible hours or occasionally work from home.
2. The Ability to Deal With Guilt
"I feel so bad when I don't spend enough time with my son."
"Even though she was whiny, I sent her to school, and it turned out she had a double ear infection."
"I was late to pick him up at daycare, and he was the last one there. I felt so bad."
"I was off work and had to ask for people to cover for me."
Guilt is a powerful emotion. Every working mom I talked to had experienced it, and I know it well, myself. What I found encouraging, or healthy, was that the moms were able to articulate that emotion, discuss it, and then move forward. Even though they all experienced guilt, they weren't letting the negative emotion dictate their lives.
3. The Ability to Find a Family-Friendly Workplace
"It's so wonderful when my boss lets me work from home."
In the group of moms interviewed, most were happy and engaged in their work. The mom with the best situation teaches at a community college, where she also has access to an on-site preschool for her daughter. She enjoys flexible hours, particularly in the summer, and a good salary.
The moms who worked for larger corporations appreciated their benefit packages, but complained of the paperwork involved in obtaining time off. Working in smaller offices meant having more work or responsibility, but some moms appreciated that they could just "make up time" and not have to clock in or out. Only one in the group was unhappy with her work situation, but was reconciled to staying in it for the pay and benefits for the time being.
4. The Ability to Schedule Everybody
If you need a person on your staff capable of scheduling, hire a mom. The collective ability of my group to meet work deadlines, get multiple kids to various activities, and handle everyday life is impressive. All owned smartphones, which they credited for keeping things straight. Several also had calendars on refrigerators. Many glowed about teachers who would answer texts, or schools that had online homework portals where they could check on their kids' progress. Today's moms are hardwired.
5. The Ability to Carve Out "Me" Time
"Some days, going up the stairs is the only exercise I get."
Alarmingly, the entire group of moms I talked to was pretty much ignoring exercise. There simply seemed to be no time. If a co-worker dragged them on a quick walk during break, that was it. After work, everyone piled into their cars, picked up kids, and went to after-school activities. This was followed by dinner, baths, homework, and bed.
Still, they managed to carve out little bits of time for themselves. Some enjoyed reading magazines on their lunch breaks. Others looked forward to hair or manicure appointments, or visiting with other moms while waiting at soccer, little league, or dance lessons. Many watched reality shows ("I know it's totally fake, but it's my guilty pleasure...") or playing games on their phones. "K," a champion multi-tasker, said, "I put the baby in the stroller, attach the dog leash, stick a beer in the beverage holder and we go walk and unwind."
6. The Ability to Delegate
In my little group, the husbands/partners do almost all of the cooking. Kids over eight do laundry, or fold clothes. Older children make their own lunches, or buy lunch at school. Some do a little yard work or feed the family pets. Clearly, being able to delegate chores at home is a skill that working moms need. You can't do it all yourself.
7. The Ability to Say "No"
Happily, if my group was any indication, today's moms have learned that sometimes "no" is the answer. While they still expressed some guilt about not being able to work overtime, fill in a shift, take that PTA Treasurer job, or bake cookies, they were able to say "no." when needed. Family has become priority #1, and they all knew how to set boundaries. Also interesting was the fact that, rather than traveling to work meetings, more were utilizing webinars, Skype, or conference calls. "There is no reason I need to drive an hour to sit in a meeting," said one, "when we can just bang out the details over the phone."
8. The Ability to Cope With the Difficult Times
"I am being pulled in so many different directions."
Who has it the hardest? Having been there myself, I'd say it's the sandwich generation. These are the women trying to work, take care of children, and take care of parents. K, for example, has three children under the age of 11, works fulltime, and her mother is beginning to experience dementia. Her life involves constant caretaking. She has also had to quickly become an expert in insurance programs, various care facilities, and in-home nursing. She and her husband frequently "tag-team" each other just to get through the day.
9. The Ability to Reconnect
"I never knew I'd learn how to keep score for baseball!"
My moms group figured out that they needed to spend time with their families, and I think they have surprised themselves by learning new things in order to stay connected. These moms are cool — they learned about little league, rodeo, dance, band, etc. — along with their partners and husbands, and now the whole family is together, no matter what the activity.
10. The Ability to Keep a Sense of Humor
"I'll look back on this and laugh, right?"
It's true. I can laugh now about how upset I was at the time about dealing with head lice, or projectile vomiting, or that time when we forgot to pick her up at school. It helps a lot to have other moms to talk to for encouragement. Kids are going to do some dumb things, too, and they're going to occasionally embarrass you, but if you can keep your sense of humor, you'll be all right. Here's just a little more humor:
"Being a working mom is not easy. You have to be willing to screw up at every level." — Jami Gertz