In addition to the joy that starting a family brings, the practical, emotional and monetary impact of parenthood cannot be truly understood until you’re in the thick of it. I’m the working mom of two little girls, and navigating parenting and my career has thrown more curveballs at me than I could even begin to count.
I’m not alone here. Almost 47 percent of U.S. workers are women and 70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 participate in the labor force. Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 today, compared to just 11 percent back in 1960.
Fast forward to today, and being a working mom is officially the new normal. I love pursuing a career and I love being a mom. But, making both work has frankly been the toughest professional challenge I’ve faced to date.
Here are some of the career lessons I’ve learned from my own firsthand experiences.
Be Financially Smart
In addition to managing work-life balance, working moms often take a hit financially. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, for every $1 made by a father with children under 18 in 2013, mothers earned 74.7 cents.
I wish I’d known all of this before becoming a parent, but I didn’t, and I became more and more demoralized. For me, the gender pay gap and the gender opportunity gap became real, present and tangible from the moment I became a working mom.
Yes, the statistics are dismal but don’t be completely disheartened. Understand the big picture but choose to be enlightened and proactive. Research salaries. Know your worth. Work hard. Negotiate your compensation and benefits. Speak up. Advocate for your advancement. Strive to earn the money you deserve. It may not happen overnight, but do everything in your power to build your career and your financial worth.
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Create an Open Dialogue With Your Boss and Your Team
Don’t be afraid to talk to your manager about your role, schedule and requirements. Creating a dialogue with your boss will help everyone understand expectations and avoid any potential issues in the future.
It’s not uncommon to feel guilty if your work schedule differs from that of other people on your team who may also be parents or caregivers. But, the bottom line is this: your performance, and crucially your boss’s perception of your performance, is what counts. This will allow you to focus your energy on achieving what matters most.
Maintain a Realistic Schedule
As a working mom, my day begins way before I get to work and ends hours after my little ones are sleeping. To be honest, most days it feels like I’m constantly on the go 24/7.
I’ve learned the hard way that maintaining an unrealistic schedule will ultimately set you up for failure. There are only 24 hours in a day and only seven days in a week. Give yourself enough time to complete the things you need to do.
I’m terrible at putting scores of items on my daily to-do list, but if I calculate how long these tasks would take I’d need at least two or three days, not one. Rein it in by being realistic from the outset. You’re not Wonder Woman and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’re all human and there’s only so much you can achieve in one day.
Prioritize and Delegate
Take a long hard look at your recurring deliverables at work and at home. At work, figure out what’s top priority and always tackle the most critical tasks first. At home, if you have way too many critical tasks to accomplish, you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Solving problems and finding strategies to address them is smart. Ignoring them and burning out or dropping the ball won’t work in the long run.
Personally, I factor “delegating” into my budget each month. I use a regular cleaning service and when I return home on Mondays, my home always sparkles. I have dinner delivered on Friday evenings as by the end of the week I’m too tired to cook. I use a virtual assistant service most days to take care of small tasks for our home and family. These three services alone make me less stressed, and are worth every penny.
Build a Support Team
Creating an “in case of emergency team” is essential. Identify family, friends, coworkers, other working parents or neighbors who could assist with a task or a school pickup when you’re really in a pinch.
From my own experience, even passing conversations with other working parents have been valuable. Just this week, my husband and I were planning to cover a school closure day by splitting the day between us, as both of us had work commitments. A chance conversation with another working mom alerted me to a day camp I wasn’t even aware of. I enrolled my kids, they had a blast and my husband and I were both able to tackle our work deadlines.
Reassess How You Measure Success
After I became a parent, I started to realize that how I measure my personal and professional success needed to change. As a working mom, how I approach, execute and benchmark my career is different than how it was before.
This doesn’t mean that you should give up on your ambitions. If anything, raising a family has been a catalyst to my career goals. The work I do matters even more now that I have dependents. That said, in practical terms, it’s often hard to accelerate your career if you feel like you’re being pulled in a million directions.
Give yourself time and space. Keep on dreaming big. Determine what success means to you and how to adjust and configure the route that you will take to keep moving forward.
Carve Out Time for Yourself
During my first few years as a parent, the concept of “free time” didn’t exist for me. I didn’t believe I had any. There was always too much to do.
Here’s the deal. There will never be a time when you don’t have something to do. It’s your job to make time somewhere, somehow, to recharge. I learned the hard way that taking time to look after my own well-being, as well as my kids’, is of the utmost importance if I want to be able to do my best work.
My biggest takeaway from being a working mom is this: If something isn’t working for me, and if it’s negatively impacting my work, my family life, my finances or my well-being, change it. I may never achieve the perfect equilibrium of work-life balance, but I can make sure I do what it takes to set myself up for personal and professional success.
Tell Us What You Think
Working moms, share your tips. How do you keep everything running? We want to hear from you. Share your strategies in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.