Career or family?
She had a job that she was miserable in. He had a family business that he inherited. He wasn’t passionate about the business. She wasn’t passionate about her job. This couple was struggling financially and just not happy. With two young children at home, they felt trapped.
For the mom in this story, she constantly felt like she wasn’t doing a good job at home. She would spend her time at work preoccupied with feelings of guilt, and she would spend her time at home preoccupied with worries from work. She felt like she was living in both worlds but was not successful in either space.
It came down to some radical choices for both mom and dad, but ultimately mom quit her professional career and joined the family business. This was years ago. Jump ahead to today and you’ll find this couple running an extremely successful business — happy, healthy, and enjoying life.
It sounds great now, but at the time the couple — especially the mom — experienced a lot of struggles, and they had to make some tough decisions. Choosing between family or career is no easy task. Many of the mothers I see in my practice feel like they’re in a constant tug-of-war battle between home and work. There are 3 main reasons you might find yourself in this challenging situation too.
1. You have a degree and feel obligated to use it.
You’re already a professional, you’ve received an education, and you want to use it. Educated women these days are having children later in life. Often times these women have already started their careers by the time they get married. When they start to have kids, they’re well established in their careers.
2. You are a single parent.
We know there is a very high percentage of single mothers out there. For these women, the choice between home and work is more figurative than literal. You have to work, and you feel like being a stay-at-home mom isn’t an option at this point.
3. You have financial constraints.
Whether you’ve grown accustomed to dual incomes or a hardship presents itself, you feel like you have to keep up with the financial expectations that are already set.
And whether it’s for financial, professional, or personal reasons, you find yourself trapped in an either/or situation with limited choices. Should you pursue a career or become a stay-at-home mom?
But do you have to choose? What if you tried this instead…
Reframe the Situation: Eliminate The Either/Or Statement
We put a lot of unnecessary stress and limitation on ourselves when we feel like our choices are black and white. Here’s an idea: instead of saying “I either work or stay home,” approach the situation by considering other solutions and new ideas. Then, come up with a list of pros and cons for the possibilities. Just changing the language can make a big difference in not feeling trapped in black or white situations. That’s the first step women should take when they feel like they have to choose between a career or a family.
With a reframed mindset, you can apply any (or all) of these 8 tips to help create your own definition of work-life balance:
What are your priorities? Write down a list of your priorities and make it real. We often say that our families come first, but our behaviors and actions don’t always reflect that. You never have to share this list with anybody, so don’t be embarrassed if your priority is to make $2 million. Just be real about it.
#2. Be Present
For the next two weeks try being fully present everywhere you go. Don’t think about what you need to do at home when you’re at work, and don’t think about your boss when you’re at home. A working mom often brings one side of her life into another and vise-versa. She can never evaluate how happy or unhappy she truly is since she hasn’t fully experienced both sides.
How do you stay present? Practice a technique called thought stopping. Every time you catch yourself stressing about something you need to do, literally tell yourself to stop. Write it down somewhere. Then move on. Use a large sticky note, put a pencil and pen on your nightstand, download a productivity app, or try voice technology like Siri or Alexa to remind you about things later.
#3. Look at Company Culture
Mothers want to evaluate company culture on 2 fronts:
- Value alignment
Don’t be afraid to interview the company as much as they interview you. Ask them questions such as:
- “I have two young children at home and value work-life balance. How do you support that?”
- “How do you support women in leadership roles?”
- “How would it look if one day I have to leave at 2:45 because my child has soccer practice?”
Don’t be afraid to be looked down upon by asking these questions. If they do look down on you, it’s not the fit you’re looking for anyways. They need you as much as you need them.
#4. Communicate With Management
Don’t wait for the exit interview. For mothers already working, look for opportunities to create flexibility in the work environment. Human beings are really good at complaining. It’s easy for us to talk about what’s not working, but we’re not great at talking about what we think could work. What would happen if you went to your manager with suggestions on what would be helpful for you and other female employees at your company?
Propose solutions, not just complaints. Then you can at least leave or move forward knowing you tried your best to make it work.
#5. Become an Entrepreneur
If you don’t find what you are looking for, create it yourself. Start small —with only one employee (you!) and grow from there. It’s scary. I totally understand that. There’s some risk-taking that’s involved, but there’s also a tremendous amount of freedom. (Hint: Make a list of pros and cons in a career position. Is freedom something you want?)
#6. Own Your Choice(s)
When you do make a choice, own it fully. You have to do this because feeling guilty in both worlds it not helping anyone. It’s not helping your career. It’s not helping your kids. It’s not helping you. When you have to talk to family and relatives about your choice, rehearse what you’re going to say for any potential reaction. Dreading that look you anticipate from your mother-in-law? Then practice.
#7. Gather A Personal Support System
You cannot think of yourself as an island. Any woman who chooses to have a career and raise children cannot do it alone. You need a support crew and you need to communicate with them:
Here’s what I need from you. Here’s what I could really use from you. Here’s how you could help me.
Maybe you need to carpool. Maybe you need someone to take the kids for the afternoon. Maybe you need someone to walk the dog.
#8. Find A Female Mentor
Ideally, you’re looking for a female mentor that’s in the same industry or position as you. If nothing else, you just want to find a woman who balances a career and her children. Offer to take her out for coffee once a month or a phone call once a week. You want to hear her experience. What’s her guidance? What has she learned? What are her failures? Most women are really receptive to this idea and want to help.
…but if you’re finding it’s hard to reach out to female mentors, it’s probably due to 1 of these 3 reasons:
- You’re so busy, you don’t think someone else will have time for you.
The truth: Good mentors want to share their honest advice. They want to help.
- You’re afraid of being seen as weak.
The truth: Being vulnerable is no easy task, but it’s so freeing and healthy.
- You don’t know who to ask.
The truth: Social media and LinkedIn are great places to look.
The Next Steps
Life is a juggling act more than a balancing act. Sometimes you’re juggling all the elements in the air and other times they all fall down. Or you only catch one and three fall down. We have to learn how to juggle, so if you’re ready to start, check out my book, Mommy Burnout, that teaches women all the ingredients to be a really, really good juggler.