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Excerpt from "Mastering the Mommy Track"

Chapter 11: Self-Care: As a Mother How Do I Find ‘Alone’ Time?

by Erin Flynn Jay


Many working mothers today find it difficult to find enough time for themselves to relax or unwind after a busy workweek meeting deadlines, managing teams, commuting into the office, and so forth. Weekends go by too fast, and most moms can’t just take the weekend off away from their kids. The to-do list is endless – grocery shopping, meal preparation, kid birthday parties, and play dates, just to mention a few regular items.

As I write this on a Sunday in February, I have one hour of ‘self’ time, and this morning I am choosing to spend it at the grocery store. Husband Jason will be gone most of the day on a hike with his new hiking club; I lined up a babysitter for an hour and a half so I can also attend a local nutrition seminar. Late this afternoon, I am taking the girls to a Media Moms event or play date at Grow Thru Play, a mix of fun for them (and me, as I look forward to meeting some other local mom bloggers). The girls can run around the play area. If I have enough energy, I will finish writing this chapter tonight. That is my ambitious plan for the day.

Like countless other career moms with young kids, I do not have enough time to myself. I know the situation will change when the girls are older. For now, however, I am putting self-care on the back burner. My first priority is to find some new clients. This takes time and work. Once I win new business, I will breathe a bit easier. Until that happens, I will be in ‘full prospecting’ mode, emailing past clients and prospects, and searching online ads.

I asked several other working moms how they find rejuvenation time for themselves. Julie McGlynn, an executive at a financial company in Manhattan and mother of 1-year-old twins, Clare and Monica, shared her hectic work schedule. McGlynn moved to the suburbs to have more space for the twins and engage the excellent public school system. They settled on a location because of its proximity to New York. One issue arose afterward: no childcare was available in the area so they settled on putting the twins in daycare in a town about 11 miles north. So a typical day for McGlynn starts at 5 a.m. She gets herself ready for work. Her husband, Damien, is up at 5:30 a.m. At about 5:45 a.m., McGlynn wakes up the twins.

McGlynn gets the girls changed and dressed. They all leave the house at 6:20 a.m. After McGlynn drops Damien off at the train, and after she brings the twins to daycare, she tries to catch the 7:18 a.m. train into Manhattan. She gets to work between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., works a full day, and leaves at 4:55 p.m. to make the 5:17 p.m. train, even though this drives her boss nuts. McGlynn gets back to her community about 6 p.m., collects the twins, meets Damien at the train about 7 p.m., and then shuttles the family home.

Once they are home, they bathe, feed, and dress the girls for bed. ‘After that I make their lunch and dinner for the next day, wash their dishes from today, while Damien cooks dinner. We eat and clean up. At about 9 p.m., we sit down,’ she said. ‘I have about one and a half hours to relax before I go to bed. I like to use the computer, watch television, or read a magazine. I also spend time talking to my husband to ensure that we are on the same schedule and that everything is moving forward on our endless to-do list,’ she added.

On the weekends, McGlynn spends most of her time with Clare and Monica. ‘I see so little of them Monday to Friday that I love reading them stories, playing with them, and taking long walks with them along the Long Island Sound,’ she said. ‘I enjoy my Friday and Saturday nights hanging out with my husband. We like to cook and try new wines. It’s my favorite part of the week.’

As far as carving out real ‘me’ time, McGlynn said she hasn’t been able to accomplish this. ‘I have the train trip in and out of New York to read. I like going to get my hair cut – I find that relaxing. I just wish I had more time to meet with friends, get some exercise, and do a few things for me.’

Because they both have held their jobs, the economic downturn did not have a noticeable impact on their situation. Neither had plans to stay home during this growing-up time; the couple needed to work regardless. McGlynn said the hours away from home and reduced personal-couple time is more a function of living away from her job than the downturn.

‘I tend probably like every other working mother to be burned out, tired, and guilty that I don’t spend enough time with Clare and Monica. The only thing that helps is the smiles on their faces every day when I pick them up,’ she said. ‘I also have learned to slow down – you can’t do everything. One thing at a time and be super-organized.’

Shanetris Campbell, author of I Am Not My Father’s Daughter (Publicly Owned Publishing Company, 2011), said that when she takes a good look at her life – a 9-year-old, three businesses[MSB1] , full-time caregiver, full-time chef, full-time taxi, tutor, mommy, project manager, writer, author, promoter, entrepreneur – it’s no wonder her mornings greet her with a panic attack. She has so many things to manage and set straight on a daily basis it gets overwhelming, fast.

Campbell said she is in the most delicate part of her life – shaping her career and business. ‘Life to me, in this moment, is a great, wide-open, blank canvas and guess who gets to play? Me. It’s great and full of potential, but that canvas at times can look splattered with dark hues at the edges,’ she said. ‘This is why balance and a positive mindset are necessary. I’ve realized that it’s all in the way I look at it.’

Stealing ‘Me’ Time

As it relates to ‘me’ time, Campbell has adopted the purloin method for herself. ‘The beauty of me stealing my time is that it gives me the opportunity to work for my chosen escapades. Yes, I am guilty of making them fun and naughty in the cash arena,’ she said. ‘I complete a deadline and for celebration I’ll treat myself to a spa day or splurge meal at a place I’ve been craving to go to. It seems planned, but it can create a future struggle for my single-mom bank account.’

In regards to the perilous economy, Campbell said it’s been the scariest rollercoaster ride she’s ever been on. ‘In the beginning, I held strong to the belief that the media was making these dramatic stories to scare the “be-jesus” out of people and force us into a political position. They knew we’d be there in front of the television by 7 p.m. waiting for them to give us a gleam of hope. We got the brutal facts. But they didn’t often dispense the hope. I thought it was worse than a fierce domestic relationship – they knew we’d be back for more. And we were.’

The truth really hit home when she took her travels out of the country a little more seriously. In most countries Campbell visited, she had enough knowledge of the local language to get around, engage, learn, and discover. She met with others and found out what they were experiencing in their local context. She realized that it was a lot worse than she had expected. Although it seemed that the other countries had more than we did, the struggle and hardships were much the same.

The recession scared Campbell into doing things that she’d not previously done, such as writing a book about her life and producing it with a team she handpicked. ‘I would’ve never imagined that I could do it, alone. It took a change in my way of thinking about myself, a change in the woman I was, before I could aspire to be the different woman I had envisioned,’ said Campbell. ‘And with the economic downfall, it’s what has challenged me to move beyond what I thought I knew and rediscover who I am today. I now have the opportunity to create a legacy for my son and me.’

Campbell believes there are several degrees of burnout – mild burnout to medium burnout to Code Red Burnout. ‘There is quite a difference between multitasking and attempting to be Superwoman. A mother still has to have her hands in her daily mommy duties; being an entrepreneur calls for another set of skills and a big chunk of time for developing or even maintaining a company,’ she said. ‘How a mother can accomplish both things is magical, if you ask me. Burnout for a working mother is a predictable outcome, not a bittersweet luxury.’

In all, Campbell loves her life and has learned how to work within her own limits, love the successes both as a mom and a new business owner, and create more from them. She knows that stealing her ‘me’ time is necessary or else she’d lose her mind. She’s learned to work with what she has until she can make more or better. The best lesson she has ever learned is to be present – in the moment. And when she does this, she realizes that right now is always perfect.

The weakened economy has left me feeling less secure financially. I seem to have to work harder to find – and keep – clients. It has made me a bit apprehensive at times. As I’ve mentioned before, I love self-employment and running my own business. When a business or author signs a long-term contract with me, I get such a rewarding feeling. It puts my mind at ease and allows me a break from marketing my services.

I would love to spend money on bigger, more exotic family vacations, but that is not in the cards. I have grown to love trips to my parents’ beach house when the weather is warm – that is always a treat for the girls. Twice a year I visit a girlfriend in Manhattan for the weekend – that is always exciting. I know the situation will change, but for now I just need to appreciate the moments I can get away.

The economic downturn affects working moms’ situations by making families feel particularly vulnerable, ‘feeling like they can’t take time out for themselves because they should be spending more time looking for work, keeping the job they have, or spending more time with their children,’ said Lisa Haisha, Hollywood counselor and humanitarian. ‘This economic downturn is actually the time when they need more time by themselves, because alone time helps you find the answers that can help get you out of the situation.’

‘It causes people’s Impostors – their dark side – to come out; they get short-tempered, wake up stressed or angry, and take it out on family members or friends,’ Haisha said. ‘Take a deep breath and keep your Impostors in check by responding to them, but without reacting. The more you can get a grasp on not reacting, the more empowered you will be and the better your day will go.’

‘The downturn has had a massive effect on people’s lives,’ agreed UK-based Lianne-Carla Savage, a work-at-home mom of two under 3 years of age. Savage incorporated her first company when her eldest turned 2 and the youngest was three months old. Now she advises other mompreneurs. ‘Jobs are in short supply and increasingly more is asked of employees in order to fulfill their roles. The stress is affecting everyone, and more people are being diagnosed with depression. Now more than ever is the time to invest in the little things that boost emotional well-being,’ she said. ‘Sometimes there is no option but to work overtime; some people find they are working second jobs or taking the leap by starting a business alongside their day job. It can be tiring and overwhelming at times.’

Interestingly, it appears to have caused couples to divide more equally the household chores and parenting activities – a small silver lining, perhaps, said Cynthia Calvert, founder and principal of Workforce 21C. ‘More women stayed in the paid workforce and more went back into the paid workforce as a result of a disproportionate percentage of men who were laid off. I don’t have hard data on this, just anecdotes and media stories. What I’ve been hearing about is that men who were laid off are assuming more of the family work,’ she said.

Another anecdotal, media-reported phenomenon leads Calvert to believe, however, that the downturn – and men doing more family work – hasn’t necessarily translated to more self-care or free time for women. ‘People who retained their jobs often had to work (and continue to have to work) very hard to do the work of the people who were laid off. Longer hours and being on call when at home has made leisure time more scarce,’ she added. ‘This scarcity makes it all the more important for women to deliberately plan and negotiate time for themselves to prevent burnout.’

Physical and Mental Health Is Vital

Mothers can carve out time for themselves – which they must do for physical and mental health reasons, and to be a better parent. Calvert said this requires four things:

1. Women need to share family and home obligations with a partner or spouse. Women have made great strides toward equality in the workplace, but not at home. ‘Household chores and parenting responsibilities need to be divided equally,’ Calvert said. ‘If some chores can be outsourced, all the better – but both partners need to have responsibility for setting up and monitoring the outsourced work. Women will never be equal at work or have time for themselves until they can achieve equality at home.’

2. Sharing chores and parenting at home requires not only men (or partners) to shift their mindsets but also women to shift their mindsets as well. Calvert said women need to give over the duties completely – no monitoring, no nagging, no correcting, no guilt, and no profuse thanks. Men (or partners) are not ‘helping’ – they are equally responsible.

3. Shift one’s mindset away from guilt for time away. Mothers need to realize that they are better mothers who can be more present and emotionally available to their children if they have some down time. They also make better role models for their children when moms model relaxation and self-care.

4. Finally, carving out time requires planning and cooperation. The spouses or partners need to share calendars so that each person’s free time can be scheduled – and both can commit to making it happen for each. Planning for the free time makes such time more likely to happen.

As footnotes to these four elements, Calvert recommends working moms get more sleep – you’ll be more efficient and accomplish tasks in less time. Also, trade play dates with a friend – she will watch your children, then you watch hers at another time. This is a good solution for single parents.

Calvert’s suggestions for reclaiming your time:

· Give up perfection. Families can thrive on simple meals, toys can lie around the house until the weekend, and dust bunnies never killed anyone.

· Train your children to be helpful from a young age: pick up toys, set and clear the table, help load the dishwasher, etc.

· Do your shopping online, but in a focused way that doesn’t eat up the time you’re saving. Clothes, birthday presents, school books, food, beauty items, cleaning supplies and more are all available on the web.

· Pay your bills online and automate as many payments as possible.

· Say no to requests to volunteer. This can be a tough recommendation for many women, so a budget approach works best. Think in advance how much time you are willing to give to volunteer activities, and limit your participation to activities that are not too draining on your time or energy.

· Set up systems to organize everything. Investing some time and energy into this now can return many hours and relieve many pains[MSB2] each week.

· Everything should have a place – outerwear, sports equipment, toys, craft supplies, books, bills, mail, school work, school forms – to make cleaning a snap and to eliminate time spent searching for things.

· Encourage your children to eat school lunches.

· Limit your children to two extra-curricular activities each, and get them interested in doing the same activities (or practice arenas) at the same time as their sibling(s), whenever the activities involve transportation.

Erin Flynn Jay has been a writer, publicist and communications consultant for small to mid-sized companies in all industries since August 2001. Erin has expertise in getting unknown experts their first media placements.

From 2002 to 2005, Erin worked as an in-house consultant for a literary PR agency in New York City, where she booked city tours, radio tours and speaking engagements for authors in addition to placing them in newspapers and magazines. Before becoming self employed, Erin worked at D.E.I. Management Group, Inc., an international sales training company as a writer and editor for over four years. Her primary role there was to customize hundreds of training programs each year for Fortune 500 clients in every field. As a Managing Editor of Stephan Schiffman's Executive Sales Briefing, she recruited writers and edited this monthly publication. In 2010, Erin wrote extensively about timely professional coaching topics for www.coachingcommons.org. Erin's articles have appeared in diverse publications including careerbuilder.com, MSN Careers, Brandweek, Costco Connection, Opportunity World, Sales and Marketing Excellence, The New York Enterprise Report and Wealth Manager.Erin received a B.A. in Communication from the University of Scranton in PA.

Mastering the Mommy Track is now available in paperback and ebook to readers from all online and highstreet bookstores and to the trade from the National Book Network customercare@nbnbooks.com/+1 800 462 6420

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