In the perpetual rush to tick off our never-ending to-do lists and be all things to all people, it’s beyond easy for work moms to lose sight of what we might need to get by. So in the spirit of putting on our metaphorical life masks first and function with increased peace and clarity, we’ve compiled yet another to-do list for your consideration—but this one is all about you, and how to better serve your mom time needs.
1. Take All Your Vacation Days
U.S. employees waste about 429 million paid vacation days every year. That’s a lot of vacation! Vacations cut down on heart attacks and depression, relieve stress, and can improve work performance and creativity. Even if you can’t afford to leave town, consider a staycation, which can work wonders on the mind and restore the spirit—just plan to do things you’ve never done before. But if you don’t take your days, the only one who loses is you.
2. Go on a Social Media Diet
Social media is the modern-day virtual watercooler, an easy way to communicate with friends and get inspired by things you’d like to do. But a big negative is its innate ability to suck hours from your day, affecting your productivity. Another: Last year the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology linked Facebook overuse to depression due to increased “social comparisons” (a.k.a., comparing our lives to the idealized depictions of the lives of others). Not to mention that Pinterest can make you feel even worse about not making your kid’s Halloween costume. So, for the sake of your sanity, cool it on the click-throughs every so often.
3. Be With Your Kids When You Get Home From Work (and Not Simultaneously on Your Phone)
Your boss may expect you to be responsive to emails after hours, but it’s worth considering curbing this expectation—for your kids’ sake. More than half of kids feel their parents check their devices too often, and their biggest complaint is that their parents can’t even focus on them long enough to complete a conversation (ouch!). Before we know it, our kids will grow up, have devices of their own, and will use them to tune us out—and we’ll only have ourselves to blame.
4. Wake Up 15 Minutes Earlier Than Everyone Else in the House
This may be easier said than done, but the benefits are many. Imagine, if you will, the luxury of easing into consciousness in relative silence without deflecting a barrage of questions about the day’s impending schedule. Or using the bathroom without interruption. Or savoring that first sip of coffee in peace and quiet. Or savoring that first sip of coffee while watching a few minutes of the news or the Real Housewives episode you recorded last night. These 15 minutes may be the closest we ever get to meditation, so we owe ourselves this tiny allotment of time, by hook or by crook.
5. And Yet, Sleep in on the Weekends
We all get how the throes of early parenthood can cause sleep deprivation, but less publicized is how sleep issues in working parents can linger, even after our kids adopt solid sleeping patterns. An increased expectation to stay plugged in to the workplace right up until bedtime can affect sleep, due to light exposure and the need to “be on” without enough time to wind down at night. Sleeping in on weekends won’t cure your sleep deprivation, but it sure feels good every once in a while.
6. Share Your Work With Your Kids
In the mind of a young child, “work” can seem like this mythical place or activity that sucks up too much of your time and attention for their liking. By lifting the veil of your professional life and showing your kids what you do and where you go every day, you allow them to learn what your work means to you and your family, the benefits of hard work, and how your professional life impacts others. And you encourage them to imagine what they might do for a living one day. Plus, your career is good for your children: A recent study reveals that adult daughters of employed mothers are more likely to have jobs, have supervisory responsibility, work more hours, and earn more money than those whose moms stayed home full time. And sons raised by employed mothers spend more time caring for family members. Win-win-win.
7. Have a Mom Tantrum Once in a While—or at Least a Good Cry
Listen, freak-outs are rarely ideal, but as living, breathing creatures, we sometimes have to let the steam out of our pressure-cooker lives. Besides, shedding a tear or letting loose can be a cathartic emotional release that helps relieve pent-up stress. Plus, your kids will eventually grow to understand that mom isn’t just mom—she’s a human being with very real feelings and emotions of her own. Not only might they learn it’s OK to release their own emotions, they might also develop more empathy toward you.
8. Be as Good a Delegator at Home as You Are at Work
At work, you have absolutely no problem doling out responsibilities to your team to get the job done. So, what’s the prob at home? Too often, driven by guilt around spending so much time outside the home, we feel compelled to impersonate Martha Stewart and shoulder more than our rightful share of domestic duties, adding even more pressure to our already stressful lives. So, remember that the responsibility of household chores can hold important benefits for children, like a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance. Go ahead and have the kids take out the trash and load the dishwasher. It’ll be good for them—and you. And if your spouse isn’t doing a fair share, try to even that out too.
9. Schedule Unplug Times
As we reported back in December, screens are highly addictive for both adults and kids, and too much screen time can aggravate everything from stress levels to sleep. Plus, studies reveal the importance of psychological detachment from work during non-work time to avoid burnout and promote better health. Set a time each day to unplug and stick to it. Your emails will still be there in the morning, we promise.
10. Lock Yourself in The Bathroom Once a Week (and Do Whatever You Want in There)
The average mom gets only 17 minutes a day to herself. A paltry 17 minutes! This is barely enough time for the toilet. We feel this tiny allotment of time is simply unacceptable, and since the bathroom is often the one room in our homes that serves as a sacred, private space, we recommend you grab a book, magazine or your favorite facial mask, make like a man, and sequester yourself in your bathroom for a good 20 minutes on occasion to take back the me time we’re robbed of every single day.
11. Even if You Don't Love Your Job, Focus on One or Two Things You Like About It
No job is perfect—just four in 10 employees feel highly engaged in the workplace. This happens for various reasons: You might enjoy the actual work, but the culture might not be a great fit, or the culture is conducive but the work isn’t fulfilling, or you just have to put in too many hours. While aiming for better opportunities, try and make your time at your current job less stressful by focusing on the things about it that are most rewarding. You’ll empower yourself to stay on the positive side until you can make a change.
12. Have a Bestie
Few things offer more comfort to a working mom than the counsel of a trusted gal pal. Close friendships can help reduce anxiety, improve your health, and even help you live longer. There’s study of brain scans of women’s anxiety levels before and after they are jolted with an electric shock, both while alone and while holding hands with a close bud. Every scan shows less active danger centers of the brain when participants hold a friends hand during the shock. If that doesn’t present a winning argument for a weekly coffee talk, we don’t know what does!
13. Find Your Inner Badass Mom
Kicking ass is an exhausting—and often daunting—proposition to the already sapped work mom. But there are times in all our lives when we’re compelled to show the world what we’re made of. There are many ways to put on your big girl pants and be a benevolent badass, be it through advocating positive change in your community; standing up to your kids, your spouse or your boss; or simply splurging on yourself with time or money. The ultimate reward in getting fired-up enough to stand up for yourself? The positive example you’ll set for your kids.
14. Take a Weekend Day Off
When was the last time you enjoyed a leisurely brunch with a friend? Got a mani-pedi-foot massage? Shopped for clothing without the impatient eyes of your partner and children searing holes through you? Took a yoga class or just went for a long, leisurely walk? We all deserve the occasional weekend afternoon to ourselves, to hear ourselves think and recharge our ever-depleting batteries. Offer your partner the option to do the same at some point. You’ll return to the family fray happier, less resentful, and more engaged, able to focus on what your family would like to do without the least bit of longing to be elsewhere.
15. Have a Professional Headshot You Like
In this era of constant connectivity, opportunities to promote yourself professionally are endless—teaching an online course, penning an op-ed piece through your professional lens, simply building a digital resume and more. A professional headshot tells the world a few things on sight: You’re a real person, you mean business (literally and figuratively), and you’re poised to tackle a leadership role. You’ll be sure to find it an invaluable asset.
16. Try Something New (Like a Painting Drop-in Class or a Women’s Circle Meet-up)
Nothing can make you feel more like a bummed-out, jaded gerbil on a wheel than falling into a rut. To keep positivity flowing, experts suggest trying out a new activity. People who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences, research shows. So the dividends of taking an hour or two to step out of your comfort zone are priceless.
17. Take a Stand at Work
Most working moms can attest that the juggle is real, and it can be super exhausting just keeping all of our balls in the air. When our precarious balance is thrown off by someone else’s “ish” on the job, it can sometimes be hard to find the energy to stand up for ourselves. Instead, we may let it go—to our own detriment. For example, a co-worker’s dysfunction heaps more work on your plate or causes drama that affects your ability to work. It’s times like these that it pays to assert yourself as positively as you can. Sure, you should always pick your battles, but don’t sacrifice your self-esteem for peace.
18. Exercise (Whether It’s Taking Walks Alone or With Your Kids, or Making Time for a Sweaty Gym Workout)
The benefits of regular exercise are too many to list in a paragraph, but here are a few: It helps keep your weight down, reduces stress, reduces your risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease, strengthens your bones and muscles, and improves your mood. Is there a work mom on earth who couldn’t benefit from all that? Taking your kids along will demonstrate how exercise should be an integral part of their lives too.
19. Keep Up Your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn has become an incredibly powerful job hunting and virtual networking tool. In just five minutes you can forge connections, endorse the performances of co-workers, and add to your list of potential clients and colleagues with just the click of a few keys. Instead of scrambling when you’re ready for a job jump, take time to hone your profile on a regular basis—even if you absolutely love and feel secure in your job. It could provide you with additional opportunities to promote yourself, like publishing posts or articles that boost your position as an expert in your field.
20. Get Rid of One Clutter Pile Every Two Weeks or So
Let’s face it: With all we have going on, the thought of maintaining a perfectly clutter-less home can induce a panic attack—and we’re not endorsing that. But it is well worth taking the time to file or toss errant paperwork periodically. Clutter can literally raise our levels of the stress hormone cortisol and make us feel more depressed and fatigued than those who lived in more organized homes. So, be sure to take 10 to tear through those mail-order catalogs before they get the better of you.
21. Network on Occasion
Do you ditch industry cocktail parties in favor of dinner with your kiddos? Or forgo conferences for more hours in the office? The benefits of networking—even a few times a year—are many. The best way for network builders or job seekers to stand out is forging a face-to-face connection. These may not only lead to new professional opportunities down the road, they might also lead you to a new friend while you’re at it.
22. Make Sure Your Partner (if You Have One) Regularly Spends Time Alone With Your Kids
This includes overnights, homework time, and school prep in the mornings. The word partner implies a 50/50 division of responsibilities. But too often women—even those of us who work full-time—assume the lion’s share of responsibility for non-work-hours childcare. Playing the overworked and underappreciated martyr at home gets you nowhere but even more overworked and underappreciated. And it denies your children and your partner the opportunity to develop a deep dynamic with each other. Women are already at a significant disadvantage when it comes to egalitarian rights and pay in our society. An equal opportunity home is the least we deserve.
23. Go on a Proper Date
The relentless demands of a career and childcare can easily take a toll on your relationship with your partner, and your ability to communicate well with each other can wane over time. Set time aside, monthly if you can, to go on a real date. It doesn’t have to be expensive—have a friend watch the kids for a few hours while you go for burgers and beer, or sneak out of the office during lunch hour to hook up at a local diner. A reason to dress up and a few hours of uninterrupted conversation can work wonders for your relationship.
24. Ditch the Guilt
Working mother guilt is palpable. We’ve all felt it at one time or another, like when our professional obligations cause us to miss a school play or host fewer playdates, or when our kids’ grades go down (of course it’s our fault). To ease your mind, the American Psychological Association analyzed 69 studies over 50 years and learned that children whose mothers worked when they were young had no major learning, behavior or social problems, and tended to be high achievers in school and have less depression and anxiety. Which leads us to the next thing you should do.
25. Be Forgiving of Yourself
The work mom life is not for the faint of heart. A full 80% of working moms feel stressed about getting everything done, and one in four of us cry alone about household-related stress at least once per week. That’s a lot of tears. But by practicing self-forgiveness, we release pent up anger that could up our stress and even cause disease. We all make mistakes. All we can do is the best we can do, and our best bet is to work through any anger and sadness we feel toward ourselves and let it go. After all, who has time to beat herself up when she’s got so much to hold together? Not us!
This article was originally published on Working Mother. It has been republished here with permission.
Working Mother is a mentor, role model, and advocate for the country’s more than 17 million moms who are devoted to their families and committed to their careers. Through our website, magazine, research, social networks, video, radio, and powerful events, we provide women and moms with the community, solutions, and strategies they need to thrive.More from this Author