I am absolutely honored to share this article with you. 70% of moms are working moms and here at The Snap Mom we hope you know by now that we support all moms. We are here for each of you and we support you. Today is the day we show our support specifically for the working mom. Take it away, Chanelle…
Hey, Working Mom. Breathe. Your Kids Are All Right.
By Chanelle Henderson
I found out I was pregnant the day after I found out I was accepted into graduate school. Talk about good news overload! My husband was in his first week of medical school, pouring his heart, brain, and sanity into his first Anatomy course. I was working as an Outdoor Facilitator for a small company, running high ropes courses for local school groups. We still had unpacked boxes — and a new student loan — after moving that summer to pursue both of our career dreams.
I kid you not — I peed on 8 sticks in a row to be sure that there were DEFINITELY two little lines before I came busting into the office with THAT bomb. But there they were, two joy-filled, terrifying little pink lines. 8 times in a row. We had a choice to make about our family’s future. For many reasons, we both chose to continue pursuing our education simultaneously. We decided to take it one semester at a time to find the balance between work and family as we went.
To work or not to work was never just one choice. It has been a series of choices we have made as a family every semester since Day One. It is a choice that millions of us make when we see those little pink lines for the first time. For many of us, it’s not a choice, but rather imperative for the well-being of our growing families. Unfortunately, it’s no secret that parents feel guilty or judged by the “choices” they make for themselves and their families.
My daughter is now two, and I recently graduated with a Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling. I am proud of the choice we made at our Pink Line Crossroads. I still make constant choices about what our family will look like, but I have learned so much along the way about how to manage that guilt. I hope that no matter what your employment status is at this time, that you find peace with your family’s situation.
So for all my fellow working moms, I’ve compiled some lessons I’ve learned along the way. This article is as much written as a reminder to me as it is for you!
1. Take a Break
When I first started working full-time to complete my internship, I was constantly battling the Mommy Guilt. For some reason, I got it in my head that if my daughter was at daycare, I better darn well be at my desk WORKING my BUTT off every minute I’m away from her. Then, I must RUSH to pick her up the minute I answer my last email. We all know how that little story ends: a burnt out mama with nothing else to give and a long ride home ahead of her.
Then, one day I got off work early at 2:30 pm, and my daughter was still napping at daycare. So I went for a (*gasp*) blissful cup of coffee by the lake! Alone! Contrary to my beliefs, my child did not combust!
Somehow, I had deluded myself to come to the conclusion that ‘self-care’ is at the exclusion of ‘others-care’ when in fact, by caring for OURSELVES, we ARE caring for our children. It is not just okay to take an hour to do a yoga class, go out to lunch, or take a nap while your child is not in your care, it is essential for both your well-being. Research shows that when a parent has time away to decompress, they are more likely respond to their child in a positive way. This creates more QUALITY interactions that foster a stronger attachment bond overall. In one longitudinal study, researchers looked at difficult infant temperament and negative maternal parenting for more than 260 mother and child pairs and found that “negative maternal parenting mattered more than difficult infant temperament in putting parent-child pairs at risk for conflict in the toddler period, and then putting children at risk for conduct problems at school age.” 1
Perhaps more importantly, when a mother takes time for herself through regular breaks, she is much more equipped to handle the stressors in her life. Stress affects our cortisol levels, raises our blood pressure, creates strife and lowers our immune system. Stress is less healthy for our bodies than any GMO, non-organic, or non-fermented grain. 2
Not only that, but stress can have a direct effect on our children. As one study demonstrates, “Stress hormones (and medications that mimic them) may have long-lasting effects on infants… And exposure in the womb is where it all begins.” 3 Stress, especially chronic stress, has been shown to decrease a mother’s ability to respond to her children’s needs, which can keep a mother from bonding with her child. It increases the incidence of postpartum depression, and can affect a child’s ability to emotionally regulate later in childhood.
While we cannot always account for what is externally stressful, we CAN take moments to pause in our day. Think of it this way: while you are able to decompress at yoga class, your child is blissfully coloring a picture for you to hang on your bulletin board tomorrow morning. By taking care of your own needs, you are directly fostering the very bond you aim to preserve in your frantic 5 o’clock commute.
2. Get support that you can count on
Now, I realize that for many mothers, this is a luxury. Some of us have tons of family members with no hobbies, swooning over our children’s every move, eager to sweep them into their home at a moment’s notice. Others may be kissing their significant other as they walk out the door to the night shift. Some may be the sole provider.
No matter what, find a network of support that you can lean on for help. If you have good, quality care that you can trust, it can really do a number on your stress level. With a spouse in school and family far away, it was essential for my husband and I to find a daycare we could trust with teachers who treated our daughter well. It took a really long time (and a decent cut to our budget!) but it is worth every penny. At one point, a few other moms and I started a childcare swap in order to give each other time off. So reach out, and get creative!
Also, in this last season of full-time work and school, it has been ESSENTIAL for things to get a lot more fluid. As another study shows, “The children of employed mothers are likely to attain a nonstereotyped view of the nature and value of male and female abilities. There are many options for the accomplishment of domestic chores; the family’s choice will be affected by ideology, financial means, and the availability of resources in the community. It is unrealistic to expect that there will be no change in the performance of domestic responsibilities when the mother enters paid employment.” 4 (I have to give a big shout out to my hubs for stepping up too: the man can COOK, that’s for sure!) I have learned that if I need help, it’s really important for me to loosen my ‘standards’ of what our house roles look like. If the dishes aren’t put away *quite* right and the house is a total mess during the week, it’s a small price to pay for a balanced, happy family in the end.
3. Quality over Quantity
Put down the paper, the phone, the chore or task at hand. Work when you are at work, and play when it’s time to play.
At one stage in our evolution, I thought I could get wise and “multitask” by working at home with a 9 month old. Guess what? There’s no such thing as “multi-tasking”! What we are doing when we “multi-task” is rapidly shifting our focus from one task to the other, and back again. Our brains are unable to “split focus”, and in our speedy shift, we lose productivity.5 What I discovered is that when I work from home, I am MUCH less efficient, more stressed out, and my daughter knows I’m not paying her my full attention.
This particular nugget of wisdom can affect those of us staying at home full time as well. If we can chunk our day into “work time” and “play time,” we can actually increase our productivity while preserving our quality interactions with our children. Think about it this way: When you are away for a few hours getting work done, she remembers “I miss mommy, but I know when she gets back, she’s going to pick me up and kiss me all over, and play trucks with me and take me to the park. Man, she must really love me.”
It is the difference between spending an hour with my husband while we simultaneously surf the internet, and spending an hour of face to face conversation with nothing but a cup of tea between us. Same quantity of time, very different quality.
4. Enjoy your job
Not that you have to love everything about it, but try to find at least some aspects you enjoy. Think “little gifts”: Is it the free coffee in the lounge? Casual Fridays? A good friend to talk to over lunch? Or maybe it’s bigger: do you get to see a positive change in others’ lives? Live out a passion? Invent? Create? Whatever it is, hold on to it.
Let this excerpt speak for itself:
“Children are likely to be positively affected by maternal employment, and attendant changes in family function, if the mother finds satisfaction in work outside the home and if she is supported by family members.” 4
What does that mean? Kids actually benefit when a mom likes her job! Furthermore, there is no conclusive evidence that a working mother as a lone factor (or children being at daycare) has a negative effect on a child’s well-being. What DOES have an effect? Stress! What can contribute to stress? Guilt! Hating your job! Negativity! Feeling underappreciated and trapped! 1, 4
So what does that mean? First of all, lay down the Guilt burden. (see #1!)
That was a big one for me, since I was returning to school to pursue a career I was passionate about. It was almost like it was too good to be true. I found myself saying things like “am I selfish to work? Am I ‘less a mom’ since I’m not staying home?” All of these things, of course, are not true. And by robbing myself of enjoying my time away, I was not helping anyone.
Secondly, lay down the Martyr burden.
You know, “Well, I work because I have to. I have no choice. I actually hate working, but my family can’t afford for me to be at home all day.” While that may be true, it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. A mother can work in order to support her family AND because she wants to too!
Also, “a number of studies report that the families of nonemployed mothers (husbands, children, and the mothers themselves) are strongly opposed to maternal employment, principally on the grounds that the family may be harmed, [yet] when mothers are successfully and enthusiastically employed, the changes reported by their families, if any, tend to be in a positive direction.” 4 The old myth dies hard. Even in the face of countless studies showing that there is no evidence that a working mom negatively affects her children, we continue to embody the narrative that we are harming our child by not staying at home every waking minute.
I am not here to say that a mother or father who chooses to stay at home is an unjustified choice by any means! It is a beautiful gift that is cherished by many, and is a necessity for many families looking at expensive childcare costs. My question is this: despite mounting evidence that there is no discernable detriment, why do we think a working mother is harmful?!
I truly believe we are role models for our children, and that our “actions speak louder than our words.” We, as women, are our child’s first teacher of what femininity means. Like all of you, I take that task seriously.
Whether I am working hard towards a Master’s degree, or working hard at the gym, here is what my actions say to my child while I am gone: I fulfill my dreams and passions. I set goals and I pursue them. I can provide for you. I am responsible, and you can count on me. I take care of my body and mind. I cannot think of a better message I would ever want to say.
So, breathe in…two…three…four. And out…two…three…four. For a few more moments. And allow yourself to love your life. You only need your OWN permission.
Chanelle and her daughter
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1. Michael F. Lorber, Byron Egeland. Parenting and Infant Difficulty: Testing a Mutual Exacerbation Hypothesis to Predict Early Onset Conduct Problems. Child Development, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01652.x