GUILT! That word describes the feeling of so many mothers today who work. I spoke to one mother recently who described feeling guilty while working when she should be at her child soccer game, and then feeling that same guilt when she was at her child’s soccer game, and missed an important call from the office.
Working mothers deal with this sort of battle every day. I had to smile when I heard a phrase on a radio show the other day that describes the state we often find ourselves in as we deal with the stress of our responsibilities as mothers, wives, community workers, church workers, school workers, providers and with our extended family and friends. The term was, “Comically Overcommitted!”
Even though there is no way to completely remove the guilt we feel as we try to balance all the demands on our time, there are three keys that can help us put our lives into perspective and how to turn stress, overcommitment and guilt into progressive action
1.) Get Lost and Find Yourself! Get away from everything for 24 hours and think! This may sound impossible at first, but you can figure out a way to make it happen and it can balance your life better than anything you’ve tried. When I was home with three preschoolers and two kids in elementary school having weekly speaking assignments with my husband trying to finish two books for our publisher and teaching “Great Music” as a volunteer and my kids classes at school along with heavy responsibilities at church, I definitely felt as though I was burning the candle at both ends.
One day after several tantrums from the kids (and one of my own) I realize that I was desperate for some time away from the minutia of my crazy life to figure out who I was and where I wanted to go. So a day away was born! I take just 24 hours in a hotel (this tradition actually began in a motel) once a year with no one to bother me, time to think and write about my life, and how I could be better physically, emotionally, socially, mentally and spiritually was a great exercise. With eight hours of sleep, which felt like a miracle I still had time to think and make plans to be a better partner to my husband and help each child reach his or her potential. I figured out how to put my work outside our family in perspective and thought of ways to become more productive. By the end of the 24 hours I felt so much more in control of my life even when it still seems to be out of control at times. When I got home, I knew who I was, what I wanted, and how to get there. Albait very slowly. I had an anchor.
2.) Give Your Kids Ownership! In the past five years in our speaking assignments all over the world we have seen an amazing and tragic new phenomenon that our kids feel ENTITLED. We released a book called the Entitlement Trap, which points out that giving our kids too much usually starts with good intentions, but the actual practical effects of entitlement are always the same:
- Loss of initiative, motivation, creativity and gratitude
- The desire for instant gratification
- Higher and higher expectations without effort
Through our work with families, we learned that the antidote for entitlement is ownership. Think of how much more balanced your life would feel if you could shift some of the responsibility you feel for your family from your shoulders to the kids. You can teach your kids to feel that they own their own money by establishing a family economy whereby they can learn to earn, spend, save and give.
Think of what a relief it would be if kids own working out their arguments and conflicts without your intervention. If they thought carefully about their choices and even decided on some decisions in advance i.e. “I won’t ever take drugs” or “I will go to college” how great would it be to have your kids work out their own goals for their school year academic extracurricular and character goals. Now I know you might be thinking, “Wait that will just take more time and I’m already maxed out!” yes it does take time to set up infrastructure especially when it comes to children and families but once it is set, it makes your life so much easier and so much more balanced. The guilt will dissipate when you feel that you’re doing a terrific job with your family just spending an hour a week setting up family systems makes you feel so much better about the time you spend at work.
3.) Watch for the Magic! Sometimes life seems so unbalanced that we forget to stop and watch the magic. If you have children, the magic is there, but you can miss it if you’re not watching for it. One day I was feeling particularly burdened by life. We had five kids in orthodontics, and it was appointment day. I had to pick up kids at three different schools along with their headgear and charts. I was exhausted from lack of sleep before I even started with 5-year-old Eli and 2-year-old Charity and so I decided to make a stop at an exercise class to get a little balance. That didn’t work!
After half an hour of Eli’s teasing and Charity screaming, I was even more tired and also good and mad. Late for the appointments I rushed to the van and then realize that I needed to take those naughty children with me. I looked back to see Eli with his arm around Charity’s shoulder and a little chubby hand in his as he carefully negotiated her across the icy parking lot. I was sure he would throw her in a snowbank before he reached the car but he looked up at me with a big toothless grin and said, “Don’t you wish you had a camera?” There was the magic suddenly in my out of balance days I realize that I was looking at two of my finest treasures, and nothing else mattered. Even if it’s just a moment in our hectic day, we may realize that we can relieve ourselves from stress and guilt as we find balance in the magic amidst the mayhem.
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