My most asked question for The Cabro typically centers around this question: how do I find balance as a working mother? I’ve answered this in bits and pieces in my DMs and during my AMAs on Wednesday on my Instagram account @_thecabro. While I don’t have all of the answers, I thought I would dedicate a blog post and share what I’m learning about balance as a working mother. So here are my tips for a working mother’s guide to finding balance.
Know your goals, understand your vision
For me, balance is all about staying focused on what’s important to you. So in order to find balance, you need to know what your vision is for your life and what goals you want to achieve in order to maintain that vision. Having a concrete set of goals and priorities will give you direction.
I have an entire Instagram post dedicated to how I do this but I’ll share the breakdown with you in the photos below. This method is a combination of several books, theories, and a series of personal exercises that I’ve refined over the years. While this exercise make take some time to complete, when you are finished, you will know what it is that you want most for life. And from there, you can start to find balance by prioritizing what’s important to you.
I can tell you that my five areas of importance are cultivating quality family time, building a meaningful career, growing The Cabro, taking care of my body every day, and staying focused on the financial goals that I have with my husband. Everything in my life revolves around those five things. So, I’m in balance when I feel like those five things are being engaged in a meaningful way.
Balance the load of managing your home
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I love the book Fair Play . I continue to sing Eve Rodsky’s praises for Fair Play because it was so life changing in our family. Her methodology is a great way to balance the domestic load and to share the tasks with your partner that come with managing a home. Statistically speaking,women in heterosexual marriages tend to carry more of the household responsibilities. So, if you are a woman in this kind of marriage who wants to find balance, start with making sure your load at home is fair for you. Eve’s book is a great way to start on this journey.
Cut your schedule down by 1/4
From 2017 – 2019 I completed an Executive MBA while working full-time. It was a lot of fun and an enormous amount of work. I wrote about it in my post: How to survive an Executive MBA program. I spoke with a lot of EMBA students before I started my program and all of them told me that while I would be able to have a life during the program, I would need to cut back on a lot of the activities in my personal life and those activities in my professional life that weren’t core to the success of my role (like happy hours, professional groups, and networking events). However, no one told me how to do it.
So, I created an exercise for myself. I took ever single activity, meeting, extra-curricular, and obligation that I had as an individual and as a couple with my husband. And, I listed out all of my friend groups. I cut that down by 1/2. And then, I took that list and cut it down by 1/2. I find it’s easier to do this exercise in two parts because it’s difficult to try and cut down your list to 25% in the first try.
I realize you may not be going to graduate school. And butting down to 25% of your current obligations and activities might be a bit extreme. But I find that it showed me who was most important to me and what priorities I wanted to keep during the program. If you need balance in your life, consider this exercise and start cutting back. It is easier to do this activity around the same time as a huge life change (starting school, having a baby, getting married, changing jobs, moving to a new home/city). When cutting back on people or obligations, having an excuse like one of these life changes can soften the blow when you stop engaging.
Just say no
Saying no is one of the hardest things for people to do. In order to find balance as a working mother, I need to say no to others. When I worked at an outpatient mental health clinic during my counseling-psychology internship, a lot of our clients struggled with setting boundaries and saying no. Sadly, this was often due to trauma that they endured at some point in their life. But as adults who now had agency to make decisions for themselves, it was a difficult act for them to do. And yet it caused so much anxiety, depression, and stress in their lives. I understood why they struggled but also encouraged them to
Say no is a radical act of kindness for ourselves and others. We think that if we say no and disapoint someone, we have done something wrong. There is a way to kindly say no and allow other people to experience their own feelings around our decision.
If you have a hard time saying now, here are some resources that I think are helpful.
- Check out some books on boundaries like: Codependent No More and Set Boundaries, Find Peace
- Follow @nedratawab on Instagram for excellent inspiration for setting healthy boundaries for your life.
- Scroll through my Instagram Stories on @_thecabro titled “No-vember”
- Read The Power of a Positive No
Create white space
Whitespace is a term that designers use to describe the part of a page that is void of graphics, text, or images. Time management gurus use the term whitespace to describe free time in a schedule that is used for ideating, resting, or thinking. Whitespace is good for mental health, thinking through complicated problems, and letting the mind wander and rest. Creating whitespace is an intentional habit to break the cycle of overscheduling and eliminate the feeling of time scarcity.
Here’s how to create whitespace:
- Schedule your whitespace. Creating whitespace doesn’t happen naturally. Block your calendar weekly, or monthly, to insure you are being intentional. If you are not managing your calendar, someone else will.
- Cultivate your whitespace. If scheduling white space is the first step, protecting that time follows. It is impossible to be everything to everyone all the time. Prioritize who your key people are: family, managers, specific coworkers and close friends. Then, start delegating, postponing, or declining a request that doesn’t align with a key constituent. It’s easy to want to have more whitespace. The challenge is staying committed to the decision that whitespace will be important. Protect that time.
- Nurture your whitespace. Once you have time set aside for whitepace, foster it. Do what works for you but here are some suggestions:
- Go for a walk
- Take a drive on a scenic route
- Sit quietly and let your mind wander
- Do something repetitive (knit, paint, play music)
- The idea is to give yourself space to just be.
Build a mental health support network
One of the reasons that I am able to feel balanced is due to the work that I do in therapy – both individually and with my partner in couples counseling. I have a space to work through things that challenge me. And as a result, that helps me bring more balance to my life. I am an avid advocate for therapy and encourage everyone to see a qualified professional. You don’t need a major trauma to see a therapist. Sometimes, it’s good to have an objective third party help you process general life experiences.
I have an entire Instagram video dedicated to Mental health resources for working mothers. I also wanted to share a way to find a mental health provider via the Psychology Today website. It houses a search engine for therapists across the world. Most therapists, at least in the US, have a profile on the website. Enter your city and any other qualifications you’re looking for and the platform lists out therapists that meet your criteria. Once you find a therapist who meets your criteria, check out their website and see if it feels like a good fit.
A few words about paying for therapy: Some therapists offer a sliding scale for qualified clients. Check with your health insurance company to see if they will cover out of network counseling (some will pay a portion).
Finally, 12 Step Groups offer a fantastic (free) place for anyone that wants help. They are great as a stand-alone without therapy and can really accelerate your individual work with a therapist.
Entertain fresh ideas
It doesn’t matter how you bring new ideas into your life. What matters is that you give yourself the opportunity to think differently about the same challenges, situations, and realities in your life. To find balance as a working mother, I look for inspiration from others who are experts in living a good life. When I think differently about thes way I’m doing things, I naturally gravitate toward more balance in my life.
So, how do you entertain fresh ideas? Read or listen to books. (I have an entire blog post dedicated to business books that I love: Great business books for working parents. Even if you’re not a working parent, there are some solid suggestions for just about any area.) Subscribe to newsletters that are written by people whose ideas inspire you. Find a podcast or two that touches on topics that bring you inspiration.
These are a few of my favorite books that helped me find balance in my life.
Simplify, organize, or create a system that works for you
Your house doesn’t need to look like an episode of The Home Edit, but it’s okay if it does. What matters is that you cut away the clutter and find a system that works for you. I think that to find balance as a working mother, there needs to be some kind of system that you adhere to in your home. I adore Marie Kondo’s book The life changing magic of tidying up. It helps me stay organized, tidy, and clutter free. When I have less stuff, my life is more balanced. And when I keep my stuff organized, my the more balanced my life is. I also loved Kendra Adachi’s principles in The lazy genius way and implement her methods throughout my daily life. Whatever the system, find one that works for you. Here are some systems that I’ve enjoyed:
- The life changing magic of tidying up
- The lazy genius way
- The complete book of clean
- The complete book of home organization (full disclosure I just ordered this!)
- The Home Edit Instagram page
Maintain basic self care
I won’t spend a lot of time on this because we all know that taking care of our bodies is crucial for feeling balanced. There are areas where I struggle, but I try to make sure that I’m eating well, prioritizing sleep, moving my body regularly, getting fresh air, engaging in my favorite hobbies, and spending time with people who nurture me. I find that if I’m not taking care of myself, it doesn’t matter how much whitespace I create or how many books I read or how many times I say no…I am not going to have much balance in my life.
Rethink what balance means to you
I want to end with some closing thoughts that I have about balance. First, I don’t believe that work life balance exists for the modern worker. I believe in work life integration. Perhaps it’s the nature of the kind of work that I do and that I used to travel a lot in previous roles. Some days I’m online early to talk to someone in a different time zone. And sometimes I’m online later covering a topic with someone in another country. The point is that for me, balance is feeling like my life is integrated in a healthy way. Some weeks I work extra hours. Other weeks, I’ve needed to take a few hours during the work day to see the doctor or tend to something for my son. the point is that I feel balance at work when my job and my family can coexist together in harmony.
Also, Kendra Adachi, author of The lazy genius way has a great way of talking about busy seasons in our lives. Sometimes, instead of fighting a season, learn to lean into it. For instance, instead of feeling like you’re a failure because family dinners are nonexistent during baseball season for your child, consider the extra carpool time you have with your child and the bonding that comes with eating dinner in the car together in between games. That season won’t last forever. And balance can look different for us if we allow our selves to shift our expectations and embrace a new form of balance. (This is a great example of how reading a book helped me think differently about something.)
I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts about how to find balance as a working mother. Shoot me an email or comment below. I’d love to learn from you.
Note that some of the links in this post are commission-able links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.