How & Why Mom’s Prioritize Their Time

#MomsSelfCare #MomsQuestForTime #MomsHealth

About two years ago, shortly after maternity leave for my youngest, I ran (frazzled) through the parking garage to reach the nursing room at work before my first meeting after spending the past hour driving in heavy traffic. I then realized, that in my sleep-deprived state, I left my pumping bag at home.

Has this ever happened to you? I barely remembered driving to work in the first place and then the hard reality, that I needed to reschedule my morning to drive back home, set in.

I’d already been thinking (ok, obsessing) about my own prioritization and ability to balance a demanding yet engaging career with motherhood.  Despite following a path that seemed ‘natural’ — breastfeed, form deep bond with new baby, return to being a rock star at work, pay thoughtful attention to my older child, continue with navigating playgrounds and museums on the weekends as if nothing had changed — I felt tremendous stress and fatigue most days.

Cumulatively, that stress eroded my goodwill, patience, sense of humor, creativity… Everything that made me ‘me’ was gradually slipping away under what felt like constant pressure from an invisible, yet impossibly tight, schedule every waking moment.   I was depleted and longed for practical solutions.

Did all moms with young children feel this? Did all working moms feel this? Does this only last through the infant and toddler stages? Why was I putting so many things that are clearly in the interest of my health and wellbeing or even just fun, at the bottom of the to-do list?

I wanted to understand how other moms were prioritizing their time and for those that achieved the ‘holy grail’ (if it existed) of regular self-care, how they did it and specifically what it looked like.

I reached out to my extended network to get feedback on “Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs” — actually, a hierarchy of priorities — to better understand how other moms are managing the stress associated with the work/life juggle.  I’ve run two surveys, which have received 153 responses (to date).

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Why are moms still unable to prioritize self-care? 

While the national conversation has changed since Sheryl Sandberg’s “Leaning In” and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Unfinished Business” the day-to-day reality for most moms hasn’t.  Moms still lack discretionary time and in the rare case that they have it, feel too guilty to use it.

Moms surveyed provide the bulk of the childcare (70%), management of kids’ activities (67%) and household infrastructure (72%) while working full (70%) or part (18%) time.

“I am constantly wanting to be the best mom I can, but sometimes I feel defeated. I can’t possibly get everything done, and I have little time for myself.”

“For better or worse, work is a higher priority. Without my job, we have no way to pay bills and we’d all be screwed. So work is probably second after child. And really I have very little time for anything but the bottom 4 (children’s wellbeing & activities, household & professional roles)…”

There are glimmers of hope, some families get it right.   

Many moms recognize self-care as a vital component of caregiving and some actively prioritize it.

“…I have been learning that self-care is so, so important. I use the analogy of in an airplane, put on your mask first (and) then help others. So mom’s health & sleep should really be at the very base of the pyramid, because without that, nothing else can happen successfully.”

“… I would make a healthy relationship a higher priority than professional role…having a good relationship with my husband (making time for date nights, strive for quality one-on-one time each day, and helping each other out with household/childcare) makes both of us happy. …I want to show our children what a happy and healthy relationship looks like. Plus I believe happy parents help nurture happy children.”

When I asked moms to suggest potential solutions, the feedback converged around structural changes and revamping gender and societal norms more often than core emotional change.

6 Ways to help moms prioritize self-care regularly:

  1. More access to affordable childcare or better childcare (27%)
  2. More childcare and household help from husband/partner (24%)
  3. Changes to work structure – less hours, more work time/productivity, working from home &/or quitting work (21%)
  4. Change in attitude about prioritizing self-care/letting go of the “mom guilt” (14%)
  5. Outsource help with household chores (7%)
  6. Children growing older/becoming more independent (7%)

“Having a supportive husband that realizes the importance of self-care and interests not only for my own emotional well-being but for the well-being of our children (being a better role model) and being a better wife (less stress, with happier mental state).”   

“…ability to get a sitter every now and then, however I would have a hard time justifying the expense”

“More local family or friends to help with childcare or more financial resources to outsource housework.” 

“I keep telling myself when the kids are older and don’t want to hang out with me and are more comfortable being independent, then I won’t feel guilty for making time for myself.” 

I’m better now, mostly because my youngest started sleeping through the night 12 months ago. Although I felt pushed to my limit two years ago, I now feel the inevitable improvements that come from kids growing, sleeping more and learning self-reliance.   I’ve also kept exercise a priority, which has been an important part of maintaining my sanity.

Last weekend, we had unseasonably warm weather and I spent much of the day on the still snow-covered playgrounds with my kids.  I held my daughter’s hand as I often do when she climbs onto stairs for the slide.  Due to the snow, I slipped – ever so briefly — but panic set in.  What would have happened if I fell?  I always tell my children, ‘I’ve got you’… but I realize now more than ever that I need to be on solid ground to truly have their backs.

Although we patiently wait for meaningful change, around the societal expectations of parents and how work is structured, I’m seeking the practical ‘life hacks’ that will help moms and families thrive now.

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