Do you remember the rise of the momcation before Covid? And during lockdown, the stories about she-sheds? They’re different approaches to the same problem. One that pre-dates the pandemic. Most Moms have little control over their schedules. Because they remain at the mercy of other people’s needs and whims. All day, every day. So, they’re exhausted from overwork. And resent having too little discretionary time. As one surveyed Mom stated when asked what she needs, “A break. I just need a break.”
Over 2,300 parents, mostly Moms (97%) have participated in our national study since March of 2020. Although their needs shifted, slightly, as conditions changed. What they’ve let go of and held onto, remains consistent. Housework, childcare and paid work are way up. While self-care remains way down. In new results from July and August, Moms are still spending less time on their wellbeing in all categories. 60% spend less time on self-care, 72% less time on self-interests and 71% spend less on healthy adult relationships.
The desire for more control over their time, isn’t going away. And it’s much bigger than working from home versus an office. The new frontier for Moms? Learning to claim space for our needs – like sleep, reflection, interests or deep work, throughout the day. Regardless of where we are.
Over 18 months in, Moms remain drained. And burnout not only increases stress, it limits creativity and productivity. There are, however ways to resist the persistent drumbeat of overdo and neverdone.
Take More Time to Process
“The word that comes to mind as I listen to people talk about it, is grief. There’s this incredible sense of loss, not just for this last year. But it’s also that we’re moving on too quickly and not able to process what happened to us. There’s sort of this juxtaposition of, ‘wait a minute, I’m really feeling this urge to reevaluate and recalibrate. But at the same time, I just need to shut down and take care of myself.’ And that’s really challenging for a lot of the people that I’ve worked with, said Dr. Shusmita Dhar, Primary Care Physician and Health Coach.
Find the Boundaries That Suit You
As some people return to onsite work, they face new worries. And inner confliict. Shusmita said, “What I hear over and over again from people, is a reevaluation of how they want to work and spend their time. And many say, ‘I need firmer boundaries. I need to be able to go into an office and leave my family behind and then leave work and come back to my family. This blurring of boundaries does not work for me. And a similar number of people will say the opposite. That ‘this flexibility is exactly what I’ve been craving and now that I’ve tasted it, it’s hard to imagine going back.’” There is no one answer. It comes down to the conditions that allow you to set the right boundaries.
And if You Don’t Want to Work at Home, Let any Guilt go
“The work world has not been designed for women. But the domestic world was. And the expectation has been that we will do all of it!” said Michelle Keefe, whose company places Moms in flexible work arrangements. “It’s hard for parents but it is really hard for Moms. Which makes me frustrated. And gets me excited for this pivotal moment of change.” Amen! She added, “I’m hearing from women, ‘There’s so much I gained from not having to go into work but there are little bits of that old life that I miss. Like having lunch time to myself or not getting distracted by my house.’ All of those things factor in.”
Because Home is Full of Time Traps
Michelle said, “And it’s feeling ownership over your life. And taking a little bit back from your family. Which is interesting because this is such a struggle that women have in general. They’re pulled in so many directions and have so much pressure, that when they’re at home, it sometimes feels like they’re not the stewards of their own life. Because they’re responsible for so many things around them. And then when they’re at work, they feel that someone else is dictating their schedule.” And after over 18 months of life-or-death decisions, limited childcare or self-care, they’re tired of other people’s expectations.
But we Can Escape Being Always-On
We’re conditioned not to set boundaries. And because our economy relies on unpaid labor, self-sacrifice is glamorized for Mothers. We’re taught to feel fulfilled only if our families are. But there are ways to reclaim time for yourself.
Many surveyed parents want access to the basics – more sleep, energy and time to think. Alone. Others mourn the loss of deep work time and opportunities to grow their careers. It’s about having choice over your own schedule. And ignoring any shoulds that hover in your thoughts. Self-care includes mental and physical health, self-fulfillment, and growth. So, you get to decide how to allocate your time and energy. Ideally, without any self-judgement or doubt.
And Reset Boundaries
Restoring access to our own time, is an internal job. There are huge barriers. But you need the will to upgrade your environment. Because it likely means negotiating with your partner, employer or kids. So, you have to believe that you deserve control over your own time. And that it’s vital, not only to your happiness but your wellbeing.
Start with Your Schedule
As we face Delta’s impact on back-to-school and the promise of normalcy, everything still feels uncertain. But you can create your new boundaries. Start with your ideal schedule. Whether you work remotely or not. If you begin carving out time for a morning routine and how you’d like your days to end, then it’s easier to build what happens in between. There are many great resources on how to approach this. Including setting boundaries based on your values.
When are you the most productive? What priorities are the most meaningful to you? Block off the space that you want. Then memorialize it on your work and home calendars. If you know how you want to structure your days, most of the time, then it’s easier to create a ‘plan B’ when the disruptions inevitably happen.
Consider Other Physical and Emotional Limits
Calendar space is one thing, but your physical space is a different matter. If you’re working from home – full or part time, try to remove yourself from ‘hot zones’ that draw you into compelling tasks that are less important (hello laundry) to your needs. And if you can, separate yourself from the rest of your family or colleagues for stretches of self-care and deep work.
And Overcome Your Boundary Triggers
We learned from our past research study, that most people have boundary triggers. And sometimes it’s specific people. Like your partner, kids or family of origin. For others, it’s harder to set boundaries in high conflict situations or with toxic people you’re forced to interact with.
For many it’s a specific context. Like receiving work versus personal requests. Either way, in whatever circumstances make it hardest for you to keep your boundaries, come up with one or two standard “I can’t” responses. And practice using them. Saying no also works. But find the phrases you can say or send in email, that feel like you, but gracefully protect your time and energy.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Shusmita and Michelle!
Dr. Shusmita Dhar, M.D.
Dr. Shusmita Dhar is a personal life coach and primary care physician. Shusmita’s goal is to help patients establish healthy lifestyles and habits they can sustain to prevent disease. When illnesses do arise, she strives to treat them in a thoughtful and minimalist way. She’s especially passionate about working with patients on stress management and mental health as well as helping adolescents and young adults address their unique health needs. To stay healthy, Shusmita gets regular exercise by jogging, hiking in the woods, and taking leisurely strolls with her dog. In her free time, she enjoys reading/writing fiction and spending time with her family. She’s also an active volunteer at her children’s school. Shusmita earned her medical degree from Brown University School of Medicine and completed her medicine/pediatrics residency at the Harvard Medicine-Pediatrics Residency Program. She’s board-certified in internal medicine, pediatrics, and lifestyle medicine.
Michelle Keefe, CEO of MomUp
Entrepreneurship is old hat for Michelle – having successfully run and sold her first business, Misha K, before the age of 30. She now leads MomUp in its quest to connect organizations with the amazing resource of mothers. As a stay-at-home mom, Michelle discovered, like many of her friends, she wanted to continue er career path with businesses who value work/life balance. Michelle found herself surrounded by highly educated, skilled, energetic multi-tasking mega stars that were unemployed and looking for new and exciting challenges. She realized that by forging partnerships with progressive companies and connecting them with skilled talent, MomUp could make a huge impact. Michelle holds a graduate degree from Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Norte Dame. When she can, Michelle tries to sneak in teaching a yoga class on the side. And she recently spent 6 weeks in New Zealand living in a camper van with her husband and 3 kids.
Tags: Manage Stress For Moms, mental wellbeing for Moms, Moms Growth, Moms Self care, stress management, Work Life Balance For Moms, work life integration for Moms, Working Moms