“I think hustle culture is dead. And that we have to kill it! So, now I have a lot more life boundaries. I have a good night’s sleep, spend time with my kids and go to dinner with my girls,” said Reshma Saujani, Author, Advocate and Nonprofit Leader.
Most professions still reward always-on availability. Which penalizes Mothers. And Reshma’s new book, Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work, is a rallying cry to working Moms and the leaders who employ them. To see how the weight of invisible labor, crushes not only our career trajectories, but spirit and health in the process.
Change, whether it’s the personal kind or the infrastructure of work, requires energy. Yet most Moms are drained and disillusioned in the wake of Covid’s work/life reckoning. And that tension, of how to optimize your life in a system that wasn’t designed to support you, remains. So, we discussed how to tunnel out from the numbness and reset. Beginning with our wellbeing.
Self Help Has its Limits
Most of us assemble a wild patchwork of child, life and homecare to make it through each day. But even the most flexible work arrangement, can’t mask how frail it is. In the book, Reshma shares the history and pitfalls of the women’s movement. And how her awareness of it’s drawbacks, shifted her focus. She said, “We’re telling women, ‘you’re broken. And if you just do this, you’ll get to the mountain top. Then, when you do that and don’t get to the mountain top, you think I guess I’m just not trying hard enough.” Most leadership advice doesn’t address the design flaws of traditional work. Or its impact on women.
Resist Being the Default Doer
The good news? Although, workplace equity hasn’t improved much, you can ease the strain. And if you’re coupled, start with how you share the home. “There are changes you can make in your relationships. If you have resources to do that or have a partner to change that with.” The gendered divide, for Moms partnered with Dads, is so ingrained we rarely question it. Until we burnout or worse. But that can shift. She said, “My baby’s been sick this week and normally I would rearrange my schedule to get him to the doctor’s appointments. But I’ve been just letting my husband do it and he’s not complaining about it.”
And Drop Any Guilt About it
Reshma admits, “There is a piece of me, that’s like oh my God you’re a bad Mom! That voice is there. But I’ve had to tell myself, to keep doing these book talks and interviews. My partner has his regular job but I’m in the middle of a launch I’ve been planning for two years.” It’s not easy for most couples. But if you’re intentional with the roles at home, it can have a profound ripple effect through your life. She added, “I don’t immediately volunteer to do stuff anymore when I know my partner can handle it. I’ve really tried to kill the guilt as much as I can.” Bravo!
Reevaluate When you Say ‘Yes’
Reshma explained that the pandemic forced many of her professional plans, including launch events, to go virtual. And now, she embraces the lack of travel. And if a meeting is in another city, she doesn’t offer to go in person, unless it’s necessary. “If it can be done virtually it’s like, great! I will not be coming. I’ve turned down so many things and that’s a first for me. For most of my career, I thought I had to say yes. And operated as if the opportunity would go away. So, that is a real shift.”
Include Yourself, on Your Priority List
She shared personal stories in the book from the height of the pandemic. And how uneven childcare, strained her work and mood. She emphasizes how important rewriting the tired Mom-as-martyr story is for our futures. We can challenge assumptions. She said, “Why do we always put ourselves last? How do I put myself first? And what does that even mean, to spend time on myself and for myself?”
In the pandemic, she launched the Marshall Plan for Moms, welcomed a new baby and published her second book. Significant accomplishments that require a lot of energy and support under any circumstances. But she realized that she needed to elevate self-care to be “non-negotiable.”
Particularly Your Health
It’s probably not a surprise that Mothers tend to put themselves last. In the book, she shares, “…A 2015 survey conducted by Healthy Women and Working Mother magazine, revealed that women prioritized the management of health care in the following order: 1. children, 2. Pets, 3. elder relatives, 4. significant other or spouse and 5. themselves.”
But these entrenched patterns aren’t helping us. Women are at greater risk for a variety of stress-related illnesses. In the book she points out the gravity. “…A study of more than a half a million women, funded by the American Cancer Society, stated skipping even one scheduled mammogram before a breast cancer diagnosis, increases a woman’s chance of dying.”
Because Self-Care is Part of the Answer
Reshma explains in the book, “…Leaning out of work and into self-care in whatever form feeds you, even in small doses has been shown again and again in studies to keep us physically mentally and emotionally healthy. It has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety and stress. Improve concentration and sharpen cognition, mitigate frustration, boost energy and more. It’s the ticket to everything from resilience to weight loss, increased productivity and better sex. When it comes to mental health, self-care is not a luxury.” In our culture, we’re not encouraged to set healthy boundaries, so it can feel uncomfortable. But our discretionary time is so limited and fleeting, that boundaries are critical.
Yes, That Includes Sleep
In the book, she explains how she’s made basic self-care, including sleep, non-negotiable. Although we know not sleeping is terrible for our health and mood, when the to-do list is overflowing and stress is high, it’s a challenge to fit it in. Or enjoy quality rest. She states in the book, “…if you’re not quite ready to claim 7 to 9 hours of sleep for your own sake, remind your family that a sleep deprived woman is 100% guaranteed to be less present, less capable, a less pleasant mother and partner to be around. And they’ll get the picture, fast.”
Burnout, anxiety and depression can subsume you. So find positive activities to look forward to. And new behaviors to anchor yourself with. Take steps, even if they’re tiny, to regain your wellbeing. Which means, reclaiming more of your time.
If you have the psychological safety to do so, set boundaries at work. And if you lack an enlightened manager, consider the strength in numbers approach. By teaming up with your employee resource group or a mentor to gain support. And if you’re coupled share childcare and the mental load with your partner.
Many thanks to the talented Reshma Saujani!
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Reshma Saujani is a leading activist and the founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms. And she’s the Author of Brave Not Perfect and Pay Up. She has spent more than a decade building movements to fight for women and girls’ economic empowerment, working to close the gender gap in the tech sector, and most recently advocating for policies to support moms impacted by the pandemic. She is the mother of two boys, Shaan, 6, and Sai, 1.
Tags: Book Review, Manage Stress For Moms, Moms Self care, Self-Care For Moms, Work Life Balance For Moms, work life integration for Moms