Me First! How To Juggle Motherhood, Career & Love

Today's modern woman has taken on a lot more responsibility than ever before and is now learning to balance a career, motherhood, household upkeep and a loving relationship. How is it possible to evenly give attention to each one of these daily occurrences?

Don't forget about YOU. Your happiness is the first priority.

  • Take time to exercise, which will keep your self-worth intact. Many women let themselves go as they do not schedule time for their health and end up feeling unattractive from neglecting their bodies and emotional well-being.
  • Nurture your friendships, even if it means getting 10 women together at once every month due to time restrictions.
  • Don't feel guilty if you have to work to provide a home for your children. They don't need to see you every moment. It builds character for children to be around others, and not just family.
  • Treat yourself to something you enjoy at least once a month and budget accordingly: pedicure, movie, shopping, or take a book and sit outside at a coffee shop for alone time.

Balance your time when rearing your children.

  • Give your children chores: Do not take it all on yourself. Even at the age of two, they like to feel needed by helping mom. (Don't be a martyr by taking it all on and then complaining!)
  • Ask for help from family or mother's groups. (This is especially important for single mothers.)
  • Babysitting: Find someone who has children that you can exchange weekends or evenings with so you can have time with your spouse/partner.
  • Hire a high school student to assist with homework occasionally; it will be well worth the hourly wage once every few weeks.
  • Ask your partner for assistance; do not nag about what they "don't do."
  • Allow your children one sport/activity per season. Running yourself ragged trying to be everywhere does not actually give you quality time with them.
  • Give your children two choices with clothing/homework, weekend activities, etc. They like to think that they are making the decision once in awhile. Giving them two choices will make them feel like they're in control (they're not).
  • Do not allow your children to ever backtalk, swear at you or talk down to you. They learn how to manipulate their parents at a very early age, which is a difficult behavior to reverse.

Don't put your partner last.

Susan McCord, Speaker: Do not put your spouse last; always have a date night planned once a week. Keep a calendar that the whole family can see, so everyone is on the same page with what the weekly schedule holds. If you have to travel for work, try to leave enough space between days gone and days home so you can reconnect with your spouse and children. (Two days feels like eternity to them!) Never put your partner last on the priority list. Remind yourself daily that you would not be blessed with a family if the two of you hadn't met and fallen in love. The biggest regret couples have as their children grow up is forgetting how to love each other.

"Help! I feel guilty!"

I've been trying to come up with the antidote to the "I-feel-like-I'm-never-enough" syndrome. When I'm at work, I'm neglecting my family. When I'm with my family, I can't help but think about all that needs to get done in my office. This wreaks havoc on my self-esteem. Why do moms - especially moms who work outside the home - feel inadequate much of the time? I feel guilty!

Bette Levy Alkazian, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist: I think it's because we haven't given ourselves permission to take care of us. Then, we've got nothing left to give because we haven't replenished our own internal resources. Remember the metaphor of the oxygen mask? "When traveling with a small child always put your own mask on first before assisting your child." Why? Because you're of no use to anyone if you're not getting any oxygen! Take care of yourself first and then you'll be able to take care of everyone else.

In my practice as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with parents, I have found that the healthiest families have a mom who takes good care of herself first, then takes good care of her marriage, and then takes good care of her kids. Her own "love tank" is all filled up and she has a lot of patience and good feelings to give. This priority order is the absolute reverse of how most families operate, but trust me, this works!

Why does it work?

When you take good care of yourself - spend time with friends, have some alone time, do whatever you enjoy - you're able to bring your best self to your relationship. You're happy on the inside and you are a person your partner wants to be around. Then, you're feeling good in your marriage and you're more likely to really connect as a couple, not just as parents. When you're happy as an individual and you feel fulfilled and connected as a couple, you bring a happy set of parents to the kids. By default, when Mom and Dad are happy, the kids are more likely to be doing well, overall.

Remember, there's always enough time for what's truly important. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list and watch "I feel like I'm never enough" turn into "I feel great and I love my family."

The common theme for busy working moms is to make sure you schedule and take time to nurture yourself. It's not selfish - in fact, it's essential! It will reduce resentment and stress, and increase your energy level, compassion and ability to continue giving. Your boss, coworkers, friends, family, partner, kids and especially you, will reap the benefits.

Written by Susan McCord and Bette Alkazian for YourTango.

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