7 Habits of Highly Effective Working Moms
by Aimee Young Hopkins
If you’re a working mom, you’re no stranger to a little something I call “grooming-on-the-go.” It’s kind of like fast food – it might not embody the same quality as a home-cooked meal, but it’s fast and easy and gets the job done.
Hair? Wash-n-go is all we know, isn’t it, ladies?
Hairdryer? Don’t own one anymore.
Hair gel? The last time I used anything close to that was on my way to work soon after giving birth to my second child. Still recovering from labor wear-and-tear, fighting off a hemorrhoid flare-up, looked in the mirror, realized my hair was completely flat. Reached into my purse for some help and put Preparation-H on my hair to spruce it up. In a pinch, anything gelatinous will do. Or so I thought, until I realized that Preparation-H didn’t exactly have the same perfume-y aroma as hair gel…
Long hot baths? Sure, all the time. With my two daughters. Time together to play and unwind after the work-day. The water always puts me in a new state of mind, washing away the cares of business and embracing the slippery, soapy messiness of domestic life.
Massages? Of course! My girls to put lotion or sunscreen on my back at every possible opportunity. I ask them, “Will you give me a massage?” They love it! Moms, if you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out. Kid-hands, never rough, tickling and silliness, leading to…wellness and relaxation. And isn’t that the point of a massage after all? Who needs the spa when you’ve got Spongebob?
Manicures and pedicures? Favorite salon? Our bathroom! When it’s time to clip nails, we all get in on the act and Mommy does “polish,” as my 2-year-old says, for all of us. How can I not feel pampered by a manicurist wearing Pampers?
Habit #2: Strong Work Ethic
Working moms know – we work at work, we work at home, we work on our marriages, friendships, extended family relationships. Our work is never really done, is it? But honestly, if I didn’t have my work-life, I wouldn’t be able to bring as much to any of my relationships. Let’s face it, many of us get a certain amount of fulfillment, not just income, from work. I have nothing but respect for the full-time moms, my hat is off to you gals, believe me. I’m just saying that for me, I am grateful to have work I enjoy apart from mothering. It gives me balance.
And so, by a “strong work ethic,” I actually mean a work ethic for ALL moms, whether gainfully employed or not. Being a mom is hard work. It is a constant, 24/7 career as a nurse/teacher/coach/cheerleader/friend/cop/bouncer/detective/artist/event planner/accountant/C.E.O./secretary/librarian/professional organizer/cabdriver/personal shopper/cook/maid/pet caregiver/doctor/lawyer/barber…the list goes on and on. All of us, every single mom I know, has a strong work ethic about their #1 job – being a mom. Isn’t that really what makes us successful?
Habit #3: Flexibility
Ok moms, before motherhood, did you have your own thoughts, dreams, goals, ambitions, hobbies? And since motherhood, do you feel at all like SOME of those have had to be set aside, at least temporarily? Ok, if you answered yes or “sort of,” you’re flexible. And if you’re not flexible, you won’t survive motherhood.
I remember trying to get out of the house for the first time with the baby after my husband had gone back to work. I woke up before my daughter did and thought, “Cool, I can take a shower before the breastfeeding support group.” As I was getting out of the shower, the baby woke up and needed to be changed and fed. Then burped. Then changed again. So here I am, an hour and a half later, still naked, having eaten nothing, nor brushed teeth nor hair. Finally, I put the baby down, put a onesie on her, got dressed, packed the diaper bag, and got ready to walk out the door. I reached down to pick up the baby, and she was…asleep!
Flexible…HAVE to be. No choice.
So we didn’t go anywhere that morning.
“Oh, no you don’t! We’re going to get support on breastfeeding!” I said to her the next time it happened. Buckling the sleeping baby into her carseat, I grabbed the sling that my college friend had hand-sewn – a beautiful piece of groovy Bohemian cloth. ”Why bother with the stroller.” I thought breezily. ”I’ll travel light and just bring the sling!” Even though my hippie friend had given me directions with pictures on how to tie the babe into this simple-looking earthy apparatus, I found myself standing in the hospital parking lot, sweating bullets, as I tugged and flipped and folded and tied, nearly having an anxiety attack for fear of dropping this little head onto the cement. At last, I arrived at the breastfeeding support group with my ginormous diaper bag, dripping with sweat and an hour-and-a-half late. Other moms were sipping Starbucks and carrying only small bags. ”They must be on their second or third child,” I told myself. No matter. I was FLEXIBLE. I had survived, arrived, was alive, and was ready to make my baby THRIVE.
Now, with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, and a very hands-on dad husband who also works full-time, my flexibility includes adjusting my needs and desires sometimes for the good of the “team,” if you will. Many days, I wake up early to check my email, only to hear little toddler feet padding out to meet me for breakfast and storytime. So I pull up “The Wheels on the Bus” on YouTube for her to watch as I finish my important email, save the rest for later, and read Blueberries for Sal for the 100th time while we share a cup of Cheerios.
Habit #4: Ability to Multi-Task
Ok, so when my husband is working, he is WORKING. When he’s watching the kids, he’s WATCHING THE KIDS. When he’s cooking, he’s COOKING.
Now, me on the other hand — when I’m working, I’m also checking voicemail for a message from Grandma about what time Charlotte (A.K.A. Charley) went down for nap, checking my Blackberry to see when Maggie can make up her gymnastics class. When I’m watching the kids, I’m also taking a client call, putting out a fire with a situation in the field, and sealing invoices to mail out. When I’m cooking, I’m teaching my 5-year-old about measurement and letting my 2-year-old make soup in a pot with a wooden spoon. You get the idea.
As moms, we do it all. And we don’t think twice about it. It just comes naturally. Except in those times when it doesn’t. When my brain is about to explode if I shove one more piece of stimulus in there. Or the times when, if one more person asks me to do one more thing, I yell, “No! NO! I said no! Get it yourself or you’re going straight to bed!” That’s when Mommy needs a Time Out.
Habit #5: Regular Exercise:
Do I have an exercise regimen? Sure I do!
I load and unload my car – that burns 225 calories.
I run after my two-year-old in the bank as she tries to hang on every one of those ribbon aisle markers strapped to those pole-things. That burns 180 calories.
I run at top-speed from my car to work because I’m always just BARELY getting there on time. That burns 320 calories round-trip.
(I say round-trip because of course, I have to run back to my car because I’m almost always running a few minutes late to pick up a child from daycare, school, or Grandma.)
Then, about once every six months, I jump for joy when I actually get to go on a date with my husband, save any money after childcare and bills are paid, or have a little time to myself after everyone falls asleep or before everyone wakes up. That burns 150 calories at least.
But I’m usually too tired to jump for joy, so I just sit on the couch and eat a candy bar. 250 calories.
Habit #6: Saying No to Everything and Everyone Else
This means prioritizing. This means short answer email responses. This means literally saying “no” to obligations and knowing that “no” is a complete sentence. Maybe not always FEELING it, but knowing it.
“As a valued customer, please take a moment to fill out this brief online survey about our customer service, and email it back for your free gift!” No. Delete.
“Please, attend this free once-in-a-lifetime networking seminar to hone your skills and build solid business relationships.” No. Call me in four years. I’m working on other skills and relationships right now.
“Can you volunteer one hour a month, unpaid, to help out in your daughter’s Kindergarten class?” Yes! Yes yes yes and double-yes! When can I start?
Habit #7: Accepting Imperfection
As a working mom, I am learning, day by day, to accept the imperfection of of my colleagues at work, of my husband, of my children, of my life’s events, but most of all, of myself.
Tonight, in a moment of sheer joy and excitement, my two-year-old threw her favorite ceramic bunny on the floor. Perhaps forgetting how fragile it was, she watched it break into three pieces, and she stood in shock and awe. The eye and forehead were now lying in one chunk, the toe and foot in another, and the rest of the bunny’s abdomen in another. She looked on in sadness and confusion as I picked up the pieces and brought them to the kitchen table. I got out some newspaper and some Elmer’s glue. I sat her down on the chair and began to slowly squeeze the glue onto the broken parts and to seal it together gently.
“Can I glue?” Charley asked me.
“No!” I said, rather sharply.
“Mommy said no,” Charley said quietly, a little bewildered.
“Sorry, Char, that was a bit fierce,” I said. ”But it’s only for mommies to glue.”
She was quiet, but she knew I was serious.
“The bunny is all fixed now. Let’s let him dry,” I said and we stood up and got ready to read books for bedtime.
I’m not perfect. I’m going to say things too harshly, things will break down like the bunny did. And all I can do is repair them the best I can. With an apology, with some glue, with more awareness next time.
And isn’t it better that she can see me repair it? See the bunny get put back together again. See me apologize. See me struggle and then calm down. See that I am not perfect, but I’m good enough. Just like her.
And, like the Velveteen Rabbit who longed to be Real, she and I can be Real with each other. We can be authentic. And imperfect.
And, in the end, isn’t being real better than being the perfect mom? I think so.