Working moms increasingly exhausted trying to live two lives

Originally published in MegaZEN Volume 7

I attended the In Goop Health summit, a yearly one-day conference hosted by Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle company, goop, that focuses on women’s wellness issues. No matter which breakout session I happened to be attending throughout the day, one issue kept coming up in the discussion portion of the presentations. Working mothers kept expressing how exhausted they were and how it was becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to juggle all the responsibilities of a successful career and home life.

I can attest to that truth, not just from my personal experience but also from the mothers of my young patients who share with me the same struggles. They regularly tell me about how burned out they are most of the time, feeling completely drained and pulled in different directions. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, and they tearfully tell me how they feel like they’re running on empty every day.

Whenever the subject of working mothers and stress comes up, the quick answer of many experts always seems to be to “nurture yourself”. Unfortunately, talking about bubble baths and meditating is one thing, while putting it into practice in the daily life of a real world working mom is quite another. From a practical standpoint, it’s the lack of real hands-on help and having no time to nurture themselves that’s creating the stress that’s taking an increasing toll on women’s health, as more and more mothers are being diagnosed with cancer, cardiovascular issues, autoimmune disease, and adrenal fatigue in their 30’s and 40’s.

Today, working mothers are seriously depleted emotionally and physically. I know working mothers who don’t even know when the last time was they had bloodwork done. They don’t see their health crisis coming because feeling run down all the time is their new normal, and it’s this kind of stress that suppresses the immune system, making them more susceptible to everything from colds to cancer.

Running on Empty: Working moms increasingly exhausted trying to live two lives

Leaning In, Stressing Out

According to the 2010 Census, 67% of mothers are in the workforce.1 A Pew Research study from 2013 found 32% of moms said they wanted to work full-time.2 This means that two-thirds of working mothers would rather work part-time or not at all and yet are forced to spend more time away from home for financial reasons, and so face the same challenges of balancing work and home life as women to are business owners. In 2014, the Huffington Post reported that a poll by Care.com of 1,000 working mothers revealed 80% said they were stressed out over balancing work, home life, and childcare. One in four of them admitted the stress was so intense that they cried over it at least once a week.3 Perhaps it’s this stress that has played a role in a new 6% increase in stay-at-home mothers, bringing the total to 29% after a modern era low of 23% in 1999.4

Balancing the obligations of work and home are a particular challenge for this current generation of moms because we’ve been called to present ourselves in the world with our professional and creative gifts earlier in life, not after our children are grown. Because of this, we face a unique challenge in how to simultaneously live two lives as both a professional and a mother, often with very small children.

In recent years, there has been a push for women to “lean in”, to be more assertive at work, to push forward and take more roles of authority at the office, but who’s there to support us when we need to lean back once in a while—when we need to let go of being in charge and recharge instead? It’s the lack of such a support system that’s seeing women become more overwhelmed than ever and sicker at younger ages.

A Complex Problem

It’s important to understand that solving the plight of the working mother isn’t as easy saying the husband needs to do more at home and with the children after work. That’s a big part of it, but it’s only part of the solution to a multi-faceted social problem that’s pushing working others to the breaking point.

Having It All Illusion: Do you remember the famous Enjoli perfume commercial from the 80’s? A beautiful model dressed in a business suit, clutching a fist of cash, sang that she could “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan”, instantly morphing into an apron with frying pan in hand and yet, still had time to read the kids a bedtime story at night. The “you can have it all” idea was promoted for decades through film, TV and advertising that constantly showed women effortlessly breezing between work and home life with loads of energy, a full face of makeup, and perfect hair that never alluded to the stressors and sacrifices of real world working moms. No matter how modern they claim they are, most women subconsciously continue to strive for this unattainable ideal only to experience feelings of guilt, failure, and inadequacy when their lives don’t match the media images.

Holistic Havoc: For the last 10 to 15 years, the holistic parenting industry has been bringing attention to the most minute details of caring for a child’s mind, body, and spirit that were absent generations ago. While this is basically good, the downside of this hyper focus on parenting protocol has been to overwhelm mothers with too much information to the point where they obsess over even the smallest aspects of childcare, fearing they’ve made a mistake or ruined their child for life if they had to go through a fast food drive thru on the way home to save time.

Running on Empty: Working moms increasingly exhausted trying to live two lives

A Changing World: World changes force parenting changes. In a simpler world generations ago, parenting was primarily about making sure kids were fed, educated and safe. Today, there are so many other things to consider such as pesticides in food, the quality and content of education, increasing crime, using proper discipline, nurturing the child’s self-confidence and self-image, managing media use, and more that it’s overwhelming. Of course, the internet threatens to undermine a mother’s efforts in all these areas and expose her child to influences that are beyond her control.

The Economy: For decades, salaries have not risen at the same rate as the cost of goods and services. Because of this, it simply isn’t an option in most households for one parent to stay at home with the children.

Corporate Resistance: Corporate culture refuses to change. When it comes to demands on time, scheduling, workload, travel, and so on, most jobs are still structured as if one spouse is at home full-time. When the rising cost of living and stagnate salaries pulled millions of women out of the home and into the workforce, corporations didn’t restructure their positions so that parents could maintain a meaningful presence at home and with their children. Instead, both men and women ended up working in jobs that consumed their lives and their health, while generations of children were raised in daycare. This masculine business model places far too much focus on competition, which creates a high stress, antagonistic environment instead of a cooperative one, where long hours and the company’s needs must take priority over everything else. Corporate America is still stuck in this mainly masculine way of doing business, and all the negative byproducts filter down to us.

An Unsupportive Spouse: In the 21st century, women are still mostly responsible for cooking dinner, doing the dishes, and tending to the children, even after working all day. This leads to a lot of resentment against husbands who sit and watch TV or engage in personal activities after work. That’s not to say that men don’t also have their share of after work responsibilities at home like mowing the lawn, washing the car or fixing things that are broken. Even so, when those things don’t need to be done (and they don’t every day), then that time should be spent helping mom with her responsibilities, most of which are required daily.

This isn’t to blame men for all the stress working mom’s feel because they’re only one part of a much larger problem. Still, a husband choosing to support his wife in this way is one of the biggest and most immediate changes a couple can make to improve their quality of life. As it stands now, if men want to do something outside of work, they often just schedule it and forget about it. For a working mom to take part in any activity outside her normal hectic schedule, many other things have to be adjusted and taken into account before it can happen like making sure the kids have a ride home from baseball practice and dance class, having something ready for them to eat ahead of time, making sure the dog is taken care of, the babysitter is lined up, the dress is washed that she wants to wear, and about 20 other things that have to fall into place perfectly on time. To make anything out of the ordinary happen, it requires a constant juggling of tasks and time where all the right wheels have to turn in order to make it possible. Lots of professional women end up resenting their husband because of this, but blaming your spouse will only make your situation worse and him even less inclined to help. It’s important to remember that help from your spouse won’t change the mindset of corporate America, the demands of your job, improve the economy, or any of the other contributing factors that weigh so heavily on working moms. A supportive spouse is a priority, but it’s not a panacea.

Running on Empty: Working moms increasingly exhausted trying to live two lives

Barriers to Change

The wheels of social change turn slowly, and every necessary evolution has barriers it must overcome.  For the plight of the working mother to finally be resolved, three key factors need to change:

  1. Silence. Discussing working mom burnout is a social taboo. In certain venues, even a mention of exhaustion or being fed up with trying to juggle work and home life is seen as regressive and a threat that could set the women’s movement back 60 years. Of course, this isn’t true, but fear of being seen as politically incorrect keeps women from speaking out. Try to find an online article from a major news source or a long-term study on stress and the working mom. It’s virtually impossible. You can find information about stress and stay-at-home moms, but no one is speaking out specifically about the stress burden of working moms. Since no one’s talking, we assume everything must be going well for other working moms, and so we go on pretending everything is working for us too, even when we know it’s not. This is why we have to learn to speak up and support each other.
  2. Rigid Work Models. Old work models in corporate America haven’t made the transition into the 21st century. Corporations need to institute flexible scheduling to give employees, especially those with children, more autonomy in an effort achieve a healthier balance between work and home life. Now, 20 years into the Internet Age, it’s astonishing that companies haven’t become more virtual and moved more of their employees into home-based positions. Imagine the time you’d save and the stress you’d avoid if you could set your work schedule to stay out of rush hour traffic or had the option of working from home.
  3. Understanding Masculine and Feminine Energy. Women are the natural caretakers and nurturers of children. That’s what nature intended and why caring for children comes so naturally to the majority of women. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s much more instinctual. While humans possess both kinds of energy, women embody their feminine energy the majority of the time, while men embody the masculine. Masculine energy is not nurturing. It’s about analysis, logic, problem-solving, competition, and accomplishment. Masculine energy is doing energy; feminine energy is being energy. A woman at work is embodying her masculine energy, but she does so in a different way than a man. While at home, she’s in her feminine energy. Work is a masculine activity, so unless a man is in a nurturing profession like nursing or social work, he’s in his masculine energy 100% of the time. This is why men find it very challenging to engage in childcare duties. It’s not that they don’t want to help or can’t see you struggling. It’s just not natural for them to engage in it, so they have no biological instinct that draws them to it. It’s not how they’re wired biochemically or energetically. This should always be kept in mind when encouraging your husband to help you. Arguing with your husband, while not understanding this fundamental difference between men and women, won’t make him more eager to assist you and will only add marriage troubles to your current stress burden.

Suggestions & Solutions

Bringing some much needed peace to your life as a working mom isn’t easy, and it won’t happen overnight. Although there are lots of contributing social factors that are beyond your control, there is still much you can do to start creating a shift in your daily routine that won’t leave you feeling like you’re burning the candle at both ends all the time.

Advocate for Yourself

If possible, advocate for yourself at work for a more flexible schedule or seek out positions that offer such a schedule.

Trade Off

Split the week with your husband into days where you get to focus just on work, while he assumes all the after work duties, including the kids, after he leaves the office. Then you switch on alternate days. Don’t expect your husband’s type of childcare or cooking to look like yours, and don’t criticize if he’s not doing everything just the way you would. Understand that a man’s feminine energy does not present itself the way a woman’s does, therefore his way of doing things is going to look different than yours. Just be grateful that he’s doing it. You can iron out the details later. It might be a good idea to not dump the entire load on him at once, but give him one responsibility, the one that weighs on you the most, then work up from there.

Be Specific

Be specific about what you need your spouse to do. Don’t just keep saying how stressed out you are. Would it help if he made dinner all this week or took over running the kids to their activities for several days?

Self-Care

Be sure to take care of yourself. Don’t use the free time when your husband has the kids to catch up on more work, or you’ll defeat the purpose. Resist the temptation. Spend that time getting back into your feminine energy by doing something nurturing or sensual that’s relaxing like getting a massage or taking a dance class. Successful relationships require polarization of sexual energy, because opposites attract. That means that most of the time, women should be in their feminine energy, and men should be in their masculine. Working moms stuck in masculine energy all the time run the risk of losing the polarity in their relationship and their husbands losing their attraction to them. The trick is to be able to switch between the energies and embody the feminine more fully once you get home.

Create a Support Network

Organize a group of moms who aren’t afraid to speak about their struggles and understand that voicing their concerns isn’t threatening to send women back into the kitchen full-time. Even when solutions aren’t immediately available, just being able to share your frustrations and know you’re not alone goes a long way toward giving you the strength to keep going. The group will also allow you the opportunity to hear what others are doing to lighten their load.

Feminize Your Business

If you own a business, start incorporating more principles based in feminine energy into your business model to support working mothers and reduce the hyper competitive high stakes issues that come with the masculine model that can be so damaging. My side of the Be Hive / Happy Kids complex is run by shared governance where everyone has a say in what goes on. It’s more cooperative. In contrast, on Habib’s side, it’s much more of a top-down management style where he calls all the shots. Everyone knows he’s the boss.

Stop Comparing

Stop reading so many holistic parenting magazines and books. They only lead to comparing yourself to other moms and fearing you made terrible mistakes with your children. They will survive and thrive, even if you can’t or don’t employ every expert’s bit of diet, educational, discipline, and potty training advice, because nobody does. Trust yourself; you know more than you think you do.

Let Go of the Lie

Let go of the lie that you can have it all. No one gets to have it all. You will make mistakes occasionally, and everyone has to make compromises of some kind along the way, but that’s no reason to feel guilty. We’re all doing the best we can, and it’s all working for our highest good.

Sources

[1] Pappas, S., “Working Moms Increase by 800% Since 1860, According to New Analysis”, The Huffington Post (May 12, 2014), https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/12/number-of-working-moms-increase-since-1860_n_5310696.html.

[2] Cohn, D., “After Decades of Decline, A Rise in State-At-Home Mothers”, Social & Demographic Trends, Pew Research Center, (April 8, 2014), http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/04/08/after-decades-of-decline-a-rise-in-stay-at-home-mothers/.

[3] Adams, R., “A Quarter of Working Moms Cry Once a Week, But There Are Solutions”, The Huffington Post, (October 24, 2014), https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/24/working-moms-cry_n_6041728.html.

[4] Cohn, D., “After Decades of Decline, A Rise in State-At-Home Mothers”, Social & Demographic Trends, Pew Research Center, (April 8, 2014), http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/04/08/after-decades-of-decline-a-rise-in-stay-at-home-mothers/.