The Mother of All Balancing Acts

You don't have to choose between a briefcase and a diaper bag. Here are proven strategies toward a more rewarding work and family life.

After glancing at the kitchen clock for the third time, Coleen Kelley shouts up the stairs again for her two daughters to step up their pace. As she quickly prepares their lunches, she feels the rate at which she’s going is simply not fast enough. A stickler for promptness, she hates knowing that on this morning, after taking the kids to school, then battling rush-hour traffic, she’ll be at least 15 minutes late for an officewide meeting she’s been designated to lead. Needless to say, her day has gotten off to a less-than-perfect start.

Unfortunately, Kelley isn’t alone. Similar scenarios take place in millions of households every morning. The challenge of simultaneously juggling family and work obligations is nothing new. Still, it continues to leave many women pondering whether it really is possible to perform the balancing act of mother and (co)provider without dropping any of the balls.

“If you think you can, you’re dreaming,” declares Ann Douglas, author of numerous books on issues pertaining to working mothers, including The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby (Macmillan General Reference, $15.95). A home-business owner and mother of four, Douglas maintains that working mothers may ultimately have to make big sacrifices-say, limiting themselves to a particular career path or forsaking a position that requires a lot of time away from home-to also care for their families. “You’ll just have to decide what you can live without.”

Whether it’s to add to their household’s bottom line or to find personal fulfillment, many women can’t afford to be unemployed. The Center for Policy Alternatives in Washington, D.C., estimates that 63% of moms with kids under age six-and 78% with school-age children-work outside of the home.

Similarly, dual-career married couples make up 45% of the work force. “Yet society hasn’t caught up with the fact that these couples are the norm, not the exception,” asserts Douglas.

From this vantage point, it’s no wonder that achieving quality family time, for example, remains one of the greatest challenges for working couples. The school day still ends around 3 p.m., a throwback to the days when at least one person-usually Mom-was there to provide supervision when the kids came home. Likewise, children’s extracurricular activities-athletic games, school plays and music recitals-are frequently planned around the children’s schedules, says Douglas. These events tend to clash with their parents’ workday, which, on average, doesn’t end until at least 5 p.m., not including commute time. This often leaves a sizable gap between then and when kids get to reconnect with their parents or guardians.

While it affects both parents, the gnawing guilt that results from missing these and other precious family-related moments has always been central to the working mother’s experience. That’s because the domestic domain-tending to children, caring for a spouse and other family members, and maintaining the house-is still mainly seen as a woman’s responsibility. In some cases, an unwillingness to focus less on a career in the name of family duty can result in a woman losing her happy home life altogether.

That’s what happened

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