Maybe you grew up with overworked, overwhelmed and thus distant parents — parents who struggled with finding a balance between work and home life. Or maybe you grew up in a toxic family with abusive or not-so-nurturing parents. And now that you have children of your own, you want to be sure you're a positive working parent, despite not being raised by one. It's not easy, but there are steps you can take to do the best you can.
"Mothering brings many joys while simultaneously being one of the most challenging roles we will undertake in our lifetime," says Theresa Gil, psychotherapist, psychology professor, and trainer who works with women, children and families dealing with recovery from child abuse and trauma. Gil is also the author of Women Who Were Sexually Abused as Children: Mothering, Resilience, and Protecting the Next Generation. "Mothering comprises multiple responsibilities including developing and nurturing the physical, intellectual and spiritual growth of our children. Our children’s needs are forever changing, and each stage of development will test our skills, knowledge and parenting experiences."
Gil adds that, today, 75 percent of mothers in the United States are employed outside the home, which adds to a woman’s responsibilities and means having to find a balance, which she says can be daunting. Add to that the constant pressure society places on women and standards to which women are held with regards to both being parents and professionals, and the result is a whole lof ot mom-shaming and, hence, working mom guilt.
In fact, one in four working moms are so overwhelmed with achieving a work-life harmony that they cry alone at least once a week, according to a 2014 Care.com survey. The important thing to remember is that doing your best looks different for everyone — there's no one right way to be a positive working parent.
We spoke with Gil to come up with four strategies to promote overall well-being and life satisfaction, so you can be your best self, whatever that looks like.
"It is important that we practice self-care and be gentle with ourselves by taking time to rest, restore and re-energize," Gil says. "We can start by reflecting on the activities and experiences that bring us joy. If we enjoy being creative, whether it derives from music, dance or art, then we must incorporate these activities in our life. If we enjoy the outdoors, then make sure you take some time to go for a walk and to be in nature. Studies have shown that nature and creative activities help to de-stress the body, contributes to relaxation and restore balance in our lives."
If you're looking for other ways to take care of yourself, check out this list of ideas curated by working moms themselves — it spans everything from taking time to do some yoga to journaling, painting and cooking.
"Some of our negative self-talk have their origins in childhood and past negative experiences," says Gil. "Negative self-talk can be so ingrained that we are not consciously aware of the inner dialogue that many of us engage in. Negative self-talk impacts how we view ourselves, controls our feelings and behaviors, and the choices we make. We should take the necessary time to engage in learning about our negative internal dialogue and to find out where the messages come from — are the messages from family, parents, friends and/or teachers? Although our negative messages may have originated from others, eventually we internalize the messages and take them as our own."
Gil says that becoming conscious of that negative internal dialogue is a step toward making changes to it and, ultimately, replacing it with more realistic appraisals of ourselves. That said, because our brains are wired to remember negative experiences, it takes a conscious effort to change those thought patterns.
"Journaling is one way to take time for ourselves and self-reflect," she advises. "It helps us to get in touch with our feelings and thoughts on a deeper level and, thus, helps us to gain insight and alter the negativity that interferes with our relationships with our children and functioning at work."
"As children, we do not have choices about the adults and significant people that care for us — some people are born into toxic families where there was or is minimal nurturing or displays of spontaneous affection," Gil says. "However, as adults, we can control who we engage with. The people that surround us influence how we see ourselves. If we currently have negative and unsupportive people in our lives, these people will continue to perpetuate the negative thoughts we have internalized about ourselves, re-enact our childhood rejections and maintain our negative life experiences."
As adults, Gil adds that we both can and should choose to surround ourselves with kind, capable and supportive people who take an interest in our lives and show us genuine care.
"Cultivating healthy relationships and having supportive people in our lives will help build our resilience and will ultimately foster our ability to rest, restore our energies and revitalize our relationships," she says.
"Structuring our day to day life and making a schedule is important to creating stability, predictability and consistency," Gil adds. "Creating and incorporating a structure and routine helps us to manage time better and helps to alleviate anxiety that comes from a lack of predictability and multiple responsibilities. "
Having a daily routine might include having a bedtime or a regular waking hour. It helps to bring balance into our lives, Gil says, which can alleviate stress for the entire family.
"In summary, negative people, chaotic and unpredictable lives, and negative self-talk act as continuous stressors," she says. "In contrast, positive supports, structure and routines, being kind to ourselves, and positive affirmations uplift us to be our best selves. In order to be more effective in our roles as mothers and in the workplace, we need to take care of ourselves and increase our support systems. When we take care of ourselves, and afford ourselves the time to relax, rest and rejuvenate, we will have the energy to be available and more present both at home and work."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,
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