These days in America working parents are the norm. Nearly three quarters of mothers are employed outside the home. Yet despite the ubiquity of working parenthood, a combination of rose-tinted ideals of an earlier age and less than parent-friendly policies often combine to make something that should be as common as sliced bread into a source of guilt.
How can both mothers and fathers finally kill the guilt and enjoy both the professional and parental parts of their lives more fully? Experts and science can help. Not only is there a host of research out there that can help bust your anxiety, but a great many experts have studied the topic of what makes for contented working families. Here are a few of their best tips:
1. Take a stand for balance.
Constantly fretting about how much time you spend away from your kids while routinely working longer hours than you really want to is a recipe for misery. So commit to a schedule you can live with -- and then be out and proud about your choices.
"In the morning, identify what time you want to leave that night. Put it on your calendar, set an alarm on your mobile phone, or simply make a psychological commitment to that departure time," career coach Lea McLeod told Fast Company. "Be assertive," Laura Stack, author of Doing the Right Things Right, adds in the same article. "Don't be afraid to tell others, 'I leave work at 5 p.m., on time, every day. I have a 5:30 commitment I must adhere to.'" (Will it help embolden you to know that Sheryl Sandberg does this exact thing?)
Being vocal about work-life balance will probably also make you happier, according to Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift. Science shows "volunteering and activism bring substantial mental and physical health benefits," he notes. If you're the boss, you're in an even better position to stick up for parents.
2. Pick a team and stop worrying.
"Looking back, grown children of working mothers have warm memories of their child care providers. Kids are easy -- it's the parents who are hard to please," Pamela Lenehan, author of My Mother, My Mentor, reminds working parents.
The key to maintaining your sanity while juggling work and parenthood is getting help, and then actually allowing the help to help without fretting too much. Besides your co-parent (if you have one), "you'll manage a progression of nannies, preschools, schools, afterschools, and summer camps. Budget permitting, you may also need to outsource certain functions, like housework and dog walking. Don't leave all the details to your co-parent; instead, divide up responsibilities according to your complementary skills and interests," advises Smith, who also urges parents to lean on friends and family without guilt or embarrassment. In short: pick a team and embrace their help. You're not doing your kids any harm by making your life easier.
3. Institute family traditions.
You might not spend every hour with your kids, but you can ensure the time you do spend with them really matters. Insist on a family meal at least once a week, suggests Lenehan, and leverage holidays.
"Family dinner won out as the favorite routine family activity by a vote of nearly two to one over other activities," Lenehan writes of a survey of childhood memories she conducted. "Children like eating dinner with their parents, and hearing what is going on in their lives. If you cannot get together as a family during the workweek, do it on weekends. It is not about food, it's about conversation and connection."
"Children- - and mothers -- love holidays. Thanksgiving was the holiday most often mentioned in the survey," she adds. "Holidays do not need to be perfect: do what you enjoy and outsource the rest. Less stress means you can all enjoy the holidays more."
4. Don't let stereotypes complicate your life.
"When I was interviewing couples for my book The Daddy Shift, I found the happiest ones were those who weren't hung up on ideas about what a man should do and what a woman should do. Mom didn't look down on Dad if she made more money than him, and Dad didn't waste time resenting the burdens of child care," Smith says. Leave stereotypes aside and you'll be more resilient and more flexible, both economically and emotionally -- and that's bound to lead to less guilt and stress.
5. Know science has your back.
Countless working parents feel like the juggle makes them worse parents and professionals. But perhaps it will help kill your guilt to learn that science suggests the opposite is true. While it's a sad reality that mothers still face bias at work, research shows that contrary to stereotypes, parents are more productive. Meanwhile, studies reveal that kids of working mothers generally turn out more than alright.
"Evidence is mounting that having a working mother has some economic, educational and social benefits for children of both sexes," reported The New York Times last year. "In a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles and earned higher incomes. Having a working mother didn't influence the careers of sons, which researchers said was unsurprising because men were generally expected to work--but sons of working mothers did spend more time on child care and housework."
Would any veteran working parents out there like to share their best guilt-busting tip?