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Valuable lessons from a former stay-at-home mom turned work-for-pay mom

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The pressure of working and raising kids made me learn these lessons faster, but I could have used them years earlier.

Y’all, working full-time as a mom is hard. I know this shouldn’t be a revelation to me, and mentally it isn’t; I always had enormous respect for my friends who held down full-time jobs and manned the family helm. I often wondered how they did it all — whether they were super organized or blessed with the ability to sleep only three hours a night — because I assumed that somehow they were able to handle everything I was handling, plus 40+ hours a week. And that blew my mind.

Since joining the ranks of working-for-pay mothers, I’ve made myself crazy trying to do it all. Everything I used to do, plus work, plus extra work, plus extra volunteering for work. I pretty quickly realized that cooking dinners that took an hour to prep was going to have to go, as was television-viewing, blog-reading, and pretty much any reading that wasn’t contained in emails and fact sheets.

Other things began to slip through the cracks as I focused on building my business and helping my region build our overall business. I found myself committing to more and more work-related things and having less and less time to do actual essential mom-related tasks — like clipping fingernails every week or diligently checking homework.

So reading this article at Working Mother was a necessary wake-up call in several areas, and it hit home because it focuses on simple phrases that working moms shouldn’t say lightly:

Yes. I used to say yes when I was asked to do anything. I wouldn’t even take a moment to think if I had the time or the ability to get something done; I would just automatically accept the task for fear of being perceived negatively if I didn’t. I am much less reactive now and instead I focus on my big-picture plan and responsibilities. Now, I consider what I have on my to-do list, what my priorities are and how this new task will affect the overall plan.

This isn’t fair. When you play a role in creating an environment where others are overloading you, you inevitably get frustrated. After accepting too much responsibility and getting upset that others didn’t do the same, I would find myself telling my boss that “things are not fair.” What I’ve learned is that I was right — things were not fair, but I had the power to change them. By creating boundaries and respecting my time and commitments I was able to be more realistic about what I could and couldn’t take on.

I am 100 percent guilty of that first one. I tend to say yes to anything and everything for two reasons: first, I actually love my job and enjoy all the work that goes into it. Second, I value my business partners and want them to see me as an asset.

The first is problematic because it caused an imbalance in my work/life ratio — my kids (whom I love and enjoy more than anything in the world) are getting less of me than they should. The second is problematic because although it’s important to forge good relationships with my business partners, the end goal should be simply that. Doing extra to get them to like me doesn’t help anyone, because it means that I will inevitably spread myself too thin and fail to come through when it matters. And the best way to be seen as an asset to the company is to be an asset, which begins with managing my time responsibly.

But this goes a lot further than the dilemma faced by working moms. The same could be said of me three years ago when I was a stay-at-home mom. I said yes to neighbors, friends, and even acquaintances, when I shouldn’t have. It’s one thing to make occasional sacrifices of time to help a friend, but it’s another thing to say yes all the time — even to my kids.

I could have saved myself eons of time by teaching them how to do laundry, fold it, and put it away. Instead, I did laundry for seven people, five of whom were absolutely capable of sharing the workload. My saying yes didn’t do anyone in our house any favors, because I resented the sheer volume of laundry I was overwhelmed by, yet at the same time I failed to teach my family valuable skills and hold them accountable for shared responsibility.

The lessons I’ve learned as a working mom might have been learned more quickly because of the high pressure of balancing work and family, but they’re lessons that I (hopefully) would have learned anyway. We all have to learn to prioritize our time and draw boundaries, because none of us can “do it all.” We can only do the things that matter most, and kiss the rest up to God.

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