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Avoid the guilt

Though professionals believe that working mothers today will face overwhelming pressure, noted fitness expert PEG JORDAN thinks it can be tackled. Her tips to stay ahead.


Without traditional support systems, women need new solutions.

THIS is a tribute to the working mother, with some helping advice on how to lighten her load. Thirty years after the feminist revolution, women finally have more opportunities opened to them, and even though they come with a high price tag of more stress, self-doubt and often guilt, few women would want a return to the dark ages of no choices.

Just as there are getting to be more women in all the professions, professional women are deciding to raise families at 30, 40 and beyond. Fatigue abounds for the older working mom, along with the sense that life used to be organised and perfect, but is now thrown into total chaos. Over half the women who are employed in most urban areas are working mothers. They start their day getting their children dressed, fed, and off to school with packed lunches. They get husbands out of the door, feeling prepared and confident for their work day. And then they clean up after everyone, make themselves as presentable as possible, and beat the crowds to work. After long hours at a thankless job, often working for wages far less than a man in the same position, they drag their weary bodies home and start the "second shift". Shopping, preparing meals, cleaning up, supervising homework, attending to everyone's needs and demands. They're expected to dispense love, listen with devotion, and remember where everyone left their keys, shoes, wallet, homework, umbrella, you name it.

Working mothers are the family's historian, ("Did you remember your grandma's birthday?") healer ("let me put some ice on that bump!" safety officer (`Never use a knife like that!) social secretary, spiritual centre, dispute mediator ... the list goes on and on. Coping with the endless tasks of multiple roles — wife, mother, employer/employee — has been called the "millennial dilemma" by author Joan Peters (When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Ourselves). Like many experts examining the stress in women's lives today, she believes that this century will place overwhelming pressure on working mothers due to a shift within societies in general. For example, educated women often had careers outside the home but they were supported by either an extended family of relatives or a servant class, which certainly had its own dire consequences for those women who had to leave their own children and homes to take care of someone else's. Today, a huge wave of migrant women are abandoning home and security in order to look for work across boundaries of class and country. It grows obvious that because both professional and non-professional women are without the traditional support systems of the past, they need new strategies and solutions to help them.

Strive for balance, not perfection. Learn to live with the "undone". You have to increase your tolerance for things not looking quite as good when you have multiple jobs, and only one of you. Decide what is important, prioritise that list, and let the rest go till tomorrow. There's always tomorrow.

Gather a team. Sure, everyone looks to you as the central operating officer of the household, but it's time to recruit cooperative players. Divide up the important tasks, and get a "buy-in" from your husband, family members, children, or anyone else that can lend a hand to household tasks. Make sure they understand that living in this home together is a privilege — and everyone pitches in to help. Here are also four additional tips (see boxes).

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Set your limits. Even the most well-managed working mom should say "no" to being overloaded with stressors. There comes a point when you shouldn't just try to improve your ability to cope with stress — instead, you should learn to be assertive, speak up, whether at work or at home, and say you've had enough.

* * *

Practise good humour. One of the signs of doing too much is losing your sense of humour. Find the light side of your crazy day, learn to laugh about impossibilities with good friends. You'll find that adjusting your attitude will put you in a good mood, help your smile and relax. The working mothers that seem to have figured it all out aren't really equipped with more advantages than you or me. They're just looking at the cup as half full instead of half empty. They've decided that they have the best of both worlds — work they enjoy and a family they love — instead of settling for less than the whole.

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Learning to be more assertive at the workplace can often help women rise to better paying positions, while instilling more confidence in their managers and employers. Thinking like an entrepreneur no matter what the position is often well rewarded as a sign of doing what matters and applying a healthy balance of ambition and common sense.

* * *

Don't neglect your self-care. Working moms need to give themselves daily permission for a "time out". Give yourself a facial. Start your day with a detox drink of the juice of half a lemon squeezed into a cup of hot water. Take a milk bath. And no matter how tired you are, never go to bed with makeup. Tossing and turning will grind the makeup into the pores and cause premature aging and unhealthy skin.

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