‘I Can’t Do This Anymore’
Five years ago I thought I “had it all” — a fabulous job, beautiful kids and a loving husband. But after my son was born and I returned to work full time, my stress got out of control. I was anxious. I couldn’t sleep. Soon I was having full-blown panic attacks. One day, on the way to Target to buy diapers, I broke down. Not my car. I broke down. I called my husband and sobbed, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I chronicled my journey from “maxed-out” mom to healthy mom in my book, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink.” While I was writing the book, I heard from hundreds of women with similar stories.
Mothers are breadwinners in two-thirds of American families, and yet, the workplace can be profoundly out of sync with our lives. We may commute long distances, work long hours or rigid schedules and take very little time off — but then school lets out before 3pm and closes for the summer. Parent-teacher conferences and performances take place in the middle of the workday. If only we could be in two places at once!
For many of us, these competing expectations are a recipe for serious stress. Studies show mothers do more multi-tasking, have less leisure time and are more likely to say they “always feel rushed” than fathers. Unfortunately, this stress can take a toll on our health: Women are far more likely than men to suffer from depression and anxiety and have reported sleep problems, eating disorders and substance abuse in extreme cases of workplace stress.
The good news is we don’t have to accept the status quo. Here are five simple suggestions for maxed-out moms to make positive changes in your heart, your home, your workplace and society at large.
Learn to Say “No”
While I was researching “Maxed Out,” countless women told me they feel guilty because they’re not able to give their “all,” as workers or as moms. This is why we’re more inclined to say “yes” to accepting that extra assignment at work or organizing the camp carpool, even when we don’t have time.
If there’s one thing I learned from my own experience burning out at work, our energy is a precious resource. If we keep giving it all away, one day we’ll find we have nothing left. Our job is to cultivate compassion for ourselves and find ways say “no”: to our bosses, our coworkers, our kids — anyone who is claiming too much of our time. This is not about letting other people down. Saying “no” to others is about saying “yes” to yourself.
Try this: Write “Say No” on your to-do list for a week and see what happens.
Tell Your Partner What You Need
Research shows that while dads are doing more at home than previous generations, moms still do more childcare and housework, even when both parents work. A few years ago, I conducted a survey to see how couples divide up the “psychic burden” tasks of parenting, like clipping fingernails, setting up doctor appointments and organizing birthday parties. Not surprisingly, moms were far more likely to do these things than dads. Of the hundreds of women who filled out the survey, many blamed themselves for being too controlling and not letting their partners help.
If you’re feeling maxed out, it’s so important to let others help you. If you’re a single parent, this may mean telling a friend or family member how they can help make life a little more manageable, like taking the kids for a few hours on the weekend. The extra help may not resolve all the demands on your time, but it will make you feel less alone.
Try this: Try stating, as clearly, evenly and with as much confidence as you can muster, exactly what you need from your partner, and see what happens.
Tell Your Boss What You Need
Forward-thinking companies are beginning to experiment with things like job shares, alternative work schedules and what experts call “custom-fit work practices” to help employees find work-life balance. Not only do these programs prevent employees from burning out at work, they can dramatically increase productivity and profits.
Take telecommuting. Studies show that 50 percent of jobs are compatible with working from home, at least part time. Besides saving commute time, many find the peace and quiet of home makes them more productive and saner. The benefits of telecommuting extend to your company, too, from boosting productivity and morale to decreasing turnover. And if that’s not enough, having fewer cars on the road is good for the environment to boot.
Try this: Share with your boss the Telework Research Network’s interactive calculator, which uses U.S. Census data and other research to calculate potential savings from telecommuting.
Band Together with Other Moms
We’ve all felt judged at one time or another about our choices to work or not work. Often we perpetuate this cycle by judging other women, even though we know better. But this judgment is a distraction. The real conflict we feel is between all parents and the economic policies and social institutions that don’t value the act of caregiving.
We must to find ways to rally for each other, both at work and in our personal lives. Even small gestures can make a big difference. For example, the next time you make dinner, like a soup, double the recipe, and drop off half at a friend’s house. She will be so grateful to have a healthy meal she doesn’t have to cook, and you may find that meal swapping becomes a regular thing, one simple way to help each other stay sane.
Try this: Join a national advocacy organization like MomsRising.org. With one click, you will band together with millions of moms to make America more family-friendly.
Rethink Your Time
Despite our great advances in technology, the American workplace is still stuck in the 1950s. Most of us are expected to clock in and out as if we’re factory workers, even if we work in offices, and we’re evaluated on arbitrary measures like punctuality, even if we take work home at night.
Some management experts say we need to rethink our outdated concept of time. Experts on high performance work practices say that businesses should empower their employees to make decisions like how to get their work done, and managers should hold them accountable to results. One such strategy, called Results-Only Work Environments (ROWE) is gaining traction in Corporate America. Its purpose is to make the workplace more humane for all employees, not just parents. Rather than costing money, companies find that results-only practices can decrease turnover and boost productivity.
Try this: Ask your HR manager to sign up for a free workplace “culture assessment” at gorowe.com.
Katrina Alcorn is an author and consultant. Her first book, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink” (Seal Press), tells a deeply personal story about “having it all,” failing miserably, and what comes after. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and three children.