Three Tips for Working Moms & More
Who are you & what made you the right person to write this book for Jewish women?
I am a social worker by background who currently works as a Director at OHEL Bais Ezra. I am also a working mother of several young children, so I have both the personal and professional perspectives to draw from. I am living the pages of the book as well as writing about it!
Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book so I could read it. I found that when I returned to work after having my first child, I was very torn. I had always been very devoted to my work, which I find to be very meaningful and fulfilling, but it was difficult to continue to work in the same way while simultaneously being the involved mother that I wanted to be. There are only so many hours in the day! I often felt torn. As my family grew, there was even more to juggle. I wanted to hear how other Jewish women managed to do justice to the different roles they assumed, wife, mother, worker, professional, ba’alas cheesed, and more. I wanted to hear their struggles as well as strategies that worked for them in balancing the different aspects of their lives.
How long did it take you?
I made a commitment to myself when I wrote the book that I would not take away even more time from my family by writing it, which would really defeat the object! I started out very slowly at first, but it definitely developed a momentum at a certain point when I interviewed so many women and heard how badly they wanted and needed a resource like this. It helped keep me focused and motivated to finish it, even when my life got hectic and busy. In total, between interviewing, writing, and editing, it took about 2 1/2 years to complete it.
What surprised you while you were writing the book?
I was surprised by how many Jewish women had negative feelings about working – about the nature of their jobs, its impact on their families and even the fact that they worked at all. I wasn’t expecting that, and it actually caused me to add a whole chapter to the book on being positive about your work – which was not in my original outline – because I felt that it was really needed.
Did you start writing the book with any ideas that you eventually changed or adjusted because of what you learned?
I had not really bridged the gap between my home and work life, but I saw how important it was to the kids that they have a connection to their mom’s workplace – so it is not this distant, mysterious place that swallows up their mom for so many hours a day. I now try to take my children to work every so often – even if only to stop by and say hello. I also became much more aware of the importance of 1:1 time with your kids and doing your best to carve out that time whenever and wherever you can. It’s now constantly on my radar – I tag on time to doctor’s appointments, grocery outings as well as days off. I also got a lot of great ideas from some of the moms I interviewed on how to maximize the “quality time” with my children. It has really made a difference.
What are the 3 things working Moms can implement now to improve their lives?
Carving out a flexible schedule is probably the #1 things moms can do to ease all the pressure of needing to be in 2 places at the same time and feeling torn. This is not always possible for every Mom, but even little changes can make a difference. I am very fortunate in my own workplace, but most will not offer women these opportunities – we need to be the ones to start the conversations.
Identify the most challenging weekly tasks, the ones that really drain you of your physical and emotional energy, and either outsource or delegate them to someone else.
Create boundaries – so that when you are at work, you are fully focused there, but when you are at home, you can completely attend to your family. Learning to be in the moment – whether at work or at home- is key to making the most of your time and strengthening your relationships. Come home and set aside the to-do list, and just spend the first 15 minutes reconnecting with your family and nothing else. Shut off your blackberry and computer when you are at home (at least until your kids are in bed). You will be amazed at what a difference it can make.
What are the top mistakes working Moms should avoid?
Guilt, guilt and more guilt! Guilt is entirely destructive. It distorts reality and leads to shame and self-doubt. I am a big proponent of letting go of the guilt. How emotionally available can an already exhausted working mother be to her family if she is eaten up by guilt? How can she be b’simcha with her children? Working mothers are doing the best they can to make a contribution to their families. They have nothing to feel guilty about – they work very hard – and quite the contrary, are deserving of validation, and support.
Coming in a close second would be the superwoman complex. Saying yes to everything and not realizing that even superwomen have their limits. It is OK to say no sometimes, it’s OK to ask for help. This is really hard for observant women who are involved in their communities and are ba’alos chesed – but sometimes your chesed may need to be exercised for yourself and your family, too.
Finally, I think that many working mothers do not give themselves permission to focus on their marriages. Time is at such a premium, our jobs need us, our kids need us, that it can feel almost indulgent to take the time to nurture our marriages. But if we take the time to spend with our husbands (without the kids), it helps us stay connected and close – which in turn strengthens both partners to handle the daily challenges and stress that comes our way.
What is your reaction to the recent article in The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”? did you agree with any of it? Disagree? Any messages from the article that you think Jewish woman can use?
I think that most Jewish women already know what Ms. Slaughter essentially said – that children need their mothers and if you want to be an involved parent who makes family your priority, then something has got to give. Ms. Slaughter would like women to have the same privileges that men do in the workplace – to have successful and ambitious careers while still raising families. She was surprised to discover that even when given the opportunity, it was not enough- because she wanted to spend more time at home. Our understanding of the central role of the Jewish woman is different, and so her conclusions were not that surprising. Still, it was certainly validating to hear a high ranking super-successful career woman struggle with the same issues we all do. In addition, the awareness she has raised of the struggle of mothers in the workplace and her ideas for increased flexibility can only be positive for most women. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and on behalf of working women with a lot less options than Ms. Slaughter, it’s important to keep the dialogue going.
If you were to write another book now, what would it be about?
If I wrote another book now, it would probably be about the challenges of older singles. As a former “older single” who remembers every day that I am now so fortunate to face the challenges of being a working mother, the issue is very near and dear to my heart.