5 Things Every Working Mom Needs to Hear

Moms, I know you are out there. Like me, I know you are trying to catch your breath as you race from work to daycare at 5:30, hoping your child isn’t the last to get picked up. I bet your stress melts away the moment you drop to your knees on the preschool room floor. I don’t think I am alone in feeling an overwhelming joy consume me as my child runs towards me, crashing into my outstretched, tired arms.

Do you also marvel at the dichotomy? At work, I feel efficient and productive. Yet this strength seems absent as I try to unpack lunch boxes, prepare dinner, and make meaningful eye contact during the short 90 minutes that exist between taking off my heels and putting the kids to bed. I struggle to hold it all together while watching my 4-year-old throw a tantrum on the living room floor. I worry that his meltdown is somehow my fault, that perhaps if I didn’t work so hard, if I spent less time away from him, maybe the tantrums would disappear from our lives.

I’ve been at this working motherhood thing for nine years. Nine years trying to balance the chaos and understand the emotions that come from constantly trying to navigate between two worlds. And as I enter this tenth year of motherhood, I am trying to accept one simple truth.

I. Am. Enough. You are, too. Say it with me: “I am enough.” Here are five things I remind myself of while trying to balance career and family. I hope this list comes in handy tonight as you simultaneously flip yet another load of laundry and mentally draft an email before collapsing into bed.

1. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters.
Moms today spend more time with their kids than mothers did in the 1960s. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Perhaps it all depends on where you look to make your comparison. So many of us waste our time comparing ourselves to the mothers we see in our Facebook newsfeed. The next time you feel inadequate, shift your focus away from social media. I promise — those are only the highlight reels. Research tells us that the amount of time a mother spends with her child is far less important than the quality she gives during those moments. You have enough time to spend with your kids. The key is to make the moments count.

2. The kids are fine!
Early childhood education, as is often provided in day care settings, is good for children. While you are working hard and helping to support your family financially, the kids are thriving in organized child care settings. Quality early childhood education improves learning outcomes later in life. Children in organized care learn socialization skills early on and are better able to adapt to new experiences later in life.

3. Working is good for your health.
Researchers French and Demaske found that women who return to work after maternity leave experience less depression and better physical health than their nonworking peers. “For the mothers in our study, steady, full-time work was associated with better physical health than other work pathways and better mental health than interrupted or stay-at-home pathways.”

4. Your daughters (and daughters-in-law) might thank you for sticking it out.
Just 30 years ago, maternity leave was almost nonexistent. Today, family leave policies in America are still woefully inadequate. The International Labor Organization studied 164 countries and analyzed their maternity leave policies. The study found that the United States is one of only two countries that does not provide cash assistance to mothers upon the birth of a child. Many countries recognize the need to support families. Hopefully, in our lifetime, our country will as well. We all have a duty to not just wallow in our struggles as working parents. Instead, we should see our own experiences as an opportunity to band together to try improving our nation’s attitudes towards working parents.

5. Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors on work-life balance, reminds us that “The days are long but the years are short.”
Celebrate the small victories that really are not so little when we slow down to think about them. Does your 4-year-old wake up each day excited to greet the world? Revel in that success instead of fixating on the never-ending pile of papers on the counter. Did your child go to bed with a full belly? Don’t discount the effort it took to make that happen.

We all struggle. Our struggles make us human. So tomorrow, as you drop your child off at preschool and mentally shift gears to the work ahead, I hope you take a minute to reflect on this list. And if you see another mom at the office with cereal stuck to her pant leg, or watch as she accidentally pulls out a pacifier instead of a pen at a business meeting, I hope you remember that she, too, might be caught in the cycle of trying to seamlessly transition between work and motherhood. Despite how easy texting and social media makes communication, I would venture to guess that many moms, like me, still feel disconnected. Take a minute to share your story. The more I live, the more I see that by sharing our challenges, we can reconnect to one another, and hopefully, together, make our individual struggles to balance life a little less daunting.

Stacey Steinberg teaches Legal Writing and Juvenile Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is also a lifestyle photographer and a mom. You can view Stacey’s photography on Facebook.

A Rodmap Towards Work-Life Balance

Last week, I found myself at a coffee shop grading papers. I couldn’t help but overhear two young college students talk about career options and their dreams for work-life balance. It was so hard not to interject. There is so much I want to tell them. But where to begin?

I remember being in their shoes. A third year law student, I thought I knew so much. I wanted to feel passionate about work. I wanted to make a difference. I was sure I would make good money. And I was confident I would seamlessly transition into motherhood a few years down the road.

My confidence was misplaced. While I left law school armed with knowledge and enthusiasm, I had little in my arsenal to prepare me for the realities of balancing work and life. If I could give these students some career guidance, I thought to myself, I would say the following:

  1. Follow your passion. I never thought I could walk into a courtroom with a young sexual violence survivor and prosecute her assailant. But, just a year out of law school, I got to do this on a regular basis. I interviewed child abuse victims. I made plea offers. I tried jury cases. In law school, I thought only the best, brightest, and most experienced attorney could handle such serious issues. But in reality, the best attorney to handle such an emotionally charged case was the one who was passionate about the issue, competent, and willing to work hard. And at the time, that was me.
  2. Define your goals. Identify what gives you the biggest push towards inner peace. What will make you go to bed each night feeling like your day was worthwhile and fulfilling? The sooner you can figure this out, the better able you will be to match your career with your authentic self.
  3. Don’t rely only on work to make you happy. Get a hobby. Volunteer. Even if you love your job, happiness cannot be achieved through work alone. Some of the most unhappy people I know have jobs they are passionate about. Having interests outside of work offers us a perspective we all need in order to achieve balance in our lives.
  4. Diversify. Continue to network, even when you think you’ve found the perfect job. Explore your other passions and interests. You might one day decide to turn that passion into a new career.
  5. Enjoy the journey. College is a time of great excitement. Take the time to make lasting friendships and experience the joy of early adulthood – the time will pass all too quickly.

The young students at the coffee shop continued to talk as I jotted down my thoughts. A teacher at heart, I made the bold move of interrupting the students. I shared with them my notes. The pair seemed appreciative, which led me to jot down one last piece of advice.

  1. Speak up. Share. It can be so easy to fall into the silence of “getting through” each day. But if we don’t share our experiences — both the good and the bad — we isolate ourselves and we inhibit our ability to learn and to teach. The best measure of success isn’t our ability to earn a living, but in our ability to create a life. We are all passengers on a shared journey towards fulfillment and balance. We might as well help each other out along the way.

This was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Dear New Professional Working Mom

Dear New Professional Working Mom,

I want to tell you my story. Seven years ago, I felt lost and confused. As a new mom and a full-time attorney, I was pulled in two very different directions and, as a result, I often felt I did neither job well. Days and nights were a blur. My house was a mess in a way that mirrored my scattered thoughts. We were surviving, but no one was thriving. I knew I was not alone, although often I felt no one had the unique work-life struggle I had.

I was a prosecutor, handing cases involving child abuse and sexual violence. My husband worked from home, creating a constant feeling of envy and resentment. Our rambunctious son made the few moments of quiet feel like we were only in the eye of a hurricane. The calm passed quickly at our home, making way for fits of chaos and confusion.

Fast-forward nine years. I still work. My husband now works 60+ hour weeks outside the house. We have added two more children to our mix. And yet I am so much calmer. So much more at ease with balancing work and motherhood. My house is cleaner, my thoughts are less scattered, family time is more peaceful. And most importantly, I would venture to say, we are thriving.

What changed? We got a housekeeper. That certainly helped. I still work with child abuse victims, but now I am a writing professor dabbling in child welfare issues. That certainly helps, too. But I think the change has less to do with my circumstances, and far more to do with my mindset. As a new mom, I resented my law degree. I resented the responsibility and the expectation it placed on me. But for the first time in a long while, I am grateful to be an attorney. I am grateful to have a profession. Perhaps having three young children made me better understand that I am good at lawyering. I am good at teaching. Being a stay-at-home mom? I now know I neither enjoy it nor am good at it. And for the first time in a long time, I am learning that this is OK. I tip my hat to stay-at-home moms. It is a much harder job than mine. It is such an important job, but so is mine.

New Professional Working Mom, it gets easier. You worked hard to get where you are professionally. You will have to work hard to get to where you want to be as a mom. The nice thing is, motherhood is a book, not a single chapter. While this chapter might be the hardest you’ll ever get through, the scene will change. Pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, find a comfortable spot to rest your tired feet, and read on. I promise, while new questions may appear, your own truth will unfold.

With love and respect,

Stacey “Experienced” mom, law professor, photographer, and friend

Life as the Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors

Today is Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the official day set aside to remember the atrocities committed against not only the Jewish people, but against all of humanity. It is a day to honor the lives lost during the Holocaust, and also a day to highlight the importance of equality and it is a time to reflect on the values and ideals we as a society aim to achieve.

I exist because two people had enough hope to persevere against all odds. I exist because two people were lucky enough not to be murdered by the Nazis like their sisters and niece. I am here because, despite evil, suffering, hatred, and loss, hope remained.

My grandmother came to this country and saw love, despite all of the hate she experienced during the war. My grandfather came to America with less than a dollar to his name. “There is gold on the streets of America,” he would say, “you just have to know how to pick it up.” They were both mostly right. I am blessed to live in the richest country in the world, and I’ve been afforded the tools to pick up much of the symbolic gold my grandfather referenced. I see love all around me. I grew up in a stable home, had the opportunity to attend excellent schools, and was blessed with a supportive network of friends, family members, and mentors.

2015-04-15-1429117824-5761512-0034166807017lr.jpg

Not everyone is lucky enough to have the tools necessary to reach the gold paving the streets of America. Not everyone lives a life surrounded by love. Even in our rich country, children go to school with empty bellies and broken hearts. Our country, which thankfully welcomed my grandparents and many other refugees from around the world, still averts her eyes to the oppression and inequalities facing many within her borders today.

Being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors means that it is my not my right, but my obligation to seek equality under the law for all people. Being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors means that it is not enough for me to wait for opportunities to help others, but that it is my duty to seek out opportunities to help on my own. Being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors means that it is my gift to live each day conscious of the values and the ideals that built our nation. For as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I know that terms like freedom, opportunity, and equality have deep significance.

Today, we remember those who perished during the Holocaust and honor those who survived. It is also a day for us all to reflect on pain and loss in our own lives as well as the cruelty humanity can inflict upon itself. As we look after those who are vulnerable in society, we can learn from the past and seek improve the lives around us.

This year, Yom Hashoah and National Volunteer Week coincide on the calendar. As a child, I was enchanted with Rabbi Hillel’s quote, “You and I shall change the world.”

The time to change the world is now.
For if not now, when?

Follow me on Facebook at Stacey Steinberg Photography.

2015-04-15-1429120360-2952388-opa.jpg

A Roadmap Towards Work-Life Balance

Last week, I found myself at a coffee shop grading papers. I couldn’t help but overhear two young college students talk about career options and their dreams for work-life balance. It was so hard not to interject. There is so much I want to tell them. But where to begin?

I remember being in their shoes. A third year law student, I thought I knew so much. I wanted to feel passionate about work. I wanted to make a difference. I was sure I would make good money. And I was confident I would seamlessly transition into motherhood a few years down the road.

My confidence was misplaced. While I left law school armed with knowledge and enthusiasm, I had little in my arsenal to prepare me for the realities of balancing work and life. If I could give these students some career guidance, I thought to myself, I would say the following:

1. Follow your passion. I never thought I could walk into a courtroom with a young sexual violence survivor and prosecute her assailant. But, just a year out of law school, I got to do this on a regular basis. I interviewed child abuse victims. I made plea offers. I tried jury cases. In law school, I thought only the best, brightest, and most experienced attorney could handle such serious issues. But in reality, the best attorney to handle such an emotionally charged case was the one who was passionate about the issue, competent, and willing to work hard. And at the time, that was me.

2. Define your goals. Identify what gives you the biggest push towards inner peace. What will make you go to bed each night feeling like your day was worthwhile and fulfilling? The sooner you can figure this out, the better able you will be to match your career with your authentic self.

3. Don’t rely only on work to make you happy. Get a hobby. Volunteer. Even if you love your job, happiness cannot be achieved through work alone. Some of the most unhappy people I know have jobs they are passionate about. Having interests outside of work offers us a perspective we all need in order to achieve balance in our lives.

4. Diversify. Continue to network, even when you think you’ve found the perfect job. Explore your other passions and interests. You might one day decide to turn that passion into a new career.

5. Enjoy the journey. College is a time of great excitement. Take the time to make lasting friendships and experience the joy of early adulthood — the time will pass all too quickly.

The young students at the coffee shop continued to talk as I jotted down my thoughts. A teacher at heart, I made the bold move of interrupting the students. I shared with them my notes. The pair seemed appreciative, which led me to jot down one last piece of advice.

6. Speak up. Share. It can be so easy to fall into the silence of “getting through” each day. But if we don’t share our experiences — both the good and the bad — we isolate ourselves and we inhibit our ability to learn and to teach. The best measure of success isn’t our ability to earn a living, but in our ability to create a life. We are all passengers on a shared journey towards fulfillment and balance. We might as well help each other out along the way.