By Tzivia Reiter
Accept Your Decision to Work and Come to Terms with It. Don’t let other people’s remarks create unnecessary guilt. Understand that those who are condescending toward other people’s choices are likely to be insecure about their own.
Acknowledge Your Contributions. Write down the specific ways in which working benefits your family, i.e., paying toward your mortgage, qualifying your family for medical insurance, contributing toward yeshivah tuition, giving you an outlet so that you can be a more fulfilled and patient mother, et cetera. When you are having a difficult day, review the list.
Identify Your Weak Spots. Determine what your most challenging weekly tasks are, the ones that really drain you of your physical and emotional energy, and either outsource or delegate them to someone else. (And then let go!)
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First. Make time to rejuvenate and refresh yourself. You can’t take proper care of your family if you don’t take proper care of yourself first.
Be Selective. Don’t commit to anything if it takes you beyond your limits, even if it is something that feels wrong to say no to, like hosting extra Shabbos guests or volunteering for a chesed event. Remember that yatza secharo b’hefseido (Pirkei Avos 5:14). What you accomplish may be offset by the toll it takes upon you and your family.
Create Boundaries. Decide that when you are at work, you are fully focused being there, but when you are at home, attend to your family only. 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 twenty minutes reconnecting with your family.
Beware of Technology Traps. Put away your iPhone, which gives your family the sense that they do not have your full attention. Save e-mails, phone calls and after-hours’ work for when your children are in bed.
Be on the Lookout for Opportunities to Bond with Your Kids. Tack special one-on-one time onto routine errands, like grocery shopping or a doctor’s visit, by taking your child out for ice cream afterward or going to the park.
Take Advantage of Your Kids’ Days Off, as well as Your Own. Even if you can’t take off the whole two weeks your kids might be off from school or camp, try to take off a day or two. This sends an important message that your children are your priority and you don’t want to miss out on spending extra time together.
Share Your Work with Your Children. Work should not be a distant, mysterious place that swallows up their mother for so many hours each day. Discuss with your children, in age-appropriate language, why you go to work and what you do there. If feasible, take them to your workplace and introduce them to your colleagues so they have a visual image of where you are during the day.
Take an Accounting. Periodically take inventory of your lifestyle and how you and your family are doing. Are you generally feeling satisfied, or do you persistently feel harried and stressed out? Are you giving the best parts of yourself only to your work, and not to your family? If so, what adjustments can you make to your routine that might yield a better outcome?
Keep Things in Perspective. If you are consistently present for your children, and make it clear through your words and actions that they are your priority, they will be able to cope through a difficult day or week in the life of their working mother. It is unlikely that they will dwell as much as you do over any one rough patch.
Experience Joy. Feel happy and fulfilled at work and, even more importantly, at home. Children who feel their parents’ joy over being with them—whether they are working or stay-at-home mothers—fare best at the end of the day. Take the time to enjoy your children. Think about which activities you both find fun and meaningful and incorporate them into your time together. This goes a long way toward strengthening the parent-child bond even within limited time frames.
Tzivia Reiter is the author of the recently released book Briefcases and Baby Bottles (New York, 2012). She is a licensed clinical social worker and a director at Ohel Bais Ezra, where she has dedicated her career to helping individuals with disabilities and their families. Her many articles on topics impacting the Jewish community, including dating and marriage, mental health and disabilities, have appeared in major Jewish publications.