Although there's no secret recipe to balancing work and motherhood, there are thousands of women out there who have learned to do it successfully, women who've taken on this challenge before us and have come out on top.
I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to interview many, many entrepreneurial moms. And without fail, at some point during our conversation, they all say the same thing: "When I'm working, I feel like I should be with my kids. But when I'm with my kids, I feel like I should be working." But that guilt doesn't stop us from striving for success in both work and as a mother--we want to be able to do them both and do them both well. And if you ask any mom entrepreneur, they'll probably tell you what they're doing now is the most rewarding thing they've ever done. It's certainly not easy, but it's worth it.
I know for a fact that any one solution won't work for everyone. But I've found some common themes among the successful working moms that I know, and here are their 10 tips for being both a terrific mom and business owner.
1. Get--and stay--organized. Your work time is precious and not as dependable as it would be if you worked in a traditional workplace. You can't afford to waste time looking for files, sorting through junk mail or even finding a pen. Keep everything clean and organized from the start. Have supplies available and in a place where you know you can immediately put your hands on them.
2. Have a plan. Some mompreneurs use paper organizers and some use tech gadgets, but all of them use some sort of planner to balance their work life with their family life. (Personally, I love the "Chaos Companion" organizer by Mommy Hulabaloo . It's a complete mom-inspired day planner.) Ideally, you should keep both personal and work appointments on the same calendar so you don't overbook or double up. And while it doesn't always work, you need to set aside hours for when you're going to get your work done. If you just wait for it to happen, it never will. Of course, you'll have to be flexible as your child-care provider will inevitably cancel, your kids will get sick and your spouse may occasionally need to work late.
3. Work with your family, not against them . When your children are little, make sure your office is kid-proof. Get covers for your computer and child-safe drawers on your filing cabinet, and keep your paperwork out of reach if you don't want your reports and invoices covered in crayon. Some women I've spoken with set up a child's office space within their office so that crayons, paper and activities are available to keep their kids busy. As your children get older, find ways to get them involved in your work. When they're old enough, let them stamp envelopes, fold fliers or shred paper. Just never let them answer the phone!
4. Think nap to nap, not 9 to 5. Break out of the 9-to-5 office hours' tradition. Your hours as a mompreneur might start before your family wakes up, continue during nap times and go on into the wee hours of the night. Prioritize appointments that need to be accomplished in person during the traditional day time hours. But understand that e-mail, filing, reading, and a lot of your other office tasks can be done at any hour of the day or night.
5. Stay ahead of the game. By the time evening hits, yes, you're exhausted. But take a few minutes to set out school clothes, set up the coffeepot, prepare lunches and clear your desk. You'll be so grateful to have a less chaotic morning if you do all this the night before. You might also want to consider getting up a little before your family does so you can exercise, take a shower or get some work done.
6. Suzy Homemaker who? You don't have to be Suzy Homemaker to be a good mom. Let go of your need to be Martha Stewart. Your priorities are your family and then your work. You don't have to be the mom that bakes the school brownies from scratch or hand-makes the costume for the school play. Choose your priorities--your kids will care more that you're there!
7. Schedule a mommy day. Every Tuesday used to be so stressful for me because I didn't have a nanny or my husband to help out at all. I prayed for long naps and few interruptions. Needless to say, most of the time, it didn't happen. So I finally decided to make Tuesdays a "mommy day." I worked more on Monday night and Wednesday to make sure I could have Tuesdays to myself. Now when I get work done on that day, it's an extra perk and not a source of distress.
8. Stay focused, and don't get sidetracked. One of the hardest things for work-at-home moms is getting sidetracked by children, laundry, dishes.well, you name it. Make a list each month of what you intend to get done. Then break the list down week by week, then day by day. If you stay focused, you can stay committed to getting things done.
9. Get help from your partner, then thank him for it. It's very difficult to succeed without help, so communicate with your partner about how he can help you--you both need to remember you're juggling two full-time jobs. Figure out how to parent and chore-share so you're both on the same page. Then tell your spouse how grateful you are for all his help.
10. Take care of you. How can you work out when you don't have enough time with your kids? How can you take a bubble bath when you're behind on a report? Realize now that there will never be enough time in the day to get everything done. Your in-box will still be full when you die, so learn to accept that fact now. It may seem like a cliché, but in this case, it's the truth: You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your family, your business and your home. Just mark it in your calendar!
Working moms are amazing jugglers who fulfill many roles. I love the logo that Lolita Carrico created on her site, www.modernmom.com . It's a woman with eight arms balancing everything from a baby to work and everything in between. It represents our never-ending quest to find balance. Balance--it's a feeling we all hope to achieve yet which always seems to escape us. At the end of the day, however, you have to acknowledge all you've done and all you've accomplished. The fact that you did it and will do it again tomorrow means to me that you've mastered it as well as anyone else.