Working Healthy

The Working Woman's Balancing Act

Share, don’t shoulder, the burdens of raising your family to carve out more personal time and increase the quality of your life.

When was the last time you carved a few hours out of your schedule to do something for yourself? Not just five minutes stolen sloshing around in a tub full of water, rushing to make a dinner appointment, but the last time you really luxuriated for a full 45 minutes or more soaking in scented oils or slipping into milky-soft bubbles, the hot liquid warming and relaxing your tired muscles like an electric blanket on a cold winter night? How about the last time you took a long walk in the woods, ran along a deserted beach, or listened to 30 minutes of uninterrupted music without feeling guilty, your only thought to escape, unwind, and revive?

If you’re like many nail technicians and salon owners with one or more children living at home, the answer is probably: a) I don’t remember; b) sometime in 1989; or C) only in my dreams.

Burdened with the needs and wants of spouses, children, clients, friends, and other family members, working women often sweep their own desires and needs under a rug that needs vacuuming, a mountain of laundry, or a pile of paperwork.

But for many professional women, times are changing. They’re putting away their Superwoman uniforms to don sweats, jogging outfits, leotards, swimsuits, tennis togs, or caftans instead.

“Every working mother owes it to herself to take some time to do the things she likes,” says Melody Underwood, owner of Nails Unlimited in Charleston, S.C.

Underwood is the first to admit it isn’t always easy, but she and other women are finding ways to create a more balanced lifestyle by trying to squeeze an extra few hours out of each day. Working mothers must be creative to find ways to get more fun and relaxation out of their busy lives and the first step is eliminating guilt.

The constant battle between traditional values (mothers should be at home taking care of the house and kids) and modern realities (Mom is working and has less time to take care of the house and kids) often tears at the fabric of marriage and family life.

In households where husbands and wives support each other and view their careers as equally important, the wives claim to experience little, if any, guilt about taking time for themselves, as well as time to be alone with their spouses. These women are more confident and express an underlying excitement about their lives; they are productive women who feel they have a right to spend an hour alone bathing, visiting with friends, exercising, or indulging in some other enjoyable pastime.

Conversely, the female nail technicians whose husbands are not supportive are resentful, tired, and less self-confident. These women say they seldom find time for exercise, a lunch out with their girlfriends, or a family day at the park. “My husband wants a second paycheck but also wants a hot meal on the table, a clean house, and his cranky daughter in a good mood and in clean diapers at all times,” one overworked technician complains.

“I work with several technicians whose husbands help out all the time,” another technician says. “I listen to them talking about spending an evening at the gym and start feeling resentful. Why is it that their husbands don’t mind taking over the responsibilities so they can unwind, but my husband expects me to be home cooking and cleaning?”

Besides spousal support, the attitudes of other family members also play an important part in how working mothers view their lives. Technicians whose mothers badger them about working full time and raising their family properly are more apt to feel guilty and overburdened.

“Growing up, I always sat down to a three-course, home-cooked dinner,” one technician says. “So, of course, my mother thinks it’s terrible when I jog in the park and order pizza or pop frozen dinners into the microwave. I often feel guilty if I take some time for myself.”

Friends can also add to a technician’s sense of guilt or help eliminate it. “I used to be a real fanatic about housework,” says Debbie Soens Mielke, owner of Nails Unique in Aurora, Ill. “A lot of my friends don’t work, and I felt I had to have my house looking as good as theirs. But I’ve come to realize that my good friends understand and accept my lifestyle. A working mother’s house always looks lived in.”

Mielke, who is also president of the Charleston Cosmetology Association and nail section director, admits she’s lucky to have a support network of family and friends that allows her to take time off to have lunch with a girlfriend or dinner alone with her husband. “With three girls, ages 4, 7, and 10, and two jobs, I need all the help I can get,” she says.

Besides servicing 50 to 60 clients a week in her salon, which is located in a separate area of her home, Mielke also travels around the country as an educator for a nail manufacturer. “For me, traveling to nail shows is one way I take time for myself,” she says.

“Sometimes when my husband and kids drop me off at the airport, I feel guilty for about two seconds. But once I sit down, I relax and realize how good it feels to be alone with my own thoughts. You have to do things for yourself. I used to feel bad about that, but then I realized ‘I work hard and I deserve this!’”

GET EVERYONE INVOLVED

Many working mothers are learning how to combine time for themselves and time with their family. Some technicians join bowling leagues where everyone can play and have fun. Others attend their children’s soccer games, visiting with other parents as they root the team on. Some plan park picnics or a day at the zoo.

Underwood takes time for herself by playing in an all-women’s baseball league. “I bring my three-year-old son to all the games,” she says. “He has his little bat and balls and roots Mom on from the play-around while I get some fun and exercise. Everyone involved has a really good time.

SHARE THE BURDEN

While many technicians say their husbands do spend time with the kids and help around the house, these same women admit that chores like shopping, cooking, cleaning, and child care continue to fall squarely on their shoulders. “Some men help their wives, but most of them still don’t share equally in domestic and child rearing responsibilities,” one technician says.

One way to overcome this inequality is to delegate chores. But that may lead to other problems. Besides learning how to overcome hang-ups about giving orders and asking for help, women also have to learn how to bite their tongue when chores aren’t done to their liking. “You have to be careful what you ask other family members to do,” says one mother of two. “Don’t give smaller children tasks they can’t do properly. And don’t expect them to meet adult standards.”

The same advice holds true for your husband. Don’t ask him to clean the bathroom floor and expect it to sparkle like in a television commercial. Don’t ask your husband to do the laundry, then lose your cool when he shrinks your favorite shirt.

Mielke says her husband is terrific and performs an equal role in housekeeping and child rearing. But, despite his willingness to help, she is still captain of their domestic ship. “I plan all the meals and I’m responsible for grocery shopping. If I sent him to market,” she says, laughing, “he’d fill the cart with food – any food. You have to learn which chores to delegate and which ones you’re better off doing yourself.”

For example, Mielke’s husband coaches soccer and takes the children to dance lessons and to doctor and dental appointments. “He also cooks out on the grill, loads the dishwasher, gives the girls their baths, and is in charge of helping them with their homework.”

Mielke says there’s no resentment in her marriage because terms were agreed upon beforehand. “He likes the extra income and I like to work,” she says.

Mielke also believes that some chores should be delegated outside the home to free up more leisure time for both you and your spouse. “My husband washes most of his own clothes,” she says. “I used to starch his shirts until I realized I can’t do all this. When you get to that point, that’s when you start giving things away. It may cost $1 a shirt to have someone else do it, but I no longer have to worry about his clothes being clean and pressed.”

Underwood also delegates chores to outsiders so she’s free to take her son on a picnic or take an hour for herself. “I hire a housekeeper to clean the house every few weeks,” she says. “I think every woman who earns an income should have some kind of help. If you can’t afford it every week, have it every other week or even once a month. But you shouldn’t have to feel obligated every weekend to get up and vacuum, dust, or do heavy housework.”

ORGANIZE AND PRIORITIZE

It’s impossible to schedule time for yourself if you don’t have a clear picture of all the tasks you need to complete on any given day or week. Brushing up on organizational skills can help.

Some technicians prefer to work off lists compiled each evening, while others use a date book. Regardless of the method, it’s important to jot down everything that has to be accomplished on a particular day. Then you can look at each chore and decide which ones can be eliminated so that you can take a run in the park or see a movie with a friend. “I use a calendar to plan my days and prioritize chores that have to get done each day,” Mielke says. “To organize meals, I either cook supper ahead of time on the weekends and keep it in the freezer, or I have something ready to put together. I also keep careful track of my girls’ after-school activities and figure out how they will get to dance or piano lessons ahead of time. Referring to my calendar is the only way I know when to schedule time for myself.”

CREATE MORE TIME

Some stress experts advise working mothers to find quiet time for themselves by getting up an hour earlier or going to bed an hour later. “The only way I manage to maintain an exercise regiment is to start the day before my husband and son,” says Underwood. “The house is really quiet, and it’s the only time I have to meditate and be alone with my own thoughts.”

Mielke prefers to squeeze an extra hour out of the end of a long day. “Many times I finish work around 10 or 11 p.m.,” she says. “Then I like to put my feet up and read newspapers or magazines. I have to read every day, even if it means staying up an hour later, because that’s how I relax and unwind. Then I’m ready to take a shower, go to bed, and start all over again.”

YOUR ALLY, THE BABYSITTER

Finding top-notch babysitters and day-care is another essential key to taking time for yourself. “Being a technician or salon owner isn’t a hobby,” Mielke says. “It’s a job. And you need extra help.”

Mielke realized years ago that in order to service 50 to 60 clients a week, she needed to hire a woman who could watch her three girls, drive them to and from activities if necessary, and perform light domestic duties. “About six years ago, I advertised in the newspaper for a ‘grandmother type.’ I didn’t want someone who only wanted the money. I dismissed one woman after a week, but then I lucked out and found our ‘nanny-granny’ who has been with us ever since.”

Underwood enrolled her son in a daycare center. “I worked with several centers before finding a place I was comfortable with,” she says. “I asked clients and friends what they recommended and then checked each place personally.”

Like other technicians, Underwood also relies on her mother for occasional babysitting. “She’s really helpful,” Underwood says.

“You’re no good to anybody if you’re tired and worn out all the time,” one salon owner says. “And with modern conveniences like microwave ovens and the fact that more husbands are willing to help, there’s no reason you can’t find a few hours to exercise, relax, or do something you really want.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be weeks when you feel as if you’re trapped inside a tornado spinning out of control, but you can learn to find time to lie back and relax, knowing that you’re a ‘90s woman who is becoming more and more adept at balancing her many roles.

Keywords:   work life balance  

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