Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Working Mother's Dilemma: Stressful Expectations

There were times I arrived home after a long work day and felt physically exhausted. It's strange since my responsibilities don't include physical labor, but sitting in front of the computer all day and dividing my time among numerous tasks can be tiring, if not trying. I've managed to read almost every available material on reducing stress and managing time, but have not found a routine that works. It wasn't long before it occurred to me that work was not the source of my stress. As bad as this is going to sound, it was my children.

Don't get me wrong, they are wonderful, well-behaved kids. Aside from the usual challenges that stemmed from life stages, they have been perfect children. They are thoughtful, grounded, and ambitious and I'm proud to be their mother, but that doesn't release the stress of having to raise them while trying to build my career. In fact, the whole process downright sucks at times although I wouldn't give them up if my career were at stake. The reality is that growing professionally is very important to me right now. And I don't care what anyone says, it's downright frustrating to focus on career growth when you have children to go home to at the end of the day. So what's a working mom to do?

I've realized that much of my anxiety stems from self-imposed unrealistic expectations. Children do need nurturing and care, but a hovering mom they don't need. I'm learning now to let things go to allow them to figure life out on their own. To many moms out there, this insight may seem like a no-brainer but we can't deny that it is a natural instinct to sacrifice for our children. By being martyrs though, we teach them not to value their own goals or dreams because they should instead be focusing on others' needs. That's something I really don't want my teen daughter to absorb. 

Trying to be my kids' ideal role model has also been a source of stress. I've tried relentlessly to live as the adult I want them to someday be. That has caused me to create these ridiculous standards I sometimes can't fulfill. I impose family rules and want to follow through even when an alternative strategy would be more ideal, because the contrary would feel like giving up. Isn't that what the 'experts' meant when they talked about consistency and stability? Turns out it's not. By failing to diverge from the expected, to bend, and maybe sometimes to give up, I was teaching my children to be inflexible and too reserved. 

Keeping these lessons in mind, I have learned to appreciate whatever hurdles come my way instead of perceiving them as setbacks. My children are also learning that it's fine to change course, to be human and err and to always consider an alternative plan. I come home most days now feeling much more energized than I had in a very long time. 

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