Now that back-to-school season is here, I’m reminded of the stress and challenges I faced transitioning my children from the more relaxed summer months to the school-year routine. Not only was the adjustment itself difficult for the children, but the “mommy guilt” I felt from trying to maintain my priority focus on my children while also remaining fully invested in my career was also particularly overwhelming during this time of year.
That was more than 20 years ago. And still today, 56 percent of working mothers and half of working fathers say they struggle to find the right balance between their job and their family life, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Most of us struggle with the temptation to try to balance time with family and our workload at the office flawlessly. However, I’ve found over the years that trying to be the perfect parent often leads to frustration and feelings of inadequacy. Despite this widespread guilt, here’s some good news: In 2018, a Harvard researcher found that children of working moms grew up to be happy adults — and just as happy in adulthood as the children of moms who stayed at home.
And according to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the old adage “quality over quantity” is absolutely true. Despite the natural tendency of mothers to place pressure on themselves to spend more time with their children, the quality of time spent with their little ones has a greater effect on child development.
Surprised? The researchers who developed this study were, too. Their hypothesis was built on the belief that more time spent with children would result in enhanced child development and success. Instead, mothers who invested quality time with their children by reading together, sharing meals or talking one-on-one saw more successful behavioral, emotional and academic outcomes in their little ones later in life.
As a reformed perfectionist, I learned the hard way that quality of life is not about striving for perfection at home and work. It comes down to balance and choice. It’s vital to prioritize what is most important. I’ve had to pare down many interests over the years to focus on what is most meaningful in the long run.
Nothing is more important than your child, and in my journey to maintain balance, I’ve found ways to make rewarding, everyday connections with my children (and now grandchildren) without sacrificing success in the workplace. Here are a few of my favorite ways to spend quality time with the children in my life:
Unplug in the evening
After coming home from the office, let go of work stress and be fully present with your little ones. Turn off your mobile devices and establish evening rituals with your children, like taking a walk, reading a book together or dancing to fun music.
Take part in pretend play
When our children were young, my husband and I would allow them to direct us in playtime. We would let them lead, engaging and listening in their imaginary play world. This kind of interaction made our children feel loved, respected, seen and heard while also allowing my husband and me to relax and unwind after the workday! With our grandchildren, we are delighted to have the opportunity to repeat this fun all over again.
Give back to others
Helping other people feel good reminds us of all we have to be grateful for. Getting children involved in giving back at an early age is a meaningful way to spend quality time together and nurture the development of important character traits, such as gratitude, sharing and generosity. You can create lasting memories together by doing simple community service projects, such as adopting a family to shop for during the holidays or making a home-cooked meal for an elderly neighbor.
In my experience as a working mother (now grandmother) and the leader of an early education company, I’ve learned that we working parents have a unique opportunity to be an example of balance and servant leadership for our children.
Finally, research is starting to disprove the long-standing notion that as working mothers, we are putting our children at a disadvantage. And, according to researchers, by spending quality time together — even if it’s limited because of work schedules — we are investing in our children’s futures and possibly improving their academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being.
For newer working parents, focus on the quality of the time you spend with your children, be confident that you are not perfect and that is perfectly okay and my hope is that you too can let go of mommy (and daddy) guilt once and for all.