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Working Mothers: Lean In But Don't Tip Over

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WOMAN READING
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This is a year of special occasions. We are celebrating 35 years of Working Mother magazine. Imagine! And in just six months, my family will be celebrating my daughter Julia's wedding to Matt Vernon. I was surprised when Julia Rose got engaged -- surprised on a generational level: I was 33 when I got married; Julia will be 24. My career was careening ahead when Bob and I walked down he aisle. Hers has just begun.

On the occasion of these two celebrations I feel a tremendous need to give our readers and my soon-to-be-married daughter some advice and counsel. These are my current thoughts for women on combining work and family, from a 35-year professional perspective as well as 27 years of personal experience.

1. Take the Long View
If you think of your job as just a means to a paycheck, it's time for a change of view. One big lesson we've learned from our research is that moms are much more satisfied with their lives if they think of their work as a career, not just as a job to earn money for a house and a car and ballet lessons. This is not easy. Though both men and women are motivated by money, women sometimes assuage their guilt by telling themselves they're working for only financial reasons: "I would quit if we didn't need the money." This is not helpful self-talk. Instead, practice taking the long view. Don't tell yourself you have to work -- tell yourself you get to build a career. Go to lunch with your peers and talk about your careers. Sample talking points: What you'd like to be doing ten years from now; whose job you'd choose in your company if you could. We spend a lot of time talking about our kids and our shoes. Let's make it fashionable to talk about the long view of work. We'll all be more satisfied.

2. Take Three Hours
I recently asked an audience of working moms what they'd do with three hours of free time that they could spend only on themselves. The stress in the room lifted like steam off of spa rocks as they talked about getting a massage, reading a book, taking a hike or a nap, getting a manicure or pedicure. I then instructed them to rush home and tell their significant other that they needed three free hours this weekend. Many women wrote to tell me they had taken their three hours and felt great. Most moms unanimously agree that we put ourselves,our health and our own needs last. We need to take those three personal hours once in a while.

3. Lean In but Don't Tip Over
I love Sheryl Sandberg's exhortation to "lean in" to our careers. I read her book and felt relief that someone so successful said women and moms have the right to go for it! Like the American Olympian mom in Sochi racing down the track on a tiny skeleton sled, we can achieve whatever we put our minds, bodies and spirits to. But for those of us who are mere mortals, I offer this compromise: Lean in to your career but pay attention to balance. Only you can tell when you're flying too fast down the track. Make adjustments, tiny or huge, so you don't skid off the course. Lean in but don't tip over.

4. Break Some Ice
Sometimes I have to defend working mothers, and perhaps you need to defend yourself at your company or your backyard barbecue. People challenge the work we do at Working Mother by asking, "Why should moms get special privileges? Why do we have to accommodate their needs?" To respond, try this great visual: Working mothers are the icebreakers of the workplace. Yes, we need maternity leave, and someone else needs paid leave to care for an aging parent. Yes, we need to flex to our get to our kid's school play, and someone else needs to flex to train for a marathon. Work from home? This new skill we've pioneered has become the saving grace in all kinds of emergencies.

Our lives as working moms are not as perfect as we might hope. But the joy that comes with combining family and career in this new lifestyle is enormous. Happy anniversary, Working Mother! As for Julia, I know that someday she will be a great working mom. I will be ready to babysit so she can take those three free hours!