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5 Expert Tips for Working Moms Seeking Better Work-Life Balance

The pandemic created innumerable challenges for working parents. Now, as life goes somewhat back to normal, it’s time to rewrite the rules to make working parenthood more manageable.

By Daisy Dowling

If you clicked on this article, there’s probably a good chance you’re a working parent who (understandably) struggled through the last year of trying to maintain both your job and your children’s happiness during a global pandemic, and you’re wondering how to proceed. Maybe you’re a busy working mom who barely survived lockdown, and now you’re dreading going back to the office. Or you’re one of the over 40% of professionals considering changing jobs this year. Or you’re a new mom trying to get back into the workforce, and you don’t know how you’ll impress a new boss while also being there for your kids. Or maybe you don’t have kids now, but you want to have a family someday, and you’re worried if that’s even possible in your current career. You want to balance your professional goals and ambitions with being a loving, present parent, but that feels like a really tall order. Occasionally, it even feels impossible. 

I get it. As a working mom and executive coach who advises working parents, I know how hard it can be to manage your career and your children, even in the best of circumstances (remember, working parenthood wasn’t so easy before the pandemic, either). But I don’t think you should wait for systemic change or resign yourself to the inevitable difficulties and unwritten rules that seem to come with working while raising kids. You can start reimagining working parenthood right now. Here’s how.

Start with Your “Why”

Try finishing these sentences: “Because I’m working, I can…,” and, “Ten years from now, the reasons I’ll be glad I worked when the kids were young are….” Maybe you love collaborating with particular clients, or your career allows you to earn the money you need to pay the mortgage or take the family on annual trips. Perhaps work makes you feel fulfilled and more like yourself. Whatever the case, when—alongside the deadlines and diapers—you have the specific, personal benefits and upsides of working parenthood in sight, you’re going to feel more intentional and more motivated on those days when juggling both is a full-on circus.

Get to the Root of Your “Shoulds”

If your own mom worked full time but always got home at 5:30pm and was able to cook dinner for your family each evening, you may have internalized the idea that you should be able to draw firm lines between work and parenting, or that good working moms always eat dinner with their kids. Your mom’s example—as well as other experiences you’ve had and observations you’ve made about working parenthood—can be wonderful guideposts, but they can also affect your own choices and emotions in not-so-relevant or positive ways. Do you feel a bit guilty each time you email in front of the kids or order takeout? Perhaps you worry about going for that big new role while also asking for more flexibility.

To get yourself out of that self-doubt and shame cycle, take a blank sheet of paper and jot down any working-parent impressions you’ve absorbed from your family, friends, mentors, managers, co-workers, movies, television, and social media. Then, notes in hand, look at how that overall picture maps to your real, lived working-parent experience today. Maybe given your career, hours, family, and budget, you’ll see that it makes complete sense to get meals delivered, or that you really should take that big new job even though you’re just returning from parental leave. When you understand your “shoulds,” you can intentionally shift away from them and start walking in a direction that works best for you. 

Rewrite Your Professional Brand

Pre-children or even pre-Covid, you may have prided yourself on being the most responsive, committed, always-on-it, hardest working person around. That brand fueled your success, and how you showed up as a professional became a deep part of your identity. But now, as you try to add family time into your already jam-packed schedule, it’s important to think about how that identity is serving you. Do your colleagues continue to hand you work without even thinking about it? During dinner, bath, and bedtime, do you worry about not returning messages as quickly as you used to?  

If so, it might be time for a branding reset. Try making a list of the five to seven adjectives that historically captured “Professional You,” and think about how you might very gently—and without tarnishing your capabilities—tweak that list. Instead of “hardworking,” maybe now you want to be known as “efficient.” Or instead of “responsive,” you might be better off being known as “thoughtful.” Instead of being “thorough,” why not be “succinct”? Instead of working according to your old playbook for success at work, you can rewrite your identity in a way that’s compatible with the kind of mom you want to be—and the employee you’re capable of being at this moment.

Think Flexibly About Flexibility, But Be Specific

Do you want to work from home three days a week, or would you prefer to be in the office every day? Would you like a compressed workweek or a job-share? Or perhaps you’d prefer a temporary phase-in schedule when you first return from parental leave. The broader your thinking about flexibility (it’s not just about remote and in-office), the more likely you are to find a potential solution that could relieve your toughest work/life pain points. And, the more specific you make the ask to your employer, the more possible it is for your boss and organization to grant it. “I need more time with the baby” isn’t something your manager can take action on, but an extra work-from-home day is. 

Keep an Already-Done List

Looking at a packed calendar and an endless to-do list is a recipe for overwhelm, and to take charge of working parenthood, you’ll need all the mental energy you can muster. So, in addition to tracking all of your uncompleted tasks, start tracking your finished ones, too. Write down your completed to-do’s, the projects you finished, and all of your wins—large and small. Some examples include: We beat our quarterly targets; I helped Sasha with her spelling words; I threw in a load of laundry; I had a good conversation with my boss’s boss—and so on. Then, on a regular basis, pull that list out and look it over. Remind yourself of the incredible things you’re accomplishing—at work and at home—each and every day. Take a deep breath, and push away some of that to-do noise with an already-done sense of achievement.

Written By

Daisy Dowling

Daisy Dowling is the author of "Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids" (Harvard Business Review Press, May 2021). She is also the founder of Workparent, a coaching and consulting firm that helps working parents lead more successful and satisfying lives. Her clients include Paul Weiss, Pfizer, eBay, Omnicom, the NBA and the US Air Force, and her work has been published or featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and Elle magazine, amongst others. She can be reached at

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