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Working Mothers: How Do They Do It?


Nearly three-quarters of all mothers in the United States today work full or part-time. They all face the challenges of juggling motherhood and work. And they've come up with some innovative solutions for successfully combining a family and a career.

For more than 25 years, Working Mother magazine has featured the stories of women who are working while having babies and raising kids. The magazine's CEO and president Carol Evans understands those stories from first-hand experience. "I'm a working mother," she says. "My oldest is 19. So, I've been doing this a long time. I also have a 16 year-old daughter. I've been through every kind of up and down that you can imagine: childhood illnesses were many, many, many with my children and all kinds of issues with my career changing and a very busy career in the publishing industry."

In a new book, This is How We Do It: The Working Mothers' Manifesto, Evans explores how the nation's 26-million working mothers see themselves. It's based on the experiences of her magazine's readers, and the results of a recent survey of more than 500 working mothers, from all across the country and in all kinds of jobs. Evans says 75 percent of them described their lives in positive terms: productive, organized, motivated and fulfilled.

"Yes, they are satisfied, and that's a very high figure," she says. "This is not what the typical person is thinking about when they picture working moms."

The women were also asked how their employers help them balance their career and family life. "In the survey, 75 percent of our respondents said that their bosses were supportive," she says. "Twenty years ago that would not have been the case. There have been a lot of programs implemented at companies and a lot of management training has gone on, too. We found that companies want to have happy productive employees and they want to be able to attract and retain the best talent possible. The big news right now is flex-time. Mothers want to be able to flex their schedules and companies are finding that this is a pretty easy benefit for them to give. Telecommuting is our other very most popular thing. People love to be able to work [from home] even if it's just one day a week at home."

Over the last two decades, many companies across the country have adopted more family-friendly policies. However, Evans says, more can be done to help working women be better moms. "I'd like to see more paid maternity leave," she says. "We need to be paid while we're home with our babies, so all mothers can stay home for a while and bond with their babies. I'd like to see more dads taking paternity leave and companies supporting them, asking the dads to take paternity leave, so they can bond with their babies too. Interestingly though, a lot of mothers reported that they feel more isolated in their communities as working mothers than in their jobs. So we need to really improve the community support for working mothers as well."

Carol Evans says mothers should also recognize how important it is to take care of themselves, get rest, and be proud of what they can do everyday.

"It's very hard work to be both a mom and an employee," she says. "So they get physically drained, they get stressed. That stress leads to physical ailments. And there is still a sense of guilt."

Another successful working mother in the publishing industry agrees. Magazine editor Bonnie Fuller says women need to be more realistic in their expectations of themselves. "We hold ourselves to such high standards, trying to be the absolute perfect employee, and the perfect wife, and the perfect mother," she says. "That takes a lot of time and energy. We're not really meant to be perfect. I think if we just try our hardest to be good at all those things, do our best, we will be achieving a great deal and we will be really good at it."

In her book, The Joys of Much Too Much: Go for the Big Life, Fuller tells women how they can follow her footsteps and "have it all" - a great career, a wonderful marriage and a happy family. "I've been editing magazines for many years," she says. "I have a wonderful husband. I have four children. So I love to be creative. I love what I do everyday, but the thing that matters most to me is my family."

But, she says, working mothers can't successfully experience that full richness of life -- pursuing a career and having a family -- without their husbands' help. "You've got to have a man who is at least going to be 50/50, share equally, with you in caring for the kids, in helping you figure out the daycare arrangements, and who is also going to be understanding when you are under a lot pressure," she says. "And you're going to be understanding of him when he's under pressure, because you often have to go back and forth. Sometimes you carry more of the load, sometimes he carries more of the load when it comes to family. It's very hard to go ahead unless you have that kind of partnership with a mate."

Even with that '50-50' support, Bonnie Fuller says, a working mother's life is never really in balance. It's a constant juggling act. And there is no one simple formula for success, she says. Every mother must figure out her own way to make her life easier, her work more productive and herself and her family happier.

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