Real Moms, Real Balance – CATHY M.

Meet this Canadian mom of two who nurtures her sense of self through volunteerism and family.

Cathy M.

Age:  48

Children:  Conner, 18, and Duncan, 11

Career status:  Homemaker

Marital status:  22 years married to Darc, a director of engineering

Hometown:  Kitchener, Ontario

What is a typical motherhood day like for you?

My typical day is never typical, but I think that’s what I like about it right now. I volunteer at Duncan’s school and at church events. I’m on the school council as treasurer, but I also help out in the office. My “typical” day starts out at the computer about 7:00 a.m. where I answer emails or work on fliers, financial paperwork or event planning, which includes two silent auctions each year. My boys get up and eat their cereal while watching early morning cartoons so that is a quiet work time for me as we’re not a chatty morning clan! This year, my typical day also includes an 8:00 a.m. check-in phone call from my mom. My schedule has had to incorporate her and all her appointments and needs, like groceries, etc., and I’m finding it’s like I’ve added in another part-time job. I take Duncan to school about 9:00 a.m., but it’s rare that I just drop him off. I usually stay to see if anything needs doing. Duncan likes to join every school team there is so there are a few practices he stays late for and lots of day trips that I volunteer to help supervise and/or drive for. Duncan is done at 3:30 and there are days when I get to be at home and just work on things I want to do around the house but most of the time I’m at some “project” and the day zips by and it’s time to get him again. By 2:45 p.m., Conner is home and on the computer. On the Mom front, he’s pretty low maintenance until I find out he’s been slacking off at school. After school, Duncan does homework or plays while I avoid thoughts of making supper. It’s a time of day where I can talk to Darc on Messenger without interruptions before he leaves for home, and we get a lot of our husband/wife/Mom/Dad communicating done. The evenings fly by and I seem to run out of oomph right after supper. We all watch TV together or the boys will ask to play a family game. Winding down before Duncan’s bedtime involves snuggling on the couch, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I know my lifestyle right now is not conducive to being fit and healthy – too much time sitting at the computer and not eating right – but I can’t wrap my head around leaving the boys to go running like some of my friends do or spend an hour at a gym. That may be bad, but I figure I’ll have leftover time when they’re gone and I’ll deal then!

Is there any part of your life and/or element of your identity, pre-children, that you miss and have not been able to retain to some degree?

Being a stay-at-home mom has been the best choice of my life and I will never regret it but as with anything, there are things you lose to gain the bigger picture. Being a mom in general has put most of my “hobbies” on the back burner for years. I used to knit, cross-stitch and I’ve even scrapbooked on occasion but they all sit there half done for now! If I were to pick one thing that I have forfeited to be a stay-at-home-mom that I miss is the social aspect that comes with having a real job. It only hits me every so often, but seasonal things really point out how I am “sort of” part of the school but not “real” staff, like when I’m not included in the Secret Santa swap. I can usually handle feeling excluded, but some days it overwhelms me and I feel lonely and disconnected. My “mom” friends all have jobs so getting together with them can be challenging, which is why I drop everything and go whenever someone is available! We get together for a girl evening out once in awhile, but it’s a heck of a job getting everyone out with their different schedules.

I only worked for a few years when Conner was little, but it was a time in my life when I think that I was like a lot of new Moms and I was starting to lose Me within Mom – especially when Conner started in school and I became known as just “Conner’s Mom” most of the time! Staying connected with people who knew me as “pre-mom Cathy” helped to keep that piece of me from getting buried.

How do you balance your different roles and identities (mother, friend, wife, employee, etc.)?

Balance is an interesting word. I don’t know that I do a good job of balancing things but I try. I think Mom comes first, Friend second because all my friends seem to have some drama going on that I need to listen to or help with, and Volunteer is next. Wife always seems farther down the list. The top three shuffle positions on a daily and usually hourly basis, but I will stop what I’m doing to put Mom and Friend before Volunteer. I can switch gears at the drop of a hat and turn my focus to where I’m needed and know that in that moment, that person needs me and that, to them, this thing in their life is a priority and as a Friend/Mom, I have to make it my priority of the moment as well. I know that the paperwork I was working on will still be there in half an hour when I’ve helped my friend or I know that I can keep working on those things while on the phone being a listener. Too many people can’t set their own “stuff” down for five minutes and they see their friends drama as another item on their too-full plate. I see it as just picking up a different plate and setting one down for a few minutes – or holding one in my teeth while I scoop more onto the one I was filling when the phone call came! The trick is learning how to prioritize the “plates” that need attention so that nothing falls apart when the “as needed Friend/Mom plate” moments hit.

Why do you think it’s important not to lose sight of who you are as in individual? 

I know I need to keep Me because one day my Mom side will have much less to do (since I don’t want to be a clinging parent who mothers her grown children too much!!), the Volunteer will evolve away from being a school mom volunteer or turn into a real job again in the real world, and I need to have something there of me to bring to the table.

What is your biggest struggle in balancing self and motherhood? 

Not enough hours in the day! The list still having things on it at the end and having to start a new list the next day. I have to remind myself to just walk away from it sometimes and just go squish my boys on the couch because time doesn’t go back and you don’t get do-overs when they’re growing up so fast. I have to also remind myself to just make some quiet time for me to read a book or something that mellows me that doesn’t have a purpose for anyone else!

If you could ask other mothers for advice on any issue related to balancing self and motherhood, what would it be? 

I think I only need help figuring out how to say NO!

Burn those sweats!

Mommy makeovers are a very popular feature on morning talk shows and in women’s magazines, and for good reason. The before and after shots are dramatic. Take a woman dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, hair up on a messy ponytail, no cosmetics or jewelry, a disgruntled and/or sheepish expression on her face, and transform her into a smiling, confident person by virtue of a wardrobe change. Suddenly that frumpy, dumpy housewife has morphed into a sleek, attractive woman.

I’ve probably raised a few hackles here, but before you accuse me of being superficial, impractical or insensitive, hear me out. Just FYI, I was that dumpy, frumpy, grumpy, bumpy housewife. At 240 pounds, a SAHM for the first time, a husband who was deployed with the Navy three weeks of each month and not knowing a soul in the military community we’d just been transferred to, I saw no reason to do more than throw on some comfy clothes and run a comb through my hair. And all of that effort was only in case one of the kids got sick at school and I had to dash out the door to fetch them.

It took me a long time to see the correlation between my dress code and how unhappy and withdrawn I was, and how boring and dissatisfying my relationship with my husband had become. The bottom line was I didn’t feel good about myself and it was carrying over into other areas of my life.

I think a lot of moms, especially those who are home full-time, fall into this pattern. I mean, let’s be realistic. You’re scrubbing toilets. Babies spit up. You’re on the go from morning until night. Clothing is all about comfort, functionality and washability. Slowly those pencil skirts, silk blouses and three-inch heels get pushed to the back of the closet.

I’m telling you, gals, you’re paying a price for those elastic waistbands. If you’re still not convinced, take this simple test. If you answer yes to more than half of these questions, you need a makeover.

  1. Your idea of accessorizing is a diaper bag that matches your sneakers.
  2. The last piece of jewelry you wore was the Froot Loop necklace your toddler made.
  3. Your sleepwear is a) a sports jersey, b) flannel or c) decorated with cartoon characters.
  4. You think Victoria’s Secret is the recipe for killer brownies your neighbor won’t share.
  5. Your dog gets his hair done more often than you do.
  6. Dressing up for a romantic evening out with your husband means trading up from yoga pants to a maternity dress.

Your physical appearance — how you dress, your personal grooming, even how fit you are – impacts not only how you feel about yourself, but how others perceive you and how they relate to you. What kind of messages are you sending out? Does your appearance say, “I care about myself and believe I’m a priority,” or does it shout, “I’m depressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, unmotivated”? Taking time to dress well can improve your self-esteem; attract people to your upbeat, outgoing appearance; make you feel more energized and better equipped to deal with life; and lead to more fulfilling relationships.

If you need yet another reason to update your look, consider the impact it has on your marriage. Has the action behind the bedroom door fizzled? Is the romance gone? Do you worry that your husband has lost interest in you? Honey, it’s hard to feel like a goddess when you’re dressing like a scullery maid. Get thee to a lingerie shop and invest in some lacy, frilly underthings. That’s for your husband. For yourself, get a good bra that supports your girls and undies that shape (but in red, pink or black!)

Dressing well is easier than you think. Try one of these tips to jumpstart your makeover:

  1. OK, I’ve convinced you that sweats are a no-no, but in all honesty, sweats don’t have to be off limits. Invest in one or two matching sets. Look for a flattering cut and durable fabric that won’t sag after the first wash cycle. Have fun with rhinestones or other design elements.
  2. Create your own Mommy Uniform. Top skinny jeans with a tank and an oversize shirt. Black trousers paired with a cotton blouse and scarf. Mix and match cargo pants and graphic t-shirts. The key is to find a look that reflects your personality and style. Stock up on two or three pairs of similar pants and coordinating tops in a few interchangeable colors to keep things simple.
  3. Buy clothes that fit. You can give up the elastic waistbands and stretchy tops if you admit you’re a 14 instead of a 10. If you don’t like that fact, change it. But learn to love yourself, whatever size you are.
  4. If you exercise, do it first thing in the morning so you can then shower and put on something nicer than workout clothes.
  5. Get rid of anything that is torn, worn, too big, too small, impractical, unflattering or outdated. I admit, I still have a pair of maternity yoga pants from my last pregnancy (nine years ago) that I’ve pulled out of the Goodwill bag too many times to count. It’s my go-to outfit when I feel bloated, lazy or depressed. Funny thing is, when I wear them, I feel bloated, lazy and depressed.
  6. Streamline your grooming routine so it fits your lifestyle. Ask your stylist for a flattering wash-and-wear look. Cut back to mascara, eye liner and lipstick. Select clothing that doesn’t require dry cleaning or ironing.
  7. Have fun with your wardrobe. Experiment with costume jewelry, hair accessories, scarves, shoes and belts. Try a new look you wouldn’t normally wear. Browse thrift shops and consignment stores for designer brand items. Develop a fun, funky style that makes you feel good about who you are.

Five Ways for Moms to De-stress and Decompress Anytime, Anywhere

It’s been said that the Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love, but they have nothing on motherhood. Peace Corps volunteers are only required to serve 27 months, whereas mothers are on duty 24/7. While you may love being a mom, there’s no arguing that it is tough.

Learning how to manage stress and recognize the importance of self-care can be a challenge for mothers. After all, what mom wants to be the one to admit out loud and in public that her kids occasionally drive her crazy? And who has time to soak in a tub or meditate when the kids decide the dog would look better with a coat of pink finger paint?

There is no shame to admitting that motherhood stresses you out. Many mothers juggle not only the demands of raising children but holding down a job, managing a home, participating in church or social activities and nurturing different relationships. Stress management is nothing more than a technique to cope with or lessen the physical and emotional effects of these demands. The good news is that there are many quick, easy and affordable ways to keep stress at bay. Here are fix strategies you can use anytime, anywhere.

1.     Write it down. When your mind is cluttered and you can’t focus, try making a list of what is bothering you. It may be you just need to get your thoughts organized. Journaling is another way to use pen and paper to manage stress. Try blogging to write about the ups and downs of motherhood or keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of blessings.

2.     Take a time out. Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from stepping away from an emotional situation. When you feel your temper rising or frustration mounting or tears prickle your nose, take ten. Step outside and do some deep breathing. Call a friend. Run a lap around the block. Go out for ice cream. Calm down, regroup and try again.

3.     Minimize distractions. Nothing fuels my stress like the TV blaring, doors slamming, the dog barking, the phone ringing and kids whining except maybe a school day morning when I have lunches yet to be packed, a kid who can’t find his gym clothes, bread burning in the toaster and a cat meowing to be fed. Too much sensory input and/or overextending ourselves is an easy way to get overwhelmed. Learn to say no. Get organized. Turn off the TV. Unplug the phone.

4.     Move it. Physical activity offers a variety of stress management benefits. A run can release pent-up anxiety. A quiet walk can restore your inner peace. Regular exercise enhances both physical and mental wellness. To loosen up tense muscles, try this move: Shake your arms and hands vigorously for 10 seconds; now each leg. Roll your shoulders and neck. Repeat as needed.

5.     Ask for a hug. It’s hard to hold onto negative feelings when snuggling with your child or leaning into the strength of your spouse. This intimate connection is a reminder of the love and affection we share with our families and friends.

What do you manage stress in your life? What technique works best for you? Share your thoughts and suggestions.


Working Moms: How to maximize quality time at home

The recent economic downturn has had a huge impact on families, especially mothers. Many stay-at-home moms have had to return to the workforce, full or part-time, to supplement the family income due to salary cutbacks, spouses who have lost jobs or simply to meet the rising cost of living. Women already employed have seen workloads and hours increase to compensate for employee layoffs or corporate restructuring.

In a recent survey conducted by Careerbuilder, 25 percent of working moms reported that they spend two hours or less with their families each work day, an increase from 17 percent in 2010. In addition, almost a quarter bring home work at least once a week.

Mothers and children both lose out when they don’t spend enough time together. Moms may experience guilty, depression, a sense of failure and increased stress. Kids may act up in an attempt to get attention, or, if left unsupervised, they may engage in unhealthy activities. And, like any relationship, the bond between parent and child needs to be nurtured regularly to remain strong and vital.

So how can a busy working mom make the most of the limited family time she does have while keeping work from invading the sanctuary of home? Here are eight tips to help.

  1. Do double duty! There are only so many ways a mom can split her time, and unfortunately, there are usually more demands than hours in the day. Look for opportunities to combine family time with other tasks, such as grocery shopping together, finishing laundry, doing yard work, etc.
  2. Put it on your schedule! Block out family time on your schedule and respect that commitment like you would a doctor’s appointment or professional meeting. Let your children and spouse know that this time is dedicated for family so they don’t make other plans.
  3. Maximize minutes! Every shared moment counts, so look for opportunities to share a conversation or indulge in spontaneous fun. Turn off the car radio while driving kids to and from school or activities and talk instead. Let the kids help assemble a fun dinner like homemade pizza or make-your-own sandwich creations.
  4. Unplug to connect! When you leave the office, turn off your cell phone, computer and other devices so your family time isn’t interrupted by work. You can check your email and voice mail later.
  5. Get organized! It may take some time to find the best schedule for you and your family, but predictability and routine are helpful in managing a busy home life. Hit the grocery store every Saturday morning rather than waiting until you’re out of everything and have to squeeze in a trip to the store. Assign tasks to all household members so mom isn’t trying to do it all. Plan a week’s worth of meals so that’s one less thing you have to worry about at the end of a busy day.
  6. Open for business! If you work from home, keep regular hours. That will help the kids learn to respect when you’re working, as well as preventing work from creeping into evening and/or weekends.
  7. Get flexible! Talk to your boss or Human Resources department about the possibility of flexing your schedule. Can you come in a little earlier? Can you cut back to a 30 minute lunch instead of an hour? Can you work an extra couple of hours in order to leave early on Friday every so often?
  8. Make time for yourself! Moms try to do it all and be everything to everyone all the time, but that’s a formula for burnout. Use your commute to and from work to decompress with relaxing music. Take a hot bath once in a while. Leave for work a little bit early and treat yourself to a coffee.

Motherhood: More than a Job Description

There isn’t any other job title more complex or convoluted than that of MOM. Part of the reason for this confusion and complexity is that Motherhood can’t be neatly packaged into a job description Human Resources posts online when there’s a new opening. Yes, as a mother you have responsibilities, but these duties exceed those of a typical 9 to 5 job. You are accountable for the mental, physical, social, emotional, spiritual and educational well-being of each child, meaning you don’t get to call in sick and you don’t get weekends off.

Clearly Motherhood is more than a job. It is a role we step into that cloaks our other identifies under its all-consuming mantle of love and accountability. Yet there is danger in not occasionally donning something else from your “identity wardrobe.” Women who give up their careers, abandon their friendships, forfeit hobbies and activities, fail to nurture their marriage or neglect their own health and well-being may become depressed, overwhelmed, resentful, isolated, bored and lose self-esteem.

I think what sometimes happens to new mothers is that they are so entranced with their little bundle of joy that years can go by before they realize they’ve lost other parts of themselves. Pretty soon every nuance of your life is somehow tied to your role as a mother. Your socialize with other women whose children are the same age as yours; your management skills are focused on laundry, cleaning, carpooling, overseeing homework; your self-esteem is proportional to your child’s achievements; your dress code has gone from business casual to comfy and practical.

The challenge for all mothers — young or old, work or stay-at-home, single or married, multiple children or just one – is finding balance between our needs and those of our children. This column, MomMe, was created to help women find ways to achieve that balance. I welcome your questions and hope the issues we explore will assist you in building a fulfilling, harmonious life both as a woman and a mother.