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Happiest working moms ‘don’t always have it all’

Monday, September 26, 2011  
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Working mothers who report the greatest happiness are those who are most content with "not having it all,” according to a recent study cited in Forbes magazine.

The happiest moms adopt an identity or "working-mother method,” such as a primary parent, primary career or something in between, according to Lynn Hall, founder of The Primary Dilemma LLC, who recently surveyed more than 100 working mothers. This method guides women through the choices and trade-offs of working motherhood and affords them permission to say "no” and let some things go.

"I don’t worry about missing any of my child’s firsts,” the study quoted one working mom. "If it is the first time that I see it, then as far as I am concerned it is the first time it happened.”

Working women who take this approach to work/life balance don’t punish themselves for what they don’t do, Hall wrote in Forbes. They measure their success by what they do well.

Acknowledgement of working-mother differences can help women, their husbands or partners and their employers to better plan and communicate, Hall said. This approach can help women to stop comparing themselves to one another or to an unrealistic ideal of success. It can help working couples better define their roles and responsibilities. It also helps employers better manage working mother talent.

Hall defined these working-mother methods:

Fully Loaded (8 percent of respondents): A single parent solely responsible for the balance of work and family. A higher percentage of respondents reported to be single parents, but acknowledged co-parenting with someone else.

Workable (23 percent): Has the primary career in her family. She spends more physical time working than childcare, but she maintains high emotional engagement with her kids.

Equalizer (20 percent): Is actively engaged in work and parenting. She carefully coordinates childcare and household responsibilities with an equal partner. This person has the opportunity to be a primary career and a primary parent, just not simultaneously.

Obliged (24 percent): The primary physical parent who also supplies a required second income. The greatest dissatisfaction with balance was expressed among survey respondents in this group.

Parentess (24 percent): The primary physical parent. She supplies a discretionary second income for her family. Part-time or flexible work index is highest for this method. In addition, the Parentess frequently recognizes her method as transitional.

"I gave up a career working in a demanding position in our court system,” one working-mom Parentess told The Primary Dilemma. "So in essence, I gave up my career for my children. But it has led me down another path of working at a college where I have real purpose. So to me, I was originally resentful, but life had a way of putting me on the path that I should be on.”

For many women, the dilemma of working motherhood creates fulfillment and frustration. In the study, 83 percent of women indicated career satisfaction, but 55 percent reported slower career progress because of parenthood. More than 60 percent of mothers reported a positive impact from work on their parenting experience, despite often feeling overwhelmed.

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