The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning at Parenting without Losing Yourself

When I was a little kid, I loved summer. When I think back on those lazy days of day camp, I remember playing soccer in the park for hours, swimming in the local pool, overnight camping in the woods — it was all so easy. Now that I’m a mom with my own elementary-school kid, though, scheduling summer camps seems ANYTHING but easy.

Last year, I filled a full notebook page with options, dates, and costs for swim lessons, week-long adventure camps, and after-care experiences. Charting all this took me four hours. By the end of it, my heart was beating a little faster, and my blood pressure was rising. I showed the final product to my daughter who simply laughed out loud. “Mommy,” she said, “I don’t even want to do all of that. I want to enjoy my summer.”

That’s when it all came together. (And way more naturally than the Tetris-like configuration I’d crafted as I fit work, vacation, and extracurricular schedules into eight-hour blocks of time.) I realized this was an exercise in “making it work” that, in the end, didn’t work for anyone, especially not my daughters. We crossed off 30 percent of the scheduled activities right then and there, opting for less work for me and more enjoyment for everyone.

We all have contaminators: obligations and schedule-fillers that clutter up our lives. Your contaminators are unique to you. It might be joining a parent-teacher organization (though if that’s your jam, more power to you, Mama). It might be heading up a committee at work. It’s the kind of thing that eats up your time and your family’s time and brings you very little joy.

When it comes to finding balance and fulfillment in motherhood, in other words, contaminators are about as helpful as a case of the stomach flu. And while it may be hard, the best way to kick these joy-suckers out of your life is by saying one small-but-mighty word: no.

It can be hard to set healthy boundaries for ourselves when it comes to our time and energy output. But when you say yes to contaminators, the relief is short-lived. You feel good in the moment (yay! You made someone happy!) but then you pay for it in misery and regret down the road.

My pediatrics practice, for example, holds an annual holiday party and wanted a physician to join the social committee to make sure someone from the executive team could offer input for the event. I said yes because I thought it was important to ensure that the culture of our practice came through at special gatherings for staff. But I soon found myself spending lunch hours discussing jelly-bean-counting contests and possible tokens of appreciation. As my free time dwindled and my to-do list grew, I found myself feeling resentful.

I had a choice. And Mama, we all do at the end of the day. I could soldier on and tell myself that sitting in on monthly meetings was actually helping someone. Or I could pull back, evaluate, and change. 

Thank goodness I chose the latter. My kids are watching me make choices as a modern working mom. When I choose mindfulness and intentionality for my life (and for their summer camp schedules), they learn to live in a more centered, less frazzled, more empowered way, too. They learn to say no to all the fluff and yes to what really matters. 


In The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning at Parenting without Losing Yourself (American Academy of Pediatrics; May 11, 2021)Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, FAAP  combines honest insights about her own challenges with professional expertise about children of working moms—they thrive!—to create a reassuring guide to navigating modern motherhood. 


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