For decades, women who choose to work while raising a family have struggled with work-life balance. Many working moms pursue the ultimate goal of "having it all" — a fulfilling home life, a rewarding professional career and the energy to keep up with the demands of both while still finding time for themselves.
But is this really an attainable goal? According to a recent survey by author and career strategist Megan Dalla-Camina, most women don't buy into the myth.
"While women have made great progress on the career front, 70 percent of them think it's just not possible to be successful at work and home," said Dalla-Camina, who surveyed 1,000 female professionals for the 2014 U.S. release of her book,"Getting Real About Having It All" (Hay House, 2012). "Add to this the fact that the majority of women surveyed are really struggling with their well-being, and we have a scary picture of the reality of being a woman today trying to make it all work."
Dalla-Camina's study revealed that 40 percent of respondents with children feel that they've been "hanging on by a thread" over the last year, and 64 percent don't believe they have everything they want in life. [The Best Jobs for Moms]
Despite this struggle, most working moms willingly choose to balance a career and a family. A separate survey by small business community Manta found that nearly three-quarters of "mompreneurs" would still want to work if money weren't an issue.
"Many of the mothers we spoke to found that running their own business provides a much-needed sense of balance between their identities as a mom and as an adult professional," said John Swanciger, CEO of Manta. "While being a mother is their number-one priority, they get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from building something special and fulfilling in both in their personal and professional lives."
And these mothers really do want to build it themselves: Of the nearly 900 female small business owners Manta surveyed, 66 percent have no babysitters, nannies or other hired help to assist with childcare on a daily basis. The vast majority (91 percent) reported mastering the art of multi-tasking and organization as a result of being working moms.
Women clearly won't give up on the dream of work-life balance, but what can they do to improve the state of their personal and professional lives right now? Here are four steps working mothers can take to define and achieve their own success.
Sort out your priorities
The first step on the road to success as a working mom is defining your top priorities for yourself, your family and your job. Asking important questions about your different responsibilities can help you figure it out.
"Ask yourself: What are the balls that absolutely cannot be dropped?" Dalla-Camina told Business News Daily. "What are the work projects that you need to overachieve on, and what are the things that can be just good enough? What are key things that your family needs to keep the trains on the track? What do you personally need for your health, well-being and sanity to really thrive? Where can you draw on support to help out both at work and at home? Getting clear on these answers will help you really understand what needs to happen."
Learn to delegate
Once you've prioritized your duties at home and at work, decide what you need to do yourself and what someone else can handle. Distributing some of your daily tasks to others, and trusting them to get this work done, will help you focus on what really matters.
"The number one thing that helps entrepreneurs with children survive is delegating [to] their employees and business partners," Swanciger said. "The best way to maintain work-life balance is to hire the best people you can find and then to let them do what you hired them to do."
Relying on your partner if you have one can be a tremendous help on the home front, Swanciger continued. Take some time every evening to talk with him or her about the important tasks that need to be taken care of the next day, come to an agreement about which of you will do them and stick to the plan. Other ways to restore balance to your home life, especially without any childcare assistance, include creating carpool schedules for the kids with other families in your area, or working non-traditional hours (if possible) to maximize time with your family.
Saying "no" to projects and engagements that will cut into your priorities is an essential ability in the work-life juggling act. Setting boundaries both at home and in the office will help you remain present and focused on the task at hand, which is especially important during family time.
"When you are with your family and with your kids, really be with them," Dalla-Camina said. "Don't sit there [with them] while being on your phone. Show up, be happy that you are there, and be present and mindful with your personal relationships. It's not easy, but it is one of the most important things you can do to have a fulfilled life and a happy family."
Make time to take care of yourself
With so many responsibilities, it's easy to put your family and your career ahead of your own personal needs. While some tasks can and should take precedence over "me time," it's absolutely necessary to clear at least a small amount of time in your schedule to focus on yourself.
"Just like they tell you on an airplane, put on your own oxygen mask first before [putting on] your kids'," Swanciger said. "If you don't take care of yourself and your health, you won't be able to care for your children or grow your business. Try to eat healthy meals, make time to exercise and don't skimp on sleep. You'll have to prioritize this over other things, but the benefits are all well worth it."
Your physical health is a top priority, but your emotional health — feeling happy and fulfilled because you're pursuing your passions — is another important factor in your overall life satisfaction.
"Where is the passion and purpose in your life?" Dalla-Camina said. "These critical components can get completely lost in the mix that is the daily juggle. Think about what you are really passionate about and where in your week you can include that. It could be work related, or it could be something [outside of work] that brings that special spark and element to your life."
Originally published on Business News Daily.