Tips for working moms from Canadian women: balancing work and parenting

Career and kids: how do working moms manage it all?

Being a working mom comes with unique challenges and rewards. For professional women in Canada, juggling career aspirations and parental responsibilities can be overwhelming. 

At The Honest Talk podcast, we ask every guest how she balances her career and family. That means we have a whole collection of insights and personal tips to share with working moms in Canada.

Give yourself grace and ask for help

Harriet Thornhill, a former Vice President with RBC, a true champion of mentorship, and a mom, advises, “Give yourself some grace, and don’t be too hard on yourself as you navigate through a career and raising a family.” She recommends asking for help because making sure both your career and kids are thriving takes a lot of work.

Harriet Thornhill – One of 100 Most Influential Black Canadian Women

Next steps: finding help

“It’s just easier to do it myself.” Sound familiar? While seeking help is great advice, we often file it away with all the other things we’ll do someday, when we have time. If you don’t know how or who to ask for help, you’ll stay in the “do-it-myself” trap. Here are some concrete tips for getting the help you need:

  • Talk to your partner or spouse: Fully explore the ways you can help each other. If you consider all the options afforded by both your work situations – including flexibility around remote work, work hours, and holidays – there may be a better way to meet the needs of your family.
  • Reach out to family and friends: Maybe they can help by listening or by taking certain tasks off your hands. You may also be able to help each other in reciprocal ways – trading child care or trading tasks or errands.
  • Explore local resources: Look into community organizations, parenting groups, or local services that offer support to parents. They may have programs or resources that can provide you with assistance or connect you with other parents facing similar challenges.
  • Evaluate your child-care options: Is your current solution the best one for you, or is it one you just fell into over time? Daycare centres, extended school care, nannies (live-in, live-out, or shared), and babysitters are options which could be worth researching.
  • Explore workplace support: Check if your workplace offers any support programs or resources for working parents. Does your company provide any family-friendly support? If not, could you interest co-workers in implementing some?

The small amount of time it takes to sit down and work through the above options will pay ongoing dividends if you’re able to make lasting change that works better for your family.

Make conscious choices and be flexible

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S., emphasizes the importance of making conscious choices at every moment of your life. “It’s really important to make the decisions that make sense for you at the time. There were several periods within our family life when our children were young and at home that I was doing more of the parenting. And then there were times when my husband was doing more of the parenting. And we both were very much on the same page.”

Kirsten Hillman – Canada’s first female Ambassador to the United States

Next steps: making conscious choices

Being on the same page with a spouse or parenting partner sounds great, but it’s sometimes hard to know how to get there. Here are some steps to help you along that journey:

  • Reflect on your values and goals: Be clear about your values and goals as a parent and discuss the values and goals of others involved in raising your family. Having clear family goals provides a valuable foundation for making all important decisions.
  • Assess individual strengths and interests: Consider each person’s strengths, skills, and interests. Wherever possible allow each person to lead in the areas they enjoy or excel at. This can provide a sense of fulfillment for everybody.
  • Be flexible and adaptable: Recognize that parenting responsibilities can change over time as circumstances evolve, children grow, and work demands shift. Be prepared to talk about roles, responsibilities, and needs as family milestones arise.
  • Strike a balance: Approach parenting as a team effort where parents and guardians share in the responsibilities and contribute to the well-being of the family. This doesn’t necessarily mean dividing tasks absolutely equally but rather finding a balance that works for everybody.
  • Avoid gender stereotyping: Aim to model gender equality in your parenting decisions. Avoid assigning tasks solely based on gender, and focus on each person’s abilities and interests instead.

Prioritize family time

Carve out dedicated time for your family. Make it a priority to spend quality time together, creating meaningful connections and building strong relationships. Whether scheduling regular family activities or having meaningful conversations, make the most of your time with your loved ones.

This will look different for every family, depending on interests, personalities, skills, and more, but some ideas include:

  • Create a family ritual (any ritual will do – movie night, game night, Sunday brunch).
  • Have a designated “unplugged” time – this means adults too!
  • Cook or bake (and eat!) together.
  • Volunteer as a family.
  • Create a family book club.
  • Plan themed family nights.
  • Capture and celebrate memories.

No matter what you’re doing, practice active listening. By being present and attentive and showing genuine interest in what family members say, you demonstrate that their thoughts and feelings are important to you.

Set boundaries and practice self-care

Establish clear boundaries between work and your personal life. Create a schedule that allows for dedicated time with your family and stick to it as much as possible. But also remember to prioritize self-care. Take time for activities that recharge and rejuvenate you. By taking care of yourself, you’ll have more energy and patience to give to your family and work. 

Many of our wise guests share their tips for managing stress and filling the well so they can be present for their kids as happy moms. 

For example, Heather Stefanson, the first female Premier of Manitoba, offers this fantastic insight: “Managing stress between your personal life and your career is critical. I mean exercising, looking after yourself. I think part of that is your mindfulness and meditation, which will really quiet things down. If you’re not looking after yourself, mentally and physically, it’s going to be very difficult to have that balance in your life.”

Read about: What organizations can do to help women employees set boundaries: tips from Canada’s women leaders

Next steps: practicing self-care

Not unlike asking for help, prioritizing self-care is a great piece of advice that can feel overwhelming to implement. And if thinking about self-care is stressing you out, it’s not doing its job. Big ambitions are great, and we’re here to say if you want to run a marathon, start training! And if you want to create a queen-sized quilt, get sewing! However, if those set your head spinning, there are plenty of simple, free ways you can start taking care of yourself today – here are just a few of our ideas:

Walk and talk: Have a dog? You have to walk anyway, so go with a friend. Or, borrow a neighbour’s dog and invite somebody you want to chat with.

Wash and watch: If folding laundry is a mindless chore, why not watch some mindless (but fun) TV while you do it?

Take ten minutes: We might say, “I don’t even have a minute,” but most days, we can set aside ten. Use them to brew a cup of that special tea you got as a gift, sit in the middle of the garden you work so hard on, read a chapter of a book, or stretch – anything that provides a break from responsibilities.

Download a diversion: Anything – ironing, cleaning, or making school lunches – is more fun when you listen to an audiobook or podcast. And we have a great podcast suggestion for you.

Read about: Women have to support women: here is why you need a circle of women to succeed

Is being a full-time working mom good for kids?

Mothers with careers often worry about the impact of their busy schedules on their children. However, many influential Canadian women have shown that being a working mom can have positive effects – and research confirms it. 

First of all, we know that a happy mom makes for a happy kid. By serving as role models, working moms can inspire their children to pursue their dreams, instilling values of hard work and dedication.

It’s true that some studies do highlight potential challenges that children of working moms can face. These challenges include increased stress levels due to less parental availability, potential feelings of being overwhelmed, and the need for adequate support systems to ensure their well-being.

Ultimately, what matters most is making the decision that’s best for your family. Whether a mom works full-time or not, prioritizing meaningful interactions, open communication, and a nurturing environment are vital elements in fostering a healthy parent-child relationship.

Vassy Kapelos – Breaking news & breaking barriers for women in journalism

Does work-life balance exist? Quotes from the most influential Canadian women 

We at The Honest Talk don’t actually believe there’s such a thing as balance, nor do most of our guests. They agree that it’s more about making choices and figuring out your priorities. Consider these insightful quotes about work-life balance:

  • Canadian writer Erica Ehm says she believes balance is an insane concept, and we need to speak up and call out unrealistic expectations.
  • Katie Taylor from RBC told us, “There isn’t any balance, and there wasn’t any for me…. There is only the constant striving for the appearance of balance.”

Remember, every working mom’s journey is unique. Experiment with these tips, adapt them to your situation, and find what works best for you and your family. By incorporating the insights of influential Canadian women, you can navigate the challenges and joys of being a working mom with confidence and resilience.