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What Happy Working Mothers Know

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Any working mother could tell you that achieving a palatable work/life balance sure ain't easy. I, for one, feel like a wishbone being snapped in half a good 80 to 90 percent of the time.

working mom thinking about baby

Vivian Manning-Schaffel: For expert insight on how to make peace with the inability to be in two places at once, I grilled Cathy Greenberg, Ph.D., co-author of the bestselling book, What Happy Working Mothers Know: How New Findings in Positive Psychology Can Lead to a Healthy and Happy Work/Life Balance, for tips on how to turn our frowns of frustration upside down.

Momlogic: What are some of the biggest challenges a working mother faces in terms of her own happiness?

Cathy Greenberg: First and foremost, working mothers don't think of the opportunities they have in a day to find small joys in the things they think of as tasks, or chores. We don't really relish driving in traffic, or taking the subway, or taking our kids to daycare. But one of the things we feel is important, and that we've experienced in our own lives, is if you can find joy in one small thing every day -- whether the sun is shining or you got your kid to school on time -- it helps you start to build a foundation for happiness. If you don't build a foundation for happiness, you are always going to be looking at what isn't satisfying, and that steers you in the wrong direction.

It sounds like such a pansy thing to say. I've had two potentially terminal illnesses, lost a child in my seventh month, and have been through two divorces -- all within a three-year period. I've been there!

For working mothers, especially those who found themselves working during this recession when they had other plans, it's hard to see where that bright spot might be in a day. It takes work! You have to make a commitment to find a little joy in everything you do, every day.

ML: As working mothers, do we get in our own way? Or are the cards stacked against us?

CG: I think the cards are stacked against us to begin with. What generally happens is, women are afraid to ask for help. We feel so responsible in making sure that we do everything for everyone else that we apologize for how little time we have to correspond with someone on a BlackBerry. Stop apologizing for the lack of time you have to take care of everybody else. Your responsibilities are to yourself and your children and your work. If someone doesn't get it, that's their problem -- not your problem.

Unfortunately, many of us have also become ambivalent about ambition. Often we think we can't go for a job or a promotion because we are mothers. Who made that rule? If you can get the right support system in place, you can do it. You have to take responsibility for lining up your support system. It just means we have to ask for help.

ML: In your book, you state that happiness is a choice. Is it really that simple?

CG: Yes, it's simple to make the choice to be happy, but doing the work to support that is hard. We interviewed thousands of working women -- new moms, planning to be mothers, long-time mothers. They knew they had to practice making new choices in order to reconcile happiness to their life.

Whatever choice you make, make sure it's your choice. Happiness is something you can always choose to do. You don't have to have success to be happy. Happiness comes first, success comes after. That whole trap of "I am what I do" has nothing to do with people loving you.

So how can the book's formula for happiness enhance the quality of working mothers' lives? Greenberg broke it down:

H is for Healthy: Find one small thing you can do each day to be healthier, like eat less sugar, or drink more water. If you become aware of the small things you can do for yourself, you'll find strength in the choices you can make. "You have to treat happiness as if it's a health issue," Greenberg says.

A is for Adaptability: It's key to recognize that you can't be all things to all people. Greenberg says to make a concerted effort to look at what you do on a daily basis to see what expectations you can let go of. "Every day isn't going to go the way you planned it," Greenberg says. "If you are someone who needs to control every second of every day, you're going to disappoint yourself. Recognize being a working mother doesn't allow for that level of tenacity."

P is for pride in your work: Greenberg advises we make a concerted effort to acknowledge successes -- even from team members who might not always pull their weight. Find one small win in your work day to focus on for you and your team. Positivity generates positivity.

P is for pride in your family: No one's perfect -- not even our kids. Accept your children for who they are, not who you want them to be. Focus on your kids' strengths, not their weaknesses.

Y is for young at heart:
Kids can laugh for hours over a carefree second of silliness. Let yourself take pleasure in the little things. "There's always room for change and growth and opportunities for having fun," Greenberg says. "These are small beginnings you can build on."

next: The Rise of the Metrosexual
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