Ask a working mother how she's doing and you probably will get a lie.
We'll say "fine," but the response in our head — the honest one that we wouldn't disclose to a co-worker or boss — likely leaves much unsaid.
For me, the truth would sound something like this: "I'm busier than I've ever been in my life. I wake up thinking about work, power-chug scalding-hot coffee while I make a marginally healthy breakfast for my kids, take them to day care, work frantically all day, fret over what's for dinner, bathe the kids if there's time, eat after they're asleep and collapse into bed thinking about work and feeling guilty that I'm not spending enough time with my kids."
Apparently, I'm not alone.
Women constitute nearly half of the work force in this country, approximately 47 percent, yet many of us feel conflicted about working outside the home, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Project.
Only 13 percent of moms with full-time jobs say it's an ideal situation for young children, the report states.
Working moms also are more likely to feel stressed and as if there aren't enough hours in the day. Four in 10 working moms with kids under age 18 say they always feel rushed.
The pressure working mothers feel is often a topic on Dr. Laura Schlessinger's syndicated radio talk show.
Schlessinger advocates for women to be involved mothers and find importance and worth in their lives by being foremost their "kid's mom."
I asked Schlessinger via e-mail what her take on the Pew report's findings about harried moms.
"Stop working," she said. "Human beings have limits and therefore we have to make choices — not balance — but choices. It is a far, far better thing a woman does to focus on family fulfillment (with hobbies, civic activities, charity causes, part-time work at home, etc. if desired) than run herself ragged and not really enjoy home, husband, family, sex — or life at all!"
"The truth is I have e-mails from physicians to waitresses, all of whom have found a way to make it work," she said.
But for some of us, working part time isn't an option.
What can we do to become happier working moms and assuage the guilt that can lead to too many Skinny Cow ice cream bars?
One of the keys is to start saying "no," said Cathy Greenberg, a sociobiologist and co-author of "What Happy Working Mothers Know: How New Findings in Positive Psychology Can Lead to a Healthy and Happy Work/Life Balance," (John Wiley & Sons Inc., $19.95, 256 pages), which has landed on the Wall Street Journal and USA Today's best-sellers' lists.
"A lot of women need the courage to say no," she said. "We're afraid to compromise friendships and relationships. We still have this socialization fear that we're going to be left out of something if we refuse."
Working moms also need to make choices that are aligned with their values and learn to reframe their perspective of "why we've become who we are, how we got here and our original dreams," Greenberg said.
"It's OK to take the detours in life — it's just as good as the path," she said. "But (women) start beating themselves up. Continuing to fight it and living in the past is just going to be a downer and pull you down further. Find the positive in what you gained in the experience."
I interviewed California first lady Maria Shriver a few weeks ago on another family topic and asked her, as a working mother of four, for some advice for other working moms out there who may be feeling overwhelmed.
"Know that you're good enough," she said. "Don't compare yourself to other women. I think working moms beat themselves up and look too much at what they're not doing well. Some days you do really well, and some days you do fine, and your kids know that you're working and trying."
(c) 2009, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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