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The first wave of mothers to reach the higher echelons of North American businesses – the baby boomers – tried to pursue the ideal of work-life balance, in most cases finding it impossible to achieve. Their successors, the second wave now in power positions, have opted instead for work-life sway. They deliberately move back and forth between the professional and personal sides of a digital-centric life, not concerned when they have to take their child to see a doctor during the heat of the workday.

“Such power moms view a task interrupted by their children’s needs as a well-deserved work break. In other words, they go with the flow,” Joann Lublin writes in her book Power Moms.

The former management-news editor of the Wall Street Journal and its long-time careers columnist interviewed women from both generations to better understand how they have coped with the stresses of work and home. Guilt has been common for both, but she notes that balance assumed women could simultaneously fulfill every demand of their separate spheres and proved to be like a shaky yoga pose. The new generation of power moms, when swaying, aren’t afraid to say no to demands. And, when necessary, they call for help from their spouses and supervisors.

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Her interviews led to 10 recommendations for working mothers to ditch the guilt that too often assails them:

  • Find and keep a great child-care provider: Nothing is more essential to an employed mother’s success professionally than reliable, high-quality child care. For many in an earlier generation, it was a nanny whom they kept in place for many years, if not decades. Child care is an investment in a power mom’s career.
  • Give children a voice in your work life: When travelling, explain why you’re away. When making career decisions, bring them into the discussion. Dana Spinola, a second-wave power mom, created a personal board of directors that includes her three sons alongside adults to help her meet work and family goals.
  • Arrange workday getaways with your kids: Boomers rarely skipped a day of work to be with their children. The second wave are planning excursions with the kids at differing intervals beyond vacations.
  • Enlist extensive help from extended family: Both generations have had help from mothers, grandparents or other family members who are trusted to handle the kids or even live within the home where they can be ever-available.
  • Carve out time for yourself: You need time for yourself, apart from work and apart from kids. It might be an aimless walk while the spouse is bonding with the children or time at a Pilates class, or perhaps you can become one of the many Peloton moms she found, working out in early-morning solitude.
  • Streamline your priorities: Be super-efficient at the stuff that matters less so you can focus on what counts. One woman prepared a digital photo folder of her business outfits, matched with preferred shoes and jewellery, to ease packing for trips.
  • Take strategic breaks: Some of the executives she interviewed took sabbaticals, but if that is too formidable, even a brief strategic break of a day’s or week’s vacation to host playdates for your younger children at home can be worthwhile.
  • Practice sway every day: Work is important, but there’s more to life, and you should be comfortable fitting it in.
  • Support the stay-at-home dad: If your husband wants to stay home with the children, don’t try to micromanage him.
  • Accept your imperfections: You aren’t perfect. If you return at 1:00 a.m. from a business trip, you don’t need to straighten up the living room.

Ms. Lublin was saddened at the guilt working mothers from both waves experienced but heartened by the clever gambits they developed to counter or reduce those feelings of self-reproach.

Quick hits

  • Never stop interviewing, advises career coach Mark Anthony Dyson. At a minimum, once a year you should be interviewed by another company so you can keep in touch with the proficiencies you need and also maintain your interviewing skills.
  • Eager to write a steaming resignation letter to a boss who treated you poorly? Executive coach Dan Rockwell suggests writing two letters instead, burning the vitriolic one and moving on. If possible, use the moment for self-reflection about the resentment you feel and what you learned about handling tough situations under that boss.
  • If you get your best ideas in the shower, productivity expert Chris Bailey recommends Aqua Notes water-proof notepads, which you can hang in the shower, to capture those brain waves.
  • Author James Clear says the challenge if you want to make progress is to simultaneously have the confidence to go after what you want and the humility to accept who you are right now – as well as the willingness to build skills that bridge the gap between those two states.
  • You can attach files in Zoom chats by simply dragging them to the message, says tech writer Justin Pot.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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