Women are a staple in the modern work force. Young women in their teens and 20s have seen a woman run for president and watched their mothers, neighbors and community leaders achieve great success in the professional world. Those of us with a few more years under our belts have witnessed firsthand the advancement of women over the past 30 to 40 years. While this shift represents unprecedented progress, it does not come without a price.
As if the traditional roles of mother, homemaker and wife aren’t enough work, many women today find it necessary to work part-time or full-time jobs. In many families, the woman is the breadwinner or even the sole provider. At the end of the day, many women are left exhausted and wondering what superhero powers are required to fit it all in. In the long run, their health suffers and they find themselves at a higher risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, divorce and general unhappiness.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2005, 17 percent of married women earned at least $5,000 more than their husbands and 22 percent of married women had more education than their spouses. This is significant considering that just 50 years ago working mothers were an endangered species; today, they are the norm.
Despite these significant changes in women’s roles, there have not been concurrent changes in society’s expectations of women. In the end, women often scratch anything related to taking care of themselves off their list of things to do in order to fit everything else in. However, it is important for women to take charge of their health and well-being and figure out ways to create balance in their lives.
The following recommendations can help add time to each day to relax, exercise, go to the doctor, talk to friends, laugh with your husband and kids, or whatever it is that adds joy and health to your day.
One of the primary problems for women is the way they prioritize their own needs, says Dr. Karen Foote, a family practice doctor with Galen Medical Group.
“Women, in general, take care of everybody else before they take care of themselves,” says Foote. “Sleep, for example, is probably the last thing that women prioritize in their lives because the easiest way to get things done is to have a longer day.” A lack of sleep is one of the main contributors to the many health problems today’s women face as a result of their hectic lives.
In order to put themselves first, women have to change the way they think.
Julie Baumgardner, president and executive director of the nonprofit group First Things First, believes that setting priorities is critical for women. “You have to set priorities and decide what is important for you. When you choose to have children, you have to make choices. There are a lot of things you may want to do, but will choose not to, so that you can spend time with your family.”
Organization can go a long way to help women manage and prioritize their responsibilities.
“Make important lists of daily tasks and then prioritize them,” suggests Foote. “It isn’t possible to get everything done, so sometimes household chores like laundry and dusting will suffer. Sleep is very important and so is exercise and eating right. These three things need to be made a priority in women’s lives.”
Surrender Perfection and Delegate
Giving up household perfection is a challenge for many women. Dr. John Emberson, an OB/GYN with Associates in Women’s Health, sees this tendency toward perfection in some of his patients. “A lot of women fall into the trap of trying to be a perfect mother and keep a perfect house,” says Emberson. “It is important to learn to laugh at some things and take some pressure off of yourself.”
Women can save quite a bit of time and heartache by learning to delegate tasks and giving up the idea of perfection.
Moms tend to underestimate their children’s ability to help around the house. A child as young as three can pick up toys, help set the table and learn to make his or her bed. The secret is to allow them to do their best without expecting that it will be done like mom would do it.
“Sometimes you have to lower your standards a bit,” says Baumgardner. “My house isn’t spotless, but it is clean. When I asked my daughter to make her bed, it wasn’t perfect, but I let her do it her way. Take the pressure for perfection off of yourself and realize that you can only be the best mom you can be given your situation. That means everyone needs to pitch in.”
Along with adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition, women need to make time to relax and spend time with friends away from the family. Finding a solid support system can ease the stress and pressure that many women feel.
Mark Carpenter, president and director of The Lighthouse Counseling & Life Skills Center, explains this tendency: “There is a higher degree of stress and depression among women, and one component is their tendency toward feelings of guilt. Women often feel that they are too much of something and not enough of something else, so that no matter what they do, they think they are not doing enough.”
Spending time with a supportive group of friends can go a long way toward easing these feelings. Coping with the challenges of life is much easier when you can share your stories and feelings with other women who face those same issues.
In today’s mobile society, women may have to make an extra effort to reach out to other women in similar stages of life. However, the effort is worth it in the long run. Churches, community organizations and children’s extracurricular activities are good ways to meet other women who might need the support of friends, as well.
Learn to Say “No”
Saying “no” to requests for help is a big problem for many women, but it is an important step toward creating a balanced life.
“Instead of getting caught up in someone else’s expectations, really evaluate what is important to you,” says Carpenter. “Just because you can do something does not mean you should.”
Taking small steps each day to make time for exercise, sleep, healthy food and relaxation can go a long way toward health and happiness.
Julianne Hale and her family reside in Cleveland, Tenn. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Illinois State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. Julianne is a member of the Chattanooga Writers Guild. She and her husband have three children.