Every working mom knows the crush of balancing responsibilities all too well, but I tend to think there’s a special kind of pressure that comes with being the primary or sole wage earner in the household. The demands are much the same, but the stakes feel just a little bit higher.
I’m no longer in that breadwinner role now, but I was for a lot of my working life. I spent many years both as a single mom and a married breadwinner mom. And I’m certainly not alone. The New York Times reported last year a quarter of women with children under 18 serve as primary breadwinners for their families. Most of these women are the primary caregivers at home as well. That’s a lot to do in 24 hours!
For some, the strain of it all can have disastrous effects. Studies show single working moms tend to be less healthy overall than those who are in a committed relationship. For married breadwinner moms, the statistics aren’t much brighter, projecting higher rates of stress and lower marital satisfaction.
Blessedly, though, statistics aren’t everything.
I’m so glad my happiness and health aren’t determined “by the numbers.” Yours don’t have to be either!
The keys to establishing and maintaining balance for breadwinning women aren’t actually much different than for any other women. The basic steps are the same—they’re just a little harder to reach, and you have to be a little more determined to get there. You need a firm sense of who you are and where you’re going; you need to steward your physical, mental, and emotional resources; you need friends you can rely on; and you need to lean hard into your relationship with God.
Do One Thing
There were times, especially as a single mom, when I felt like it was a struggle to maintain the absolute minimums. It seemed like all I could do was just show up to work every day in one piece and get the children fed at night. If someone had pulled me aside on one of those days and presented me with a list of things I needed to add to my already-packed schedule, I might have laughed in their face.
Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Instead, do just one thing. Keep at it until you feel a little steadier, then—and only then—add another thing.
Oh, and make God your first “thing.” “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). When you are centered and secure in your relationship with God, everything else will come easier.
Don’t Go it Alone
People aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. God built us for community. He created in us a need and a desire to relate to others—to know and to be known. And God works in and through that need. He uses the people in our lives to minister directly to our bodies and souls, to build humility in our hearts and speak truth to our ears.
When life feels heavy, it’s easy to fall into isolation. Who has time to build and maintain friendships when there’s a meeting at work to prepare for, your dog needs to go to the vet, and your kid needs three dozen cookies for the bake sale tomorrow? Besides the time crunch, many breadwinners—single and married alike—have trouble finding and connecting with other Christian women like them. I know I did. It’s not that you can only be friends with women whose lives look like yours, but it sure helps to have at least a few good friends who have faced or are facing similar challenges. If you have such women in your life, cling to them, especially when life gets messy and time is short. If you don’t, it’s time to start looking! Pray that God would bring some women into your life, and then be ready to step out in faith when he does. Consider contacting your church’s leadership about Bible study groups and other outreach opportunities. Other women just like you are there, wanting and needing to connect.
Banish the Guilt
For most of the time when my kids were growing up, we lived in a lovely area of Dallas known as the Park Cities. I picked that area because it was close to work, very safe, and had great public parks and schools. It also, incidentally, had a very high proportion of affluent Christian stay-at-home moms. Moms who cooked hot breakfast for their kids every morning, then walked them to school, volunteered twice a week in their classrooms, formed after-school play groups, took mommy-and-me ballet classes—the list goes on and on. I honor the work stay-at-home moms do, and I count many such women as dear friends, but when my kids were young, those moms could be very daunting. They were active in their kids’ lives in some ways that I—by choice and necessity—could not be, and in doing so they were a constant potential source of comparison and guilt.
There is only so much time in a day, and I couldn’t be in two places at once, no matter how badly I sometimes wanted to be. Neither can you. If you are the primary breadwinner for your family, there are a lot of things you aren’t going to be doing, and that’s okay. You are blessing your family in other ways.
Let go of what you are not doing. Accept that your mothering path is going to be different—in infinite ways—from other moms. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we can.
Embrace Your Role
Trust that God has brought you to wherever you are. Whether you made a conscious choice to be a breadwinner or not, your career is a calling, and it’s an exciting one! I know and admire so many moms whom God has called to a career and then used in huge ways. Moms who serve as a beacon of faith to a few coworkers as well as moms who have a chance to impact thousands through the platform God has given them for his kingdom. Women like Cheryl Bachelder (CEO and mother of three), Shaunti Feldhahn (author and mother of two), Bonnie Wurzbacher (World Vision executive and mother of one), and Helen Mitchell (ministry leader and mother of two). As Helen noted in this terrific panel discussion at Biola University earlier this year, “God gave you those leadership skills for a reason and a purpose and for a calling that he has on your life.”
When the pressure as a working mom gets to be too much, just remember to take things one at a time, lean into your community, and accept your God-given, albeit slightly different, path—whether or not it includes time to make some brownies for the school bake sale.