I have been meaning to write this article about successful
working mums - SWOMs - for ages. I've discussed it with Sarah on
many occasions, and with many women I talk to, interview, and meet.
I have to admit, I've been guilty of procrastination here… So I
decided that rather than getting all my ducks in a row first, I'd
be like that memorable sportswear ad and 'just do it'! This article
will be the first of my reflections on what all the successful
professional working mums I have come across have in common. And I
think that even if you're not a working mum, these lessons might
still be really useful for you!
Who are successful professional working mums and what makes
Over the last four or so years, I've spent many hours talking to
my friends who are working mums, researching the topic and
conducting interviews for Professionelle and associated research. I
want to acknowledge up front that these observations are highly
personal and reflect what I view as success. I'd also like to
dedicate this piece to all my wonderful SWOMs. I hope you all know
who you are!
To me successful working mums are those who manage to have:
- A close and loving relationship with their children
- A close and loving relationship with their partners (if they
have one) and
- A career they love and are good at.
They seem unflappable; they appear in control, calm and just get
on with things! They are also great to be around, they have
wonderful energy and generally seem happy and content with their
It's not like they don't face challenges, in fact some have
faced incredible personal and professional challenges and have at
times dealt with great stress. But they are able to contain that
stress, and deal with it in a proactive and in-control manner. You
are unlikely to hear these women complain incessantly. In fact one
of them, who is also a close friend of mine, has a motto: 'don't
complain and don't explain'.
I thought that given I have had the privilege of talking to so
many women who are successful and who manage to combine the roles
so well, I should apply both my true 'researcher' bent and
Professionelle's positive psychology approach to find the themes
that the SWOMS share so that we can all learn. Of course, I would
love to hear from you all about your perspectives; it is
undoubtedly the combined wisdom of Professionelle members that
makes this website such a special place.
All the SWOMs I know are extremely clear about their priorities
and are really disciplined at enforcing them. And they all
prioritise themselves first. They un-ashamedly make sure they take
the time to look after themselves: they exercise regularly, they
get regular massages/facials/ nails done. If you don't look after
yourself, you'll be no good for anyone else
To some of you this might seem like common sense. If only that
were true! So many working mums I know feel incredibly guilty about
caring for themselves, they feel they should be putting everyone
ahead of themselves. Unfortunately, some of them also make
(intentionally or unintentionally) other working mums feel guilty
for looking after themselves. I remember one telling me 'it must be
so nice to have the time to go to yoga twice a week…' and me
feeling slightly guilty for about a second and than reminding
myself that it is the yoga that I do that keeps me going.
One of my own role models, and a definite SWOM, is Alison
Andrew. She is now the Managing Director of Lexicon Systems and
about a year ago Alison kindly agreed to be interviewed
for Professionelle. Alison is very clear about looking after
herself. If you haven't yet, make sure you read the interview with
her; she has some real pearls of wisdom and shared her insights
about how she makes it all work.
The other thing all the SWOMs I know do is to prioritise time
with their family and their partner. They build their own personal
and psychological resources that way. They take the time and the
effort to invest in these incredibly important relationships. Some,
like Alison, have regular dates with their partners, others diarise
family holidays at the start of every year, leaving nothing to
Successful working mums also know they can't be super-women. And
they know how important it is to outsource aspects of their lives
to others, be it child care, cleaning, cooking, washing or ironing.
They know they can't do it all, and they don't feel guilty about
There are consequences of course. Most SWOMs are very selective
about their social lives. They don't attend many events and there
has to be a real purpose and meaning to the events they choose to
attend. They also choose their close friends and associates very
carefully, and tend to surround themselves with supportive and
positive people. This leads me to the next theme I've observed:
SWOMs strike me as very positive women. That is not to say that
they are raging optimists, not at all, but they do look at life as
a series of opportunities. They are not ones to linger on the
wrongs of the past or their own faults. They have a 'get up and do
They are very careful about who they associate with. It strikes
me that most SWOMs have friends who are supportive and like-minded.
They don't tolerate toxic friendships for long.
At times it is this positive attitude that some people find
difficult to deal with. As successful working mums tend to get on
with things and are extremely resilient, you won't be hearing them
whinge or complain a lot even when they are faced with huge
challenges. They don't indulge in self-pity or self-disclose their
difficulties much. It is this 'getting on with it' behaviour and
attitude that I have heard people say makes them look
'unattainable' or even more strongly 'scary'.
To me, it's because successful working mums are very aware of
how precious their time and energy is that they would much rather
invest it in doing things that are productive and engaging. They
are 'builders' and they are engaged in building and contributing.
And that leads me to probably what is most important about their
'recipe' for success -
An Engaged Life
One of the cornerstones of Positive Psychology is the notion of
the three "lives". In his book 'Authentic Happiness', Professor
Martin Seligman outlines the three types of lives, namely the
'Pleasant Life', the 'Engaged Life' and the 'Meaningful Life'.
The Pleasant Life is all about satisfying our desires. It's
about lovely holidays, good food and wine,and great company. Yes,
at the time it feels good and having pleasantness as part of our
lives is important, but the thing about the pleasant life is that
it habituates. Seligman provides the analogy of eating great French
Vanilla ice cream. The first mouthful tastes divine but by the end
of a huge bowl it tastes like cardboard.
The Engaged Life is the life in which people are able to use
their signature strengths frequently at home or work. And the
Meaningful Life is when people get to use their signature strengths
doing something they believe in and view as bigger and more
important than themselves.
All of the SWOMS I know lead the latter types of life, and most
lead a meaningful life. They do work they believe in, and they use
their signature strengths doing it. Are they busy? Absolutely, they
are VERY busy, they get a lot done and achieved. The more they do,
the more their resources are built, and the more content and happy
they become. They still make sure they experience the pleasant life
as well, but their energies are directed at doing work that is
meaningful to them, which also allows them to use their signature
Finally, all the successful working mums I know have definitely
one common denominator, and this is my final observation for now.
So, all SWOMS are -
There's no getting around it. It seems that to be a successful
working mum, you really do need to be organised. These women get so
much done and achieved in their days and they do it in a calm and
controlled manner. They only way they are able to be so productive
is by being organised. Even though some of them are incredibly high
powered and outsource some of the more mundane aspects of the
household, they are still well on top of their own and their
children's lives. They are the ones that RSVP for the birthday
parties, organise their own children's parties, sign up the kids to
that piano lesson etc. The way they keep on top of everything is by
being organised with a capital O!
It was in a yoga workshop recently that I heard a line that best
describes SWOMs to me.
They make the effortful look effortless.
What do you think?
Do you have observations of your own about what makes successful
working mums successful? I'd love to hear
from you and I know you love reading each others'
© Professionelle Ltd 2008