Q. "I have a house and a husband and two children, 4 and 7, and now I have a job, too. I love them all but I don't get half as much accomplished as I should, especially at home.
"My mother keeps the children when they're not in school and my husband helps at home, but still I can't get through half the things on my list. Sometimes I don't do any of them and just goof off and read a book or watch TV with my husband. Last night I missed another PTA meeting. I played Candyland with the kids instead.
"It seems like there are two kinds of working women: the Superwoman who has swallowed some magic vitamin to make her so efficient and the other woman -- me -- always running, always late, always miles behind where I want to be. I seem to start and stop everything, even my conversation. I'm sure the other women at work think I'm really dizzy."
A. That working woman who copes so well is not Superwoman; there is no such bird. When a parent tells you she is fully in charge of her life -- especially when she's a working mother -- you can bet she:
2.) Has a couple of live-ins in the cellar to do the extra work.
3.) Has such a rotten marriage she would rather cook and clean every night than enjoy her life.
No. This Superwoman you think you see is only a person who knows her job is tough and organizes it so it doesn't get any tougher than she is . . . most of the time.
She also is a lady who changed a little when she went to work -- in attitude, in expectations and in work habits -- and you have to do the same.
Like any mother who has stayed home with small children for more than a year, you probably have a rampant case of Mother's Syndrome. That's when you learned that if a job took more than 20 minutes, it shouldn't be started; anything longer would get interrupted. Even your conversation probably got choppy.
It's the Syndrome that makes a perfectly intelligent person stop in the middle of any sentence, anywhere, whether anybody is asking for a peanut butter sandwich or not. Don't worry. This is a temporary affliction, but it could make your co-workers think you're a bit dizzy unless you guard against it until time makes the symptoms go away.
Changing your attitude means getting a new image of yourself. At the office you have to think of yourself as an office worker; at home, a wife and mother. The two should be mixed as little as possible, even in your thoughts.
And now for your expectations:
You have less time to give, but the priorities remain the same, so you do your best to be a cooperative parent at school. It means a lot to a child if you take part in the bazaar and go to the meetings. And besides, it isn't fair to dump those responsibilities on the mothers who stay at home. You or your husband -- or preferably both -- have to go to the scheduled conferences and even ask for special ones if you suspect problems. It helps you look at your child through new eyes and it also reminds the teacher -- and your son -- that he is a very special person.
The rest of the expectations may be fewer than you might think; they begin with that list you make. Instead of one great big one, make a short one each night, covering what must be done the next day (not should, MUST). If it takes longer than 5 minutes to compile it, you're including the impossible, and the failure is bound to depress you. Better the pleasure of doing most of the musts on your list, rather than a third of the shoulds.
A nightly list also will let you include the unexpected. You no more can budget all your time far in advance than you can budget every penny you earn. The unexpected sympathy note, the special phone calls, the forgotten present for your sister-in-law must be expected. But as a working woman you make the calls while you dry dishes; write the notes on the subway and buy several presents -- especially for children's birthday parties -- on a single shopping trip.
Errands to the shoemaker, the cleaners and that biggie, the supermarket, can no longer be the focus of the morning, but become jobs that are done, one a day, on the way to or from work.
Most working parents learn to make better use of their time than those of us who stay home, simply because they have learned these and other shortcuts. So will you, but don't feel guilty if you can't accomplish as much at home as you used to do. You just do what you can -- and then stop. Surely your husband doesn't do as much around the house between Monday and Friday as he does on the weekend.
Different life styles have different expectations and now you have to forget about the time-consuming meals.
Cut your housekeeping to a minimum, too, perhaps doing the kind of blitz once a month, with all hands helping, that you once did alone every week.
This cleaning, with some special big jobs on the weekend and a 15-minute pickup at night should keep the house reasonably tidy. Both parents work on the mess and both children help.
One large and nifty family had this nice rule: The child who was closest to the floor picked up whatever was left there, even if someone else had to put it away. When a child is expected to take part in the work -- as he does in the play -- he feels necessary, and this is one big way he measures his own worth.
You can teach your 7-year-old to do his own laundry, now one of the simplest jobs in the house. Certainly he's old enough to tell the difference between white and colored clothes -- if you still bother to separate them -- and he can read the dials. The most essential part of this chore is having him empty the pockets of his jeans; crayons make such a mess in the dryer.
The laundry job is even simpler if each child has his own hamper or sack for his dirty clothes. When the load contains the clothes from only one child, they just need to be folded, not sorted -- a simple idea it took us a mere 20 years to learn.
And what can you do with all this extra time? Read a book, watch TV with your husband or play Candyland with the kids. You can call it goofing off, but it's better to be remembered for your company than your compulsions.