Define work success in a way that supports your capacity and contentment.  For some working mothers, that may mean seeking roles with increasing responsibility and salary.  For other working mothers, it may mean sustaining a job that offers work-family balance.  Work and career management is complicated for the working mom.  It surprised me to find so little helpful information.

THE PRIMARY DILEMMA™ has created the PRIMARY Ps to offer a more systematic approach to improving work choices, manageability and satisfaction.


As you think about your Working-Mother Method and your Contentment Map, remember that you have the ability to control parts of your job to make it better fit your needs.  The PRIMARY Ps system identifies basic things that you could potentially change about your work to make it more manageable and appealing:

1.  Place:Where do you work?

  • How far is it from your home?  How does your commute impact the quality of your life?
    • A short commute is an incredible daily time savings.  Think of a 20 minute commute versus a 40 minute commute.   The time savings is 40 minutes a day and over 3 hours a week!  A shorter commute gives you more flexible access to the activities of your children.  A short commute is not always achievable, but it can make an enormous difference in quality of life.
  • Does your job require travel?
    • Travel can be one of the most disruptive work requirements for any working mom, especially if she is the primary physical parent.  It requires finding childcare coverage and managing the emotional concern of children.  A job with limited travel or planned travel can potentially make life easier on the working mom.
  • Will you be expected to relocate to develop within your job?
    • This is always important to consider, but especially in dual career households.

2.  Pace: What are the demands of your job?

  • What are your hours?
    • Many jobs require much more than a 35 or 40 hour work week.   When do we make time for our kids?  Don’t forget that you can remain involved in fulfilling work in a job with fewer hours.  It may mean giving up some responsibilities or changing companies.  But it is doable.
  • What is the stress level?
    • A job that requires you to be “on” 24/7 can make parenting very challenging.
  • Is there flexibility?
    • Flexibility can be a godsend to the working mother.  Whether it is schedule flexibility, telecommuting, etc.

3. People: Who are you working with and for?

  • Do you like and respect your co-workers and boss?
    • If you don’t like your team, it can make work a miserable experience.  Seek out work situations with a positive people dynamic.
  • Is anyone working for you?
    • Managing others is a job in itself and can limit personal flexibility.  Think about your personal capacity.  If capacity is tight, you may want to consider a role that does not require people management.
  • Does your work support your personal and professional needs?
    • This can be tricky to identify, but you will know.  Remember, actions speak louder than words.

4. Profession: Do you like WHAT you do?

  • Remember that work is a marathon, not a sprint.  It is important to find enjoyment.  Enjoyment can take many forms, including gratification from how much you are paid for your work.  If you can’t find job satisfaction by changing HOW you work (the first three PRIMARY Ps), consider changing WHAT you do for work.  You may be surprised by the transferability of your skills to another field.

On the job:

  • Managing Maternity: Finding out that you are pregnant can be exciting and terrifying.  But how do you communicate the news to your employer?  Most employers are better equipped to handle the news than you would expect.  Don’t be intimidated.  For more detailed guidance, this is one of the best resources that I have found.
  • Negotiating: Did you know that women's earnings relative to men's have stagnated at 73.2 percent? Whether it is at work (salary, job title, flexible work hours) or at home (laundry, cooking, etc), women are not great at negotiating a fair deal.  As a working mom, you may feel that these conversations become even more difficult.  A must read book for advice on how to advocate for yourself is Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.
  • Breastfeeding: Not easy, but many women continue breastfeeding long after they return to work.  My advice is don’t try to “do it right”.  Do whatever works for you.  You may pump and store your milk.  You may pump and dump – a personal favorite of mine because I wasn’t organized enough to store, refrigerate, and bring home sterile milk.  You may be able to condition your body to make milk only in the morning and evening.  No matter what, don’t beat yourself up.  The following link offers good information about how to prepare for this endeavor:
  • If you have to travel: In my experience, travel for work is one of the toughest challenges both logistically and emotionally.
    • The following are helpful tips quoted from
      1. Pack your days full. Two good reasons for this: first, the fuller your days, the less frequently you will have to travel.  Second, full days don’t allow you time to feel down about being away from your family.  Make your time the most productive it can be so that you feel good at the end of the trip, not like you wasted precious hours away from your husband and kids.
      2. Skype. If your laptop has a built in camera (as most of them now do), you can have impromptu video conferences with your family.  Talking on the phone is great, but sometimes you just want to see your family in person — skype is great for that, and it’s free!
      3. Go to the gym. You’ll feel better about yourself and the trip if you keep healthy and active.  Even if you don’t work out at home, try using the hotel fitness center, or better yet, walking around the area and taking in the local sites.
      4. Do something you couldn’t do at home. Because the fumes bother my husband, I never polish my nails at home, and I rarely have time for a manicure.  Business trips allow me to do my own nails at the very least, and maybe even have a professional give them some attention.  Think of something that you can’t normally do and find a way to do it on the road.
      5. Watch entertaining TV or bring a good book. The nights are hardest.  I find that mindless entertainment (reality shows are my poison) helps make things easier.  Or order a chick flick movie that you couldn’t watch with your husband.
      6. Have nice meals. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find local places that are fun to eat.  If you can, coordinate mealtimes with colleagues.  If you can’t, find someplace serene and bring a good book.  As a rule, don’t dine in the hotel restaurant.  Get out and see the city you are visiting.
      7. Take a day off after the trip. Don’t jump right back into the grind; take a special day with your kid(s) to catch up on their week.  By the end of the day they (and you) probably won’t even remember you were away.