Focus on the Family

Working Moms Need to Delegate

by Sabrina O'Malone

You'll burn out, and the people right along with you.
This is way too much for you — you can't do this alone.

— EXODUS 18:18

Delegate? "I don't have time to delegate!"

"I don't have anyone to delegate to!"

"They wouldn't do it right."

"I'd have to fight to get them to do it, then I'd have to inspect it once it's done. It's easier to just do it myself."

I hear you. I've been there myself. But there's a secret you've probably never been privy to. It goes beyond wishing someone else would lend a hand and complaining if he or she doesn't. It's time for action. You need real solutions to make delegation actually happen.

If you have already decided to eliminate extraneous activities, what's left in your life now cannot be eliminated and must be done.

But here's the question all moms have to consider: Does it really have to be done by you?

If the scripture verse at the beginning of this module resonates deep within you, or if it seems God is specifically talking about your life, then this is for you: You simply can't do it all by yourself, and God doesn't expect you to.

It's always tough to delegate, but for a busy working mom, it can seem almost impossible. To use an analogy, being a working mom is very much like juggling. Learning to juggle takes practice, and it's especially stressful if the items you juggle are valuable and fragile.

It's hard to juggle three things, harder still to juggle four. Difficulty and stress increase with each addition. Ultimately, even the best jugglers will drop a ball. This is precisely what every working mom wishes to avoid while trying to keep up with schedules, relationships, work demands and running a household.

When you're juggling so many things, just trying to stop so you can reduce the number increases the risk of dropping something. This is the inherent risk in deciding whether and how to delegate. Believe me, I know you can't afford to let anything drop. However, you should be aware of the flip side to managing everything yourself. Sooner or later, your body will give out. Then you may be unable to do anything for weeks or months.

The tension from maintaining a high-stress lifestyle may show up as frequent headaches, muscle tightness or a constantly churning stomach. Constant stress leads to anxiety, and in the worst-case scenario, panic attacks. Take it from me — one way or another your body and mind will not allow you to keep up more than you can bear.

Fortunately, there is hope — even for the tough case of a single working mom with young children and limited finances. The key is delegation. Every working mom can successfully delegate some of her responsibilities. If you're uncomfortable or out of practice, start out small and delegate more as you see how well things are working. There are benefits to everyone (including you) when you delegate your workload appropriately.

Find Creative Solutions

Deanna, a former work-outside-the-home mom of four, shared an innovative solution with me. When she was a working mom, the most difficult part of the day was getting dinner ready. She suspected other working moms might have the same problem. After she became a stay-at-home-mom, she called a few of her friends and asked if they would like her to make extra portions of what she planned to cook for dinner.

Deanna began putting an entire meal in disposable containers and leaving it at the doorstep of her working friends' houses in exchange for a portion of their families' grocery/takeout budgets. Since Deanna buys in bulk now, the food costs are lower, and she can pocket the extra cash. Remember, it's not extra work for Deanna because it's what she's cooking for her family anyway. Now a few working moms get to come home to an inexpensive, hot, home-cooked meal!

If any of your friends are stay-at-home moms, find out if they would be willing to give this a try one or two days a week. Just imagine coming home after a hard day's work to be greeted by the smell of an already prepared dinner. Now that's a blessing!

Share the Workload With Your Husband

Remember, nagging will not motivatate your husband to help out more.

by Sabrina O'Malone

The question always arises concerning the household workload and what "he" ought to do versus what "she" does. I'll share with you three bits of advice I received from my mother on my wedding day:

"First, lower your expectations, Sabrina."

"Second, laugh at his jokes."

"Third, remember that a marriage requires 100 percent flexibility — and 90 percent of the flexing comes from the wife."

The last piece of advice sounded downright silly and old-fashioned to me. I thought to myself, Maybe in your generation, Mom, but we're going to have a 50-50 marriage.

Like most newlyweds, I found out that my expectations of marriage and the reality were two different things. My husband, Dan, later explained to me why he thinks my mom was right. Few things in marriage cause more sadness and heartbreak than unmet expectations. Generally speaking, it's more pleasant to have your expectations exceeded than to experience the disappointment of being let down. Lowering our expectations gives us a chance to be pleasantly surprised when someone exceeds them.

Next, when you laugh at someone's jokes, it is the most sincere form of applause. It opens the door to a great deal of joy. As the Bible says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine" (Proverbs 17:22, NIV).

Lastly, it's easy to recognize when you accommodate, or flex, for your spouse. It's never as clear when someone else is flexing for you. Even if a 50-50 partnership were possible in marriage, you would always be more aware of your effort than his. Always.

I suggest that you be very careful and prayerful about delegating to your husband. The temptation to go on the "must-be-nice-to-live-like-you-do" bandwagon is nearly impossible to resist. And this bandwagon is ultimately counterproductive. Believe me, I've tried it.

You probably work as hard as he does. You may even do more than the majority of women you know. But expecting him to be an assistant homemaker will almost certainly lead to disappointment.

Try to remember, most men today contribute more around the house than their own fathers did. And if you keep a running mental tally of your tasks versus his, it will not lead to a harmonious family life.

It just won't. I've tried that too.

Throw Away the Scorecard

You'll be better off if you resist the temptation to compare your workloads. The Bible calls this keeping "score of the sins of others" in 1 Corinthians 13:5. You have a choice: Is it more important to prove yourself "right" or to have peace and harmony in your home? When you need affirmation, appreciation and understanding for all you do and you don't have a husband who'll give it to you, go to the Lord and your girlfriends!

Look at the concordance in the back of your Bible for passages about God's love for you and read them. Then go to your prayer partners and mentors for a little hands-on encouragement. It will be a lot easier to tear up your scorecard when you are filled with God's love.

Practically speaking, what's an overstressed, overburdened working mom to do? I'll tell you what I did. First, I prayed about my situation frequently. Next, I resolved to pay closer attention to Dan's strengths and look for ways he could contribute toward managing our family in a manner that would naturally suit his personality and talents. "Lord, show me how we can both use our strengths," I prayed. God was quick to show me the way.

Big Dan is a playful guy, and he loves to spend time horsing around with the kids. Whenever he gave the kids their baths, they had a great time and got clean, but the watery, soapy mess they left behind was simply something else for me to clean up (or nag about). My own style of "Wet down, soap up, rinse off!" was efficient, quick and neat, but certainly not fun. So we compromised for efficiency and fun.

I happen to be one of those people who is always in a hurry, and I naturally move at a fast pace. Nowadays, after dinner I usher the kids through their routine: military-style baths, pajamas and tooth-brushing. When they're finished, Daddy swoops in like a breath of fresh air.

My husband now puts the kids to bed at night. The kids play, read stories, recount their day and say bedtime prayers with him. I make my exit and am free to do whatever needs to be done around the house, have some time to myself or just retire early.

There are times when the whole bedtime ordeal takes them two full hours after I leave. But after studying my husband's strengths, I observed how long, drawn-out processes don't upset him like they do me. This is a great method to utilize our respective strengths to the benefit of our entire family.

Another area where Dan has talents to contribute to the family is grocery shopping. I noticed that he takes a lot of pride in finding bargains at the store. On the occasions when he goes shopping alone, he proudly displays the receipts showing the percentage he saved using his shopper's card, scouting out sales or buying in bulk.

So I should just let him take over the task of grocery shopping, right? Is it really so simple? Not remotely! I came up against the hurdle most of us encounter when delegating important tasks: Sometimes we have differing definitions of how to do a task.

Let me explain. I used the typical mommy-style grocery shopping method called "Walking-down-the-aisles-and-spotting-what-we-need-as-I-go-along." I certainly couldn't expect Dan to do that. When I tried to write out a list for him, I found myself mentally exhausted trying to remember everything, and it took almost as much time to make the list as it would have to go grocery shopping!

It seemed like the pros of delegating the grocery shopping equaled the cons. This quandary led me to create a grocery list that would take the guesswork and aggravation out of the process. I call it the Working Mom™ Fast-Fax Grocery List. It's a fast, thorough, one-page list that can be e-mailed or faxed. There's a free, easy-to-print blank form on our Web site, Simply put a checkmark next to what you need, print it out and in less than three minutes you have a foolproof list.

But suppose your husband doesn't have any grocery shopping talents. Or perhaps you're a single mom. In some areas, grocery stores are now starting to deliver, and they'll do the shopping for you! All you need to do is fill out their form, select the items you need, and the store will now shop for, bag and deliver the groceries all the way to your kitchen at the time you choose. This option is frequently available at no extra charge, and some stores even give a $10 credit off your first home delivery!

There's no downside to having your groceries delivered because any item you don't think is fresh enough or doesn't meet your approval can typically be returned for a full refund. A working mom simply cannot lose if there's a grocery store in your area that delivers. Try it; you'll like it.

A Final Word About Husbands

Every couple's needs and inclinations are different, but again, it's better to look for each partner's natural talents and preferences and make some compromises. Maybe your husband loves to grill. Ask him if he'll cook dinner on a specific night (or two) a week.

Maybe he wouldn't mind folding the laundry while he watches the news. The point is to creatively and prayerfully think through the delegation question. Remember, nagging will not induce your husband to help out more, but it is guaranteed to add stress to your home life.

Many couples enter into marriage with false or unrealistic expectations. Some believe that marriage will solve their problems. Some to not understand that strong and growing marriages are a result of hard work. This article has been provided because of the generosity of donors like you.

Give Chores to Your Kids

Assign housework to your kids; they'll learn responsibility, and it'll lighten your load.

by Sabrina O'Malone

Some working moms feel that because they are away from their kids so many hours during the day, they don't want their precious time together to be spent fighting about chores. Consequently, very little is expected of the children with respect to pitching in around the house.

Anna, one of my mentors, set me straight about kids and chores with the following advice: "You've got to remember you're raising future adults, and childhood is when they learn responsibility. When you have 'your reasons' for not setting and enforcing realistic expectations, the kids will grow up to be poorly equipped to meet their own families' expectations in the future. It would be a disservice to their future spouses and children."

Put simply, all kids (even the kids of working moms) should be required to do unpaid work around the house regularly. It's for their good, and it's for your good!

At the risk of stating the obvious, once they're able to walk and talk, every child can pitch in. Even a two-year-old can be taught to put away toys. Three- and four-year-olds can be taught to fold washcloths and dish-towels. Once they have learned their colors, they can easily sort laundry into dark colors, light colors and whites.

As kids get older, they have the ability to handle more work around the house. The first step in assigning household tasks is to know what they are capable of. If you are unsure what chores your kids can reasonably handle, the Working Mom™ Household Job Chart delineates typical household chores children can do at various ages. You'll find a free, easy-to-print version

This leads to the recurring question: "How on earth will I get them to do it?" There are multiple answers to this dilemma. To a great extent, your success will depend upon the relationship you have with your children, their personalities and your personality. Let me make a suggestion: Remember to answer the WIIFM question. (What's In It For Me?)

Back when my brother and I were young children, the WIIFM was usually that we could avoid a spanking, lecture and/or being grounded if we complied. For my brother, that was usually enough motivation to elicit his compliance. For me, those methods induced a sense of trepidation as I consciously chose to disobey despite the warning.

There are no quick and easy, one-size-fits-all formulas for getting every child to do what he's told. However, a consequence coupled with an incentive substantially increases the likelihood of compliance in almost every managerial situation, including motherhood.

Going back to my own situation, when I was growing up, my parents discovered they could gain remarkable compliance from their headstrong daughter when they used car privileges as an incentive. "Sabrina, I'll let you take my car out to get some ice cream if you can finish cleaning up before dark." This really motivated me.

But my parents used more than just incentives. One of their often used consequences hit me where it hurt me the most: "If this room is not cleaned up by the time I get home from work, I'm unplugging your telephone, and you won't get it back until I'm ready for you to have it!" For a very social child, this served as the hammer of punishments, the one I sought to avoid with all of my being.

However, those same tactics were completely ineffective when used on my brother. His personality is different from mine, and he fairly shrugged at either gaining car privileges or losing his telephone.

But he couldn't do without his video games; thus, the loss of those served as the hammer of all consequences for him. He could be motivated by the promise of getting new basketball cards. Each child is different. Study your children carefully and it will become clear how to best motivate, as well as how to administer the most effective consequences.

What If They Get Mad at Me for This?

Some mothers describe their still-at-home children as their best friends. On the surface, this sounds idyllic, but these mothers are at a serious disadvantage in disciplinary situations. Every time discipline or correction is called for, such a mom runs the risk of losing her best friend. This creates a situation no child is mature enough to handle. For a best friend, look to your prayer partners and mentors. You will find a frequent need for them.

How to Get Things Done With Teens

Here are tips on connecting with teens and getting them to pitch in.

by Sabrina O'Malone

What about when the kids get older? What if you have teenagers or preteens right now, and can't imagine battling over chores when it's so hard just keeping the peace?

Kimberly Chastain, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, is the author of Help! My Pre-Teen/Teenager Is Driving Me Nuts (an e-book available at Kimberly shares the following 15 survival tips for parenting preteens and teens:

1. Your children are on an emotional roller coaster due to hormonal changes and mood swings. You do not have to ride the roller coaster with them. Don't allow your child's mood to affect yours. Acknowledge their emotions, but avoid taking on their mood.

2. Develop a thick skin. Adolescents often say mean and hateful things. Although it's unacceptable, it does happen. When kids are preparing to break away, it can be quite messy as they try to push their parents away with words. It still hurts, but don't take it to heart.

3. Set clear limits. It's tempting to give in rather than stand firm. (Adolescents are great at arguing.) But this age group still needs boundaries and limits. No one else is going to meet that need but you.

4. Do not engage in a long discussion after you have already given your decision. All teenagers are attorneys-in-training and will argue a point to its death. They hope if they bug you long enough you will give in. Inform them it's the end of the discussion and walk away.

5. When you find yourself raising your voice, take a time-out. Someone has to be the adult . . . you! All too often, parents end up acting like teenagers themselves. Even if they push your buttons, remember, someone has to remain calm. Instead, try lowering your voice whenever your teenager raises his or hers.

6. Have your own support group. When kids are little, parents share everything with their friends. Once they become teenagers, parents don't share as much. Talk to other parents and find out what "everyone else" is doing. Decide to establish a group curfew, keeping everyone on the same page. There is strength in numbers. (Just look at the teenagers!)

7. Enlist other adults who share your values to talk to your children. As hard as it is to admit, often teenagers will talk to anyone except their parents. Sometimes it helps to have another adult to confide in whose advice you trust.

8. Take each and every opportunity to listen when they want to talk. This may not happen very often, so it's important that you drop everything to listen. It may happen late at night. If your child finally decides to open up with you, then you need to be all ears. Remember, God gave you two ears and one mouth. That means you should be listening twice as much as you speak.

9. Choose your battles. Are you on your child's case every day about something? At some point, let it go. Don't be a permanent nag. The big battles are: drugs, alcohol and sex. Since kids listen to a limited amount of what parents have to say, better that they hear the important messages, not just that their rooms are a mess. When tempted to nag, ask yourself "Will this matter 10 years from now?"

10. Use captive moments in the car to talk. It seems teenagers do their best talking when they don't have to make eye contact. And in the car they can't run away. Some of your best conversations can take place while driving to the next activity.

11. Get to know their friends and be willing to allow them to come to your home. You'll know what's going on better than if they were at someone else's house. Often, your teen's friends will tell you things about your child you didn't know. It helps to keep you informed.

12. Find the actions and behaviors your child is doing well and tell him. Look for opportunities to praise your child. Call attention to his admirable personality characteristics. Even a headstrong, stubborn child has a positive aspect. Determination, persistence, and a stick-to-it mentality will benefit him later in life. His ability to persevere is admirable.

13. Be prepared to admit when you're wrong and ask your children for forgiveness. After all, it's what you expect from them. You will gain a great deal of respect from your teenager by admitting when you are wrong. All too often, teenagers tell me their parents have never asked them for forgiveness because the parents have not once admitted they were wrong.

14. Teenagers want to spend time with their parents, but will rarely admit it or ask to do it. Make sure they are on your to-do list, especially when things have been difficult. They need reminders that they are a priority in your life.

15. Remember the famous saying, "This too shall pass." Sometimes a parent needs to just hang on until they get through a difficult time. It will get better. I know there are times when it doesn't seem possible. But this too shall pass. Remember when your children were babies and it seemed they would never get out of diapers?

Consider Hiring Professional Help

You might need to bring in a cleaning service or housekeeper from time to time.

by Sabrina O'Malone

Even with the entire family pitching in around the house, if finances allow, bringing in an occasional cleaning service or a periodic housekeeper can free up a lot of time and energy. The housekeeper can do the heavy or complicated jobs kids aren't able to do and you don't have time to do. I highly recommend it.

Ask your acquaintances if they know of a housekeeper who's trustworthy and thorough. If you have to resort to the phone book or an advertisement in your neighborhood, be sure to check the references.

I have a friend who lived far from family when she had her first child. She returned to work full-time but refused to hire a housekeeper even though there was enough money in the family budget. She said that every time she brought someone in, that person didn't do as good a job as she could do herself. She figured, why pay someone to do a worse job than she could do?

She tried to keep her demanding job, an immaculate house, and nurture a new baby and her relationship with her husband, but it was simply exhausting. Everything began to unravel within a few months.

She and her husband ended up quitting their jobs and moving closer to family. They are both doing well now, but when I think of all the needless stress they went through because she was unwilling to accept "mediocre" help, it makes me consider how different things could have been.

Delegating on the Job

Don't go to your supervisor unless your solution has a strong benefit for the company.

by Sabrina O'Malone

Although situations vary with each job, there's almost always something crying out to be delegated to someone else. School teachers sometimes give extra credit to students who volunteer to help clean up the classroom or do other chores. This is a wonderful way to delegate and get home more quickly.

But certain work situations don't easily lend themselves to delegation. For example, take the case of the secretary who regularly washes the office dishes and buys the half-and-half — without compensation. Depending on the corporate culture, she may be able to negotiate a little extra time off and/or pay for herself if she can't get out of doing these things. How? By keeping a running log of exactly how much time she spends performing ancillary duties! If the time is substantial, any employer might decide it's better for the company's bottom line to provide paper cups, utensils and creamer. Or a supervisor may post a sign to remind everyone: "Your mother doesn't work here. If you use it, wash it, dry it and put it away! — The Management" (Yes, I've actually seen this note posted in an office kitchen.)

A more subtle but equally effective idea is for the company to order a personalized coffee mug for each person in the office and ask everyone to keep his or her mug clean. Thereafter, it'll be obvious who left his or her mug in the sink.

Finding Solutions

In a career situation where the workload is unbearable, it's necessary to find out exactly what is eating up so much on-the-clock time. Once you determine this, you can look for a solution or alternative to resolve it to the benefit of the company and/or your supervisor.

As soon as you approach your supervisor, it's imperative that you answer the WIIFM question. This is the question running through your supervisor's mind the entire time you're speaking. For your own sake, make sure how the company will benefit is the first thing out of your mouth. When you start a request for change by answering the WIIFM question, you are much more likely to get what you want. People make changes because there's something in it for them.

My son mastered this concept by the time he was five years old. Whenever he wants something, he will approach people with the benefits they will receive. Here's a sample conversation from his younger days:

"Mommy, if you let me have a piece of candy, I promise I'll eat all my dinner. One piece of candy for me right now will give you a nice, happy dinner."

"I don't know, sweetheart. You've got to practice writing your name, and I'm concerned the sugar will make it hard for you to sit still and concentrate."

"No it won't, Mom. I'll be so happy you gave me my candy that I'll go straight to the table and do my work. You won't have a hard time about homework — if you let me eat my candy."

Under the cross-examination from the master litigator, I begin to waffle. After all, a willingness to do homework and a happy dinner are hard to resist.

"Are you sure you won't spoil your appetite and you'll do your homework — with no hard time?"

"Positive, Mommy," he says, already sensing victory.

"Okay, Daniel. One piece. Please don't make me regret this."

"I won't, Mom. You're the best mother in the whole world!" he says emphatically, smoothing over my lingering doubts with lavish praise.

Notice how he never once talked about how badly he wanted or needed the candy? Could I see he was really motivated by his own benefit? Of course I could. Was I motivated to comply with his request anyway? You'd better believe it!

If you think your current workload should be split between two people, or you want to change your hours, condense your workweek or even work from home, think long and hard about what's in it for everyone else if your request is granted. Write it down. Refine it. Show it to your mentors. Then request a meeting with your supervisor to present an idea you've been working on to increase productivity.

I can't emphasize this enough: Don't go to your supervisor unless your solution has a strong benefit for the company, preferably with direct benefits to the person deciding whether or not to grant your request! Presenting a problem with no workable solution in the company's best interest is called a complaint, and managers/supervisors often don't respond well to complaints (or complainers). A complaint from a person reputed to be a complainer will seldom change anything. Bottom line: You won't get what you want by complaining.

Superwoman Doesn't Exist

Accept the help you can get, and be grateful for it.

by Sabrina O'Malone

I want to go back to the main reason many women don't delegate enough: impossibly high standards. You may be able to do a particular task better than anyone else in your company. You may be able to manage the house better than your husband ever could. You can probably fold laundry straighter than the kids, and you likely can clean your house the way you like it better than any housekeeper.

But Superwoman does not exist. When you try to impersonate her, you aren't fooling anyone. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by expecting everyone to do things to some impossibly high standard. Accept the help you can get, and be grateful for it. Once you learn to relax a little bit, you'll be glad you did.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources for mothers with jobs outside the home

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