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10 Things Moms Can Do to Challenge America's Hostile Environment for Working Women

Mothers are maxed out — and often too busy to organize for economic or workplace reform. But we can still do small things to fight back.

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Excerpted from  Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.

You may feel trapped. You may have gotten into this working-parent thing thinking, as so many of us do, that it would be different. Now you have kids, and you’re too busy racing around to organize for economic or workplace reform. But doing something, no matter how small it may seem, will feel better than doing nothing. When a lot of people do a lot of little things, it can add up to real, lasting change.

Below is a list of ten things you can do right now. Each thing on this list is about simply pointing your feet in the right direction to create change in your home, in your heart, at your workplace, or in society at large. Pick one thing from this list and do it. It doesn’t matter which one. Just pick the one that calls to you most. Then let the walking take over.

1. Practice saying no

Many working moms are allergic to the word no. We feel compromised that we’re not able to give our all as workers or as moms, and so we feel obliged to say yes, again and again. But our energy is a precious resource. If we keep giving it all away, one day we’ll find we have nothing left. We have to cultivate compassion for ourselves and find ways to say no: to our bosses, to our coworkers, to our kids, to anyone who is claiming too much of our time. It’s not about letting other people down. Saying no to others is about saying yes to yourself. Write “Say no to someone” on your to-do list. Do this every day for a week. See what happens.

2. Be an ally to other women

We’ve all felt judged, at one time or another, about our choices to work or not work. Often we perpetuate this cycle by judging other women, even though we know better. All this judgment is, of course, a distraction. The real conflict we all feel, either directly or indirectly, is between all parents and the economic policies and social institutions that don’t value the act of caregiving. This is what makes it so difficult to raise our children (or care for other family members), stay economically viable, and keep ourselves and our relationships intact. We have to find ways to cut each other slack.

3. Tell your partner what you need

I get emails fairly often from women who say their husbands leave all the thinking work—planning the birthday parties, setting up dentist appointments, remembering to clip the kids’ nails—to them. It’s possible that these women married insensitive, hapless men. It’s also possible that they’re in relationships with men who love them deeply but aren’t aware of how they’re coming up short. Try stating, as clearly and evenly and with as much confidence as you can muster, exactly what you need from your partner, and see what happens. If you are a single parent, this exercise is about telling a friend or family member how they can make life a little more manageable, like taking the kids for a few hours on the weekend. It won’t make you less busy, but it will make you feel less alone.

4. Tell your boss you want to work from home

The next time you’re at work, look around. Are you sitting at a desk? Do you see three walls, pictures of your kids, and a computer screen? Congratulations! You should be able to work from home one day a week, maybe more. Studies show that about 50 percent of jobs are compatible with working from home at least part-time. Besides saving commute time, you may find the peace and quiet makes you more productive and saner. The benefits of telecommuting extend to your company, too, from boosting productivity and company morale to decreasing turnover. Check out the Telework Research Network’s interactive calculator, which will allow you to calculate the potential savings to your employer, at

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