This Christmas, let's give ourselves and every working woman we know a couple of precious gifts. Wrap them carefully and put them under the tree.
First, let's give ourselves -- and others -- the gift of unconditional acceptance. It's time we stopped feeling as if we have to defend the choices we make -- to work in our homes or away from home, hold part-time jobs or demanding careers, marry or remain single, bear children or not, live in the city or the suburbs, etc.
Then let's give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back for all the things we do right. Let's stop being so terribly ready to take the blame for everything and so reluctant to take the credit for anything.
Let's give ourselves the gift of forgiveness if we're working mothers, as well. Let's wipe the word "guilt" from our vocabularies altogether. Where is it written that working women must have a corner on guilt?
Of course we make mistakes -- at work and at home -- but mothers who work at home make mistakes, too, and so do working fathers, and so do single women. The only difference is that they don't waste as much time as we do feeling guilty about their mistakes. It's time we stopped, too.
Then let's give ourselves the precious gift of time this Christmas -- time that's just for us. Most of us who work and have families don't take even two hours a week off just for ourselves -- time spent not taking care of anyone or anything else.
Let's make a solemn promise to ourselves this Christmas -- put it in writing and wrap it carefully -- that we will set at least two hours aside each week just for us, time that is a top priority; time that's scheduled; time that is used only to refresh and refuel us.
"I finally took your advice and set aside some time for myself and money for a baby sitter. Now I go out for a few hours every Friday night," wrote a single mother in Louisville, Ky.
"I can't believe it! I feel like a new woman because I know that whatever happens during the week, on Friday night I'm going to have three whole glorious hours to go swimming at the Y, or bowling with my girlfriends, or meet a friend for dinner or take in a movie -- whatever pleases me," she wrote.
"I'm more able to cope with all of the hassles in my life," she wrote. "Even my kids [who didn't like the idea of the sitter at first] say they're all for 'Mom's night out' now because they see such a difference in my patience level and general attitude."
We must give ourselves permission to hire the household help we need this Christmas -- and too many of us who can afford to still don't. We must insist in clear, clean, straight, declarative sentences that our roommates, spouses and children do their share around the house, as well.
It's time we working women stopped saying, "It's easier to do it myself," and started saying, instead: "I work hard, and because I'm female, I'm also the primary caretaker for my family. I cannot -- will not -- carry these two full-time jobs alone any longer!"
We working women simply must start taking better care of ourselves -- especially during this hectic season -- or we won't be able to take care of anyone else.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.