I would like to start off by stating that I live in a magical land where I can have my cake and eat it too (mmm, cake). You see, I work outside the home three days a week, which means that two days a week, I don’t have to wear pants.
For three glorious days, I hand my babies off to someone else and I go have adult conversations and eat without interruption at a time when normal people eat. And for two days I watch Disney Jr. and go to the park. It’s awesome. I love this balance so much and I don’t have to think of how to juggle it all because I can put those pesky household errands into my “off” time so that it doesn’t overwhelm me on my working days.
However, this magical journey will come to an end because the work that I do (mental health) is pulling me into a standard 9 to 5 grind and I just can’t say no. I mean, I can, but I don’t want to because I honestly and sincerely love my job. So, I’ve come to accept the fact that I will soon be working full time as a mom, and this is new territory for me. There will be sacrifices for sure, but part of my identity is in my career and I don’t want to leave that part of me behind. I therefore decided to ask my wiser friends who have already hopped in this boat what I can do to get everything done that needs to be done. Here is the advice I was given.
Let me elaborate. My friend who has been working a full 40-hour week job since her 4 year old was a baby actually laughed at me when I asked how she balances everything. When she caught her breath, she was able to inform me that she always feels like she drops the ball somewhere and that there are things that straight up don’t get done. School activities get missed. Sports practices don’t get seen. Things stay dirty. And evenings are rushed. Weekends are amazing but packed because that’s valuable family time. So in essence, work/life balance was a work in progress. I appreciated her honesty.
Other moms told me that they take time each evening to sit and talk with their kids about their day and this helps them connect. Homework time is family time, and weekends can be chill days when everyone just recuperates and resets.
Another friend said that her partner had to step up his game and he has become a more hands-on parent because his schedule allowed for this flexibility. They both share responsibilities within the home according to their talents, and they evenly divide child-care duties.
So, I have taken their advice and compiled a list of ideas to help both myself and others who may also be considering the role of working parent.
Step one: Lowered expectations. The theme that I gleaned from these conversations was that you have to keep your standards low so you aren’t regularly disappointed. Don’t set out to make it to all the kid-focused activities that you may have been able to in the past and don’t put more on your plate than you can handle. Don’t try to have a Martha Stewart home and a Betty Crocker meal and don’t try to be the president of the PTA. Just be as present as you can be in the time you have and let the little stuff slide. The kids will survive and you all will eat. And eventually the laundry will get done. It will be ok, but putting pressure on yourself to be perfect does no one any favors.
Step two: Outsource. This is something that I live by. As much as you have the means to, outsource the stuff you don’t want to do or don’t have time for. There are cleaning services to help keep the house tidy. There are meal delivery services for food prep. You can even get groceries delivered to you for a really reasonable fee. Basically, if there’s someone or something out there that can do the basic maintenance stuff for you and it’s reasonably affordable, do it. That frees up hours of your week to just be with your family and not stress about stuff.
Step three: Share the load. All of the families I talked to had two working parents. In most of these situations, both parents shared household duties and childcare duties evenly. One parent picked up the kids while the other dropped them off. One parent cooked while the other did laundry. One parent went to a practice and another to a dance class. You get the idea. There’s no reason one person should get the brunt of the “second shift” duties and if this is the case, it’s time for a long talk about how it’s 2016 and not 1950.
Step four: Weekends are magical. Whether they involve nothing at all or lots of fun family activities, they are the best time in the world because everyone is together. Use that time however you want, but appreciate it while you’re in it to the best of your ability.
Step five: Try to make time for yourself. You will have way fewer hours in a day to devote to all the things that are important, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the shuffle. So try to devote one waking hour a day to just you. Whether that be to eat lunch at your favorite place or to take a bubble bath with a glass of wine after the kids go to bed, whatever you can do to still find yourself in the chaos will help you maintain your sanity.