I consider myself unbelievably lucky. I have a wonderful family, including 3 adorable kids and a hardworking and loving husband. They are the center of my universe. So, when I decided to go back to work full time after 8 years as a stay-at-home mom, I was forced to evaluate how I would attempt to achieve some sort of work-life balance.
Luckily, the people I work with are fun and smart and (unlike my kids), my coworkers handle their own snacks and can wipe unassisted in the restroom. There are certainly tradeoffs when it comes to allocating how my days are spent now. In exchange for my time, I receive a paycheck, but sacrifice moments with my family.
I log 40+ hours a week at work, away from my kids. This means the remainder of my time is made up of hectic mornings, exhausted evenings and jam-packed weekends. I’m sure families everywhere can relate. Here are 7 strategies to help navigate life as a working parent.
Be all in. Focus on the task at hand
I try hard to avoid multi-tasking. Sometimes this is impossible, but I’ve found that I really don’t accomplish more when I’m trying to do too many things at once. Can you really sign up for swim lessons and make a meeting agenda? Maybe, but when I’m pulled in too many different directions, my work suffers, I make mistakes and I feel frazzled.
When I’m at work it’s refreshing to be able to focus on one task, complete it and move on. The same goes for time with my family. It’s necessary to turn off my emails and put down my phone whether we’re at T-ball or the park. When I can give my undivided attention to my kids, I’m telling them, “You matter. This time with you is important and it deserves my focus.”
Create a master schedule and routines
The first month back to work my head was spinning with all the schedules, activities and appointments I had to keep track of. Three days a week the kids were at preschool and the after-school program while the other two days my mom watched them. I had to coordinate doctor well checks, Girl Scouts and soccer practice while figuring out my ideal commute, board meetings, and online grocery orders.
Finally, I sat down and created a master color-coded calendar detailing the who, what, when, where and how for each family member throughout the month. I started prepping lunch boxes the night before and setting out my bag and briefcase.
I created a chore chart for the kids so we could catch up with the daily disaster of laundry and dishes. The more we followed the same routines, the easier the days got.
Obviously, there are days that we can’t find the overdue library book, or the baby spills oatmeal all over his clean shirt. Or days when we have T-ball and soccer at the same time. On these days I’ve learned to let go and take the path of least resistance. Sometimes this means cereal for dinner and skipping bath time. The master schedule is a good starting point, and then I remain flexible to the curveballs that life inevitably throws.
Don’t be afraid to say “no.”
I have far less “free time” now, so I am much more cautious when accepting new things into my life. There are a lot of activities jockeying for position, and I have to weed through what is most important.
We’ve decided that the kids get to pick one or two extracurricular activity each season. Grace has soccer and Girl Scouts, Braxton has T-ball and Leif will start swimming in the summer. Date nights, Bills games and Sunday night dinner takes precedence over most things.
As much as I would like to volunteer more at the kids’ schools, it just isn’t possible in this season of my life…and that’s ok. I would rather say, “no,” and be honest than say “yes,” and be stressed and unable to fulfill an obligation.
Ask for help and learn to delegate
I’ve learned that no matter how hard I try; it is impossible to keep our household afloat without some help. My husband gets the kids dressed and feeds them breakfast in the mornings. My mom watches the kids two days a week. I’m considering paying for a housecleaner once a month.
It’s liberating to feel like I can hand off some of the load. I’ve also asked for more help from the kids. They have chores that need to be done daily. They are responsible for picking up and putting things away at the end of the day. As members of our family, it’s important for them to understand that they need to contribute.
Carve out “me” time
One of my favorite parts of my new job is my one-hour lunch break and 40 minutes a day spent commuting. I enjoy the quiet time to myself. I listen to audio books and walk to new restaurants to meet friends for lunch. Sometimes I run errands or peruse the aisles of Target. This is my me-time, and I didn’t realize how desperate I was for a little time and space to do my own thing.
I also try to go to the gym on the weekends. My husband and I trade off watching the kids so the other can get in an uninterrupted workout. Me-time doesn’t have to be expensive spa days or fancy girl’s trips. It can be as simple as an hour spent catching up on Netflix once the kids are in bed or attending a yoga class. It’s a time a try to remind myself that I don’t always have to be accomplishing something. Sometimes it’s ok to just be still and indulge a little on me.
Do work that fulfills you
If I’m going to spend most of my waking hours working at a job, you better believe I want it to be a position that brings me joy. I want to use my skills and feel like I have something to offer. To be recognized when I do good work, and I want to feel like I am fairly compensated.
I completely understand that not everyone loves their jobs. It’s challenging to find the right combination that challenges you in a good way yet doesn’t leave you burnt out and resentful. The best advice I’ve received is don’t settle. Keep looking for a position that checks all of the boxes that are important for you. If you aren’t happy, make a plan for changing your situation.
There are only so many hours in a day and years in your life. You cannot afford to waste them being unhappy.
Have family discussions
There are some days that my 4-year-old cries all the way to preschool. He begs for me to stay home. My daughter keeps asking if she can play basketball. She doesn’t seem to understand that there is no room in the master schedule for another activity.
After being home and available at every moment for the last 8 years, it’s a big shift for the whole family now that I am working full time. I try to explain to my kids why their daddy and I work, what we do and why sometimes we have to make compromises with our time even though we would love to be able to go to all of the field trips or stay home and snuggle on the couch.
I truly believe the more honest and open we can be with our kids, the better they will be able to navigate the highs and lows of having working parents.
Any other work-life balance tips?
I’d love to hear your strategies, tips and mom hacks for trying to achieve that work-life balance. What are some ways you manage the stresses and demands as a working parent?
Allison Anderson lives in Sparks, NV where she and her husband of 15 years are raising 3 kids- Grace, Braxton, and Leif. She considers herself an expert in friend-making and resiliency after 18 coast to coast moves as a military spouse. Allison graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in journalism, but has worked in a slew of positions including public relations for veterinary hospitals, Stroller Strides instructor and online ESL teacher to students in China. To date, motherhood is the best job she’s ever had. She loathes making dinner and vacuuming but encourages splashing during bathtime. She enjoys family camping trips in the RV, cheering for the Buffalo Bills and shopping on Amazon.