I have struggled this year.
I love my job and I love my family, but I’m struggling to do both at once.
Actually, no, scratch that.
I can do both family and job at once. What I have failed at is taking care of myself while I’m doing both of those things.
Usually I wait until I have a solution for something to write about it. People want solutions, not a list of problems.
But this is a story worth sharing mid-journey, because I have found a few ways to make my life as a working mom easier. My hope is that by sharing what works for me, others will chime in with their ideas.
Perhaps just as importantly, I know other working parents struggle too, and sometimes it helps simply to know you aren’t alone.
We’re about to turn a fresh page into the New Year. I love this time of year because it presents so much opportunity — it’s an open invitation to do better.
So here’s what has helped me stay sane this year while balancing a young family, a demanding job, and that third piece that often comes last but is so essential to everything not falling apart: myself.
While that’s fantastic for raising a family, we realized about a year ago it was working against us in some ways. We found ourselves working around family needs so often that we didn’t develop good routines.
Routines are everything, especially for someone like me who thrives on systems and process. Having a routine frees up tons of brain space. Every time you don’t have to figure out how you’ll do something, you can use that brain space for something more meaningful.
We knew that even if we chose a routine, we’d have to change it sometimes, for doctor’s appointments, sick days and late meetings. But we were able to identify two parts of our day where we could stick to a routine most of the time: pre-school drop-off and pick-up.
My husband agreed to do drop-off most days of the week, which allows me to start work as early as 8am. He deals with the kids in the morning and gets to work by around 9:15am. Then I leave work by 4:20pm to do pick-up, and hubby can work another couple of hours.
Sometimes this routine doesn’t work, like on Wednesdays, for example, when I have a recurring late-afternoon meeting — so we swap responsibilities on that day. And we are about to shake this up so we can both exercise more in the mornings (more on that later).
But having a default routine has meant we don’t have to figure out a completely new schedule from scratch every week, and even that small change has made life a little bit easier.
It’s easy to feel like we’re the only ones struggling with this work-family balance.
My company has lots of working parents, but when I ask them how they’re doing in the morning, most people don’t answer with I only got three hours of sleep because my kid was up sick all night, getting the other kid dressed and into his car seat was a wrestling match, I forgot my lunch because I was thinking about everyone else, and I’m ready for a nap now that I’m finally at my desk… how are YOU?
Working parents often bottle it all inside to appear professional and calm, even when life feels chaotic. While I have mixed feelings about this, I will admit I do it myself, reminding myself often that part of my job as a leader is to help my colleagues feel calm, even when I’m juggling what feels like too much.
I’ve found it incredibly reassuring to connect with other working moms who are in a similar boat. Most of my support network is online, mainly via Facebook. I’m a member of several supportive communities, including Sarah Peck’s Startup Pregnant, and I chat with a small, private group of high-achieving girlfriends who all had babies around the same time.
Sometimes all it takes to feel better is for someone else to acknowledge that yes, this is hard for me, too.
We spend a few hours on Sunday planning meals for the coming week, grocery shopping and making at least one or two meals that will last in the fridge or freezer.
To be honest, I resent spending hours on the weekend on food prep, but it’s essential for keeping stress levels low during the week. We plan for evening meals (choices are limited with a picky toddler — our go-tos are meatballs, chicken in salsa, and salmon burgers), and try to choose meals our 18-month-old will eat during the day as well. He’s with a nanny during the week, and she prepares healthy food for him as well, which is massively helpful.
I also plan my own lunches during the week, partly to keep myself healthy, and so I have one less decision to make during my workday. I bring salads in a jar (they last all week!), boxed or canned soup, or sandwiches.
For our meals, we do a lot in the crockpot, and I always make a double recipe and freeze half. Then the following week, at least one of our evening meals can be whatever’s in the freezer.
I used to get our groceries delivered — and sometimes I still do that when we’re sick or stressed — but I literally save hundreds of dollars a month when I shop at Trader Joe’s instead. So I try to make that trip a fun outing with the kids. (My husband does other recurring family chores, and I’m in charge of groceries.)
I would like to further systemize meal prep in 2019, perhaps by outsourcing it — but that’s a story for another post.
I recognize that I’m in the privileged minority to be able to afford this. In fact, I find myself reluctant to write about the topic because it opens me up to criticism.
However, I believe it’s important to talk honestly about how parents who work demanding jobs manage to keep things moving at home, so here’s me doing my part. Inspired by Denise Duffield Thomas’s recent post about her army of helpers, here’s what we pay others to do for us:
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you could afford to outsource some parts of your life. Especially if you’re using that time to earn more. It might be worth spending a few hundred dollars a month to get your house cleaned, for example, if you can bill clients at $50/hour for your side gig.
I want to push us to hire more help in the coming year. But for now, these pieces are in place and working.
Before my kids, I was active and fit. I hiked mountains. Ran half-marathons. Did handstands at yoga class. When I was 34 weeks pregnant with my first baby, I was still biking up serious hills.
Now… argh. I am so far from that.
I can’t blame it all on becoming a mother. Yes, not getting enough sleep for months at a time and taking care of other humans certainly contributed to my lack of exercise, but I’ve also made other life changes in the last three years that have challenged my work out time.
Working all day in an office is the biggest one, since I need to be, well, showered; I used to work from home and hike/cycle/do yoga on my lunch break. My husband and I have also been sick a lot this year, so we’ve prioritized rest over working out.
I need to overcome all of this in the coming year. Exercise makes me less stressed and happier, and I want to be healthy for my family. Plus, exercise makes me more productive. Back when I sweated in the middle of the day, I often figured out my problems during that time away from my laptop.
Over the last few months, I’ve gotten consistent about attending early-morning yoga. The next step is to find a cardio schedule that works and stick to it.
I see this as the most important piece for the coming year: HEALTH. My hope is that by prioritizing health this year, the rest of this juggle will feel just a little more doable.
What’s worked for you this year?