The Working Mom’s Survival Kit: 15 Ways to Make Life More Manageable
By Denene Millner
See, the thing is, every few months some celebrity or super CEO or magazine cover story questions whether women can "have it all" and everybody starts arguing about work-life balance and what it takes to have a career, raise kids, wrangle a man and take time for self. While everyone is yammering on, I’m over here in the real world, trying to figure out for real if, between work, getting the kids situated at school, plotting and planning after-school activities, keeping the house clean and the entire family fed, whether I’ll be able to squeeze in a solid four hours of sleep oh, I don’t know, next Tuesday. Who has time to philosophize about "having it all" when you’re busy doing it all? *looks around, slowly raises hand* Not me, ma’am. Not me at all.
But I do give my busy kid/work/school/husband/home schedule a run for its money by putting a little bit more thought and care into its management. Holding down three kids, three jobs, three sports teams, a husband, and a laundry list of activities too numerous to count will help you learn some things. While my house is far - far! - from perfect, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve to maximize time, coordinate schedules, keep order in our home, and help make my job(s) juggling it all a little more easy. Here, 15 ways I make life more manageable as a working mom.
- Take off the cape. Recognize that you’re not superwoman and you can’t do everything for everybody every time. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the course of any given day, and say "no" to things that’ll hang you up. Getting the kids to school and soccer practice, working eight hours, cooking dinner, helping with homework and getting everyone in bed by a reasonable hour is more than enough for one day. When your girlfriend asks you to add in baking 10 pies for Wednesday Bible study, give her the number to a local bakery. That’s what they do during the week. Not you.
- Get outfits together the night before. Lay it all out, down to the earrings, shoes and perfume you’ll be wearing. Same for the kids. You’ll be amazed how much time you save not having to stare in the closet during the morning rush.
- Delegate chores. Yes, kids can do stuff. And they should understand early on that they, too, can contribute to the care and upkeep of your home. A three-year-old can make up her bed and put toys away; a 7-year-old can clear the dinner table, a 10-year-old can fold laundry and my 15-year-old, bless her heart, can cook dinner twice a week. Make chores a part of your child’s daily responsibilities to free up some time for yourself.
- Do timed cleaning. I mean, seriously: I just don’t have hours every day to scrub the house from top to bottom. But I can do some damage on dirt if I dedicate 15 minutes of uninterrupted cleaning. I get out my bucket of cleaning products, turn on A Tribe Called Quest on my speaker, set the timer on my smart phone, and deep dive into the bathroom on one day, the living room on another, my bedroom a day after that. Once the timer goes off, whatever room I was power cleaning is sparkling. And then I leave it alone. Period.
- Plan out meals for the week. Nothing is more frustrating to me than trying to figure out at the last minute what we’re going to eat for dinner. Plus, not planning leads to poor eating choices for us - like, "ugh, I don’t have time to go to the grocery store and cook dinner, so let’s get fast food!" Instead, on Sunday, I plot out what we’ll be eating for the next five days, down to the sides, and then I head to the grocery store. Bonus: I spend less at the supermarket when I walk in focused and I leave with only what I need.
- Cook several meals in one day. Toss some chicken and sausage on the grill, whip up a pan of lasagna, and roll a few meatballs around your pot and you’ve got the main dish for at least five days if you plan it right. Freeze what you’ll be serving toward the end of the week, and putting dinner on the table after a busy day becomes a cinch.
- Have "stupid dinner." At least one night out of the week, everybody is charged with fending for themselves and eating something that doesn’t require anything more than heating up a plate of leftovers in the microwave or scrambling a few eggs. This requires no thought or time, everyone leaves the table full and I get to go to bed with my sanity in tact (at least for that night!).
- Make lunch the night before. Really, the last thing I need is to be running around the kitchen at 6 a.m., tossing juice boxes and PB&J sandwiches into paper bags. Instead, right after dinner (while the girls are cleaning the kitchen!), I spread out onto the counter everything I need to prepare their lunches and I have at it. This way, I’ve bought myself an extra 15 minutes to get out the door in the morning, and they can grab their lunch and be on their way.
- Put yourself on daily social media time-outs. I use the Self-Control app to block myself from Facebook, Twitter and other sites I’m addicted to. This gives me hours of focused work time without the distraction of the latest crazy cat video, browsing for cute shoes, or arguments about who’s hotter: Idris Elba or Michael Ealy.
- Open email at a set time. If I’m checking email every five minutes, I’m allowing myself to get pulled into 20 different directions by focusing on the requests of others instead of my own work. I open my email once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once before the workday is over, and give myself 20 minutes to answer them.
- Call on the village. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. We all need it. Barter things like babysitting and errand runs, take turns with team parents getting the kids to sporting activities, and styling your daughters’ hair or running the boys to the barbershop. And when you need to talk it out, let your friends know you may need a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on. Be the same for them and this work/life balance things feels a little more manageable.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. So what your kid is the last one of your friends’ kids to be potty trained. Who cares that your co-worker came in late yesterday or that PTA mom made homemade cupcakes and you bought yours from the grocery store. Nobody will remember that mess a year from now. Or even a month out. Or tomorrow. Move on: you have more important things to focus on.
- Stop second-guessing and beating up on yourself. Once you make a decision, trust that you’re doing what’s right for you and your family. And if it doesn’t work out the way you planned or expected, that’s okay, too. No need to feel bad about it. After all, you did what you thought was right. And that’s what matters.
- Love on your babies and remind them that they matter. Juggling school and work and everything in between can leave us harried and, let’s be real, a little crazy, which turns into barking orders and making demands and forgetting, sometimes, that the best kind of encouragement comes from a warm hug, a kiss on the cheek and a reminder that above all else, you love your kids. Take the time to play with and bond with your kids; they’ll appreciate it, and so will you.
- Make time for you. Seriously. Get in 30 minutes of exercise because it’s good for your body. Get your nails done because it’s good for your sanity. Pray and meditate because it’s good for your soul. If you don’t nurture yourself, you can’t possibly take care of everyone else.