From the Backlist: Work/Life/Family Balance

working momThis week I interviewed and was hired for my dream job. It’s still so new and I feel a little in shock. From my initial application, through each set of interviews, I shared the experience with my Exponent bloggers and I received amazing words of encouragement and support.  Now that I’m transitioning from over a decade of SAHMotherhood, I’ve turned to them for advice on how to balance my work, life, and family.  I’d also asked them about how important it is to live near your work. As I will be working from home but traveling a lot, we are considering potentially moving near my husband’s.

Here are some samples of suggestions from bloggers on how to make full-time employment easier for family life.

Alisa: Proximity to work is really important, but that is a long-term decision you can take the time to make if necessary, as I wouldn’t want to feel rushed into it along with starting the new job. In the meantime, you’ll need someone close by who can be a backup to Mark when you’re travelling. A backup to the backup, as we say in our house.

My advice is that if you can afford it, outsource as much as you can, Get dry cleaning pickup and delivery to your door. Get a house cleaner to at least to the deep cleaning and floors (although we do our fair share of dishes and laundry). I don’t know if your yard is high maintenance, but having a yard professional has been a must for us. Have a real conversation with Mark about how you’ll divide things now, even though his work situation has not changed, it will be harder for him. Consider getting a sitter/nanny to help the kids when they’re home from school with homework, housework, routines, shuttling to activities, etc.
Deborah: First, congratulations! Second, after years both of us commuting 45 minutes each way, we now live 10 minutes from my husband’s work, and I worked part-time from home. It’s a game changer. On so many levels. Including the commuter’s mental health. I’d give it some serious consideration!
Libby: We chose to live 15 minutes from my husband’s work because he dislikes commuting. That said, I’m not sure I’d make a change until you have a better grasp on how much you like the job and what other changes you might find you need to make after you’ve been doing it for a while.
We have a Google calendar for each person in the family, so we can both see whoch kid needs to be where when. It’s massively useful to be able to share the kids’ calendar feeds with a nanny.

Amelia: Not a working mom, but I’ll second the short commute recommendation.  Many of my colleagues commute 25-60 minutes and I can’t even imagine doing that.  Having a ten minute drive to work in the morning and evening is an absolute godsend.  Though I think Alisa’s advice to maybe do one thing at a time, rather than starting a new job and selling/moving houses at the same time, is really sound.  It’s a lot of work to move.

This is career/work advice, not balancing the working mom thing advice, but a couple of things I’d try to go into this keeping in mind:
1. Your job is a job.  Not you.  I’ve had to really learn how to not completely equate my self-worth and my job performance.  It’s not always easy to do, but it’s so vital.  Or else I’d be at work all the time trying to do it more perfectly. Maybe you don’t have those kinds of tendencies, but I know how easy it is to conflate ego and work performance and it can be a real recipe for disaster.  It’s good to want to do your job well.  But it’s really important to be able to draw the boundaries.
2. Draw boundaries and really try to stick to them.  Especially since you’re working from home.  Decide ahead of time what your limits are in terms of how much you’re willing to get up early to work before the kids do, or work in the evening, or work on a weekend.  If you have the space, set aside an office where you do your work and where you can close the door–both when you’re working and need to not be distracted by household things, and when you’re not working and need to not be distracted by work things. Everyone has different boundaries and different ways of enforcing them, so what I’m saying really boils down to making sure you’r thoughtful about identifying your own boundaries and how you will police them.
Also, I’ve found that it’s just generally best practice to be open with my manager when I’m struggling with something.  I always try to be really constructive–I’ll look for answers on my own first, I’ll try to do something, and then if I’m still struggling I’ll approach her.  I make sure she knows what I’ve tried and I always spin it as “it’s important to me that I know how to do this the best way possible.”  I respond really well to that kind of proactive approach when a member of my team comes to me, and I’ve had managers respond really well when I go to them this way.  And in the long run it makes everyone’s life easier.

Jana: I second the need for the following (though I’m doing things as a “single mom” so I might lean more heavily on these than you would):

-someone close to the kids’ school to call when there’s an emergency.
-a list of takeout-friendly restaurants on speed-dial
-phones for each kid (got old-school & cheap brick phones rather than smartphones so they can’t run up huge bills)
-debit cards for the older kids (they can even order pizza in a pinch or can walk to a grocery store and pick up food/TP/etc)
-I let my kids sign any forms that come home from school–I simply trust them to tell me if there’s a problem and they manage the rest of the stuff.
-I’d also say that you ought to make the crockput your new best friend.  Ditto the breadmaker (there’s nothing quite as cheering as setting a timer for bread to be coming out of the baking cycle when you walk in the door).
-My kids have their own amazon Prime accounts so they can order books/clothes/stuff that they need w/o needing to ask me for it.
-And…my kids have a few recipes that they can make and I keep those ingredients always on hand (for E it’s Cuban bean soup, for C it was PB&J and quesadillas)
-One more thing:  cereal for dinner is not a fail.  It’s a pretty balanced meal, all things considered.

April: Something my husband and I did recently which has helped immensely is that we both added feeds of each other’s calendars to our own so we can see both calendars at once.  (We use google and ical, which both make feeds and can share with each other, and lots of other calendars work this way too. You can google instructions.)  And we both got on the same list app (Wunderlist, but there are about a zillion of these that all work great) and inputted and divided all of the household chores. We also made a shared shopping list, so whoever notices something is out can add the item, and whoever happens to be at the store can check their phone and grab what is needed.

Since we have done this, we waste less time figuring out out whose turn it is to do what, and coordinating who needs to be with the kids when the other has a meeting, and being frustrated or angry with each other about logistic stuff.

Spunky: My only balancing advice is to make a hard and fast date night, and some hard and fast family nights. (we do every other weekend) you won’t be able to work at 100% if your marriage or family are askew. Maybe consider an au pair or nanny as well, to take the load off of housework so you have quality time as a family.

EmilyU: How do I do working and parenting?  Good childcare is #1.  I’ve used in-home daycare for my babies and preschool starting at age 3 for both of my kids.  For after-school care for older kids you hope to find a reliable babysitter your kids bond with.  In order to get someone good you’ll probably need to give her/him a regular schedule, or as regular as you can, even if you don’t “need” her every day.  Hopefully someone with a car who can drive the kids to their after school activities.  Days when school is closed are hard.  My son is in an after school program that offers programs on no-school days, so maybe your school would have something like that.  I bring him to work with me sometimes, too, though I’m not very efficient when he is here and I can’t do that on days I have meetings.  My husband has a flexible job so he can stay home on off days occasionally as well.  I use park district camps during the summer, and they have after care so I don’t have to pick him up by 3 pm — impossible if you’re working full time.

Making dinner every day can feel exhausting and relentless.  The hour between when I pick my kids up and put food in front of them is the hardest hour of the day.  They are hungry and tired of being “good” all day, so it all comes tumbling out and they are cranky, as am I sometimes.  So to get decent food on the table as quickly as possible I have a small repertoire of meals that can either be made in half an hour or can be made the night before.  We sacrifice variety, but there is no way I can make something time-consuming on a week night.

Another thing I worry about, like all parents do, is giving them enough of my time.  This is probably just me but I’ve realized lately I need to stop rushing through bedtime.  My kids really need a few minutes of non-rushed mom time at the end of the day.  It is hard for me to do this because I’m so stressed and I have work waiting for me as soon as they’re tucked in, but really, all they need is 5-10 mins each.  I can do that, and I really need to give it to them without sending non-verbal messages that I am in a hurry.  Giving them 100% of my focus just for a short time seems to go a long way for us.
Also, one idea from the Church that really works for us is Family Home Evening.  My kids are young enough that they still love it, I think because it’s one of the few times in the week we are all together.  Plus there is a treat.

My only other advice is to be clear and honest about what your limitations are.  We had a moment this winter when I didn’t get something done I said I would do, and my husband was annoyed, then I snapped and said well I can’t do everything!!!!  To which he said, then tell me what to do to help!  Which is kind of a no-brainer but I realized I was expecting him to see what needed to be done the same way I did, which isn’t reasonable.  So I gave him a list of 3 tasks I needed him to take over, and he has been doing them.  It’s been better, but this kind of thing takes constant adjustment so it’s never “solved.”  It’s better to ask for help before things get so busy you feel totally overwhelmed.


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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6 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    Wow! So many great ideas here!

    But most of all, I’m so happy for you getting the job you wanted. CONGRATULATIONS!

  2. Vajra says:

    What great advice. I would totally second hiring people to help you. Late on my career I learned to not bring work home if at all possible. This meant some excruciatingly long days sometimes, but I valued the fact that my home wasn’t s work annex. Also children can do a lot of things for themselves: wash clothes, make lunch, feed pets, plan a meal, make their beds, turn the dishwasher on. Date night is really important. And don’t forget time for yourself. “Mama can’t be disturbed she’s (painting, writing, meditating, working out, napping, etc.).

  3. Naismith says:

    Congratulations! Nice to hear of a successful workplace re-entry story, hope you will share the details of that transition at some point.

    I am opposed to dry cleaning, bad for the environment as well as cost. All my suits are machine washable. Some from Sag Harbor, a nice jacket from Jones New York. Chico’s has a line of travel-friendly professional clothes that are not only washable but very compact to pack.

    Yes, we’ve had cleaning help for 15+ years. Absolutely worth the sanity, but we always worked with a small business that was flexible about doing exactly what we wanted, still leaving work for the kids to do. On one occasion, I left some dirty dishes on the counter with a sign that said, “Do not touch these, a teenager needs to take care of them.”

    If this is what the Lord wants you do at this point in time, then you will be entitled to divine help as with anything else in life. I have fasted about how to do something at work, and if I have to go in on the weekend, I kneel and pray that I can finish in as short a time as possible.

    There are various schools of thought on whether to work at home or not. I would rather work at home, because at least I am physically there, and can start a load of laundry or whatever. But it is definitely hard to close the office door.

  4. rachels says:

    some great advice! don’t beat yourself up during this transition. things will fall through the cracks and that’s okay. one more working from home advice- if you can get up a couple hours earlier than the rest of house…do it! those two hours will feel like you got four hours of work done. amazing what can be done while the place is quiet.

  5. Stargazer says:

    So my main thing to say is same as others: if your kids get lice because you’ve been too busy to check regularly, behind on homework, or you nearly miss the Pinewood Derby, don’t panic or think you are a bad mom. Take it in stride and make adjustments. Adjust for yourself and for the kids. And expect to occasionally spend an entire weekend combing out nits, because kids get lice. Or lose their shin guards. Break their violin bow. And you have less time to deal with it.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Thank you for your support and great comments!

    We just took a family vacation for Spring Break and drove 6 hrs each way so DH and I had lots of time to talk about our expectations, changing roles, and how to balance busy travel schedules.

    It’s hard to know what I don’t know, but I like the idea of just doing my best and giving myself some leeway to make mistakes as we go. Very similar to my favorite advice in yoga, “Be compassionate with yourself.”

    Thanks everyone! Hopefully I will keep you all posted as I make this transition.

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