Making It Work
A few years ago, when our kids were just shy of one and three, my husband looked at me with exhausted eyes and said “if we get through these years without losing our jobs, getting divorced, or our kids resenting us, I’ll consider this time a success.” Hyperbole, yes. But that day, it felt like the absolute truth. He had spent the previous half hour scraping carrot puree off the kitchen floor and walls while I had physically barricaded our son’s door so he would stay in his room and go to sleep. The laundry was piled up and we were out of milk and toys were strewn all over the place and we had a growing pile of paperwork to deal with. We were in the thick of it — burning wicks that didn’t even exist anymore — trying to maintain intense training and cooking and working and socializing and parenting amidst continually interrupted sleep and way too many nights on planes and constant feelings that we were spread too thin and doing a mediocre job at everything but a stellar job at nothing.
A few months later I decided to leave my full-time job and consult part-time instead. Something had to give, and for us, it meant me shifting work down and shifting life up for awhile. This re-defined what 50/50 meant for us. It meant I did more dishes, but I also got to read more books with the kids and run outside in the sunshine and work in cafes on my own terms. It meant my husband worked later, but he got the early morning workout slot most days and avoided the grocery shopping. It meant a bit of an identity crisis for me, but it meant our kids had more stability within which to establish their own early identities. In the end, this shift helped us stabilize, giving us both the energy to anchor our values and the time to focus on our children and on each other. It enabled us to emerge from the toddler fog stronger and fuller than we were when we entered into it.
We’re now back to a dual working parent life, which still feels busy and hectic; yet this time around, it feels whole and connected. It even feels…dare I say…steady. Not always easy, but steady. For now. Tonight. So from this vantage point, I thought I’d share a few tips that help us with all the working parents out there trying to make it all work. These little ideas don’t override those miserable nights when your kid gets out of his bed 75 times, but in the daylight hours, they might be a good place to start…
- Plan your meals for a week, and leave some room for spontaneity. We usually plan four meals and leave the other three nights open for leftovers or takeout or going out or (my personal favorite) breakfast for dinner.
- Stay home on Friday night. We’re not Jewish, but I love the idea of Shabbat dinner, and we try to honor a low-key family Friday to close out the week and restore before the weekend. Starting your weekend tired makes it feel over before it begins.
- Set limits at work early so that people know when you’re focused on your family. And be flexible outside of those times to make up for the limits. I’m happy to work at 6am on a Saturday morning if I can have lunch with my daughter on Thursdays. Which brings me to…
- Have lunch with your child(ren) once a week. I do this every Thursday. It’s a little thing that makes my heart feel light and life feel a teeny bit more integrated.
- Have lunch with your partner once in a while. Your babysitting is already covered!
- Get a daytime babysitter on a weekend sometimes. It feels indulgent, but it’s so much better to go out when you’re awake versus exhausted. We’ve started booking a babysitter so we can work out together every other Saturday morning. Racing our bikes beats falling asleep in our pasta any day.
- Re-cap your kids’ days and your day together. Understand how they spend their time and help them understand how you spend yours. Again, this has helped me with integration.
- Unitask. I’m working really hard to focus on one task at a time at work, and it’s hugely helped my productivity. Don’t underestimate the power of focus at work, at home, anywhere. Especially on the highway.
- Sleep. Make it a huge priority. Everything is easier after a good night’s sleep. Everything.
- If you’re totally, absolutely, beyond maxed for a long time, re-evaluate. Something might have to give. Making peace with that, and taking action on it, may make all the difference in the world.
What would you add to this list? What has helped you make it all work?