Chameleons have nothing on working mothers. Moms easily morph from their mothering roles of chef, party planner, chauffeur, playmate, therapist, maid and teacher – all served up with smiles and tempered answers – to professional woman who can negotiate more effectively than Donald Trump, navigate the wrath of unhappy clients without shedding a tear, and then, just as easily, slip silently into the role of understanding, supportive mate. Oh, wait, that’s not real life, that’s how mothers are portrayed in books and movies. Real life brings headaches and fatigue, sweatpants and fingernails full of Playdoh.
There’s no doubt that moms are strong. We’re made of gusto and able to swallow our feelings in a single gulp. The question is, how strong do we have to be, and what can we do to make our lives feel a little more balanced?
I have found that maneuvering through motherhood while trying to achieve some sort of adult mental stimulation, has taken planning and strategizing. Life will always throw you more than you think you can handle; the trick is to figure out just what must be handled, and what can be set aside.
Here are a few strategies that I employed to carve out my writing time. I hope you find at least one or two of them helpful.
1. Figure out your priorities, and then be flexible. In a perfect world, you might have equal time for your children and your work. We don’t live in a perfect world, which is why we must decide what constitutes our priorities, and then remember that children don’t always adhere to schedules. Naptimes, illness and even just an ‘off’ day can throw your schedule for a loop. Build in a few back-up plans for those unforeseen times.
For me, writing is an act of solitude, often interrupted by life. I schedule my time to write, just as I schedule my time to drive my children to school and cook dinners for my family. On those ‘off’ days, back-up babysitters come in quite handy.
2. Reprioritize housework. The wonderful thing about housework is that it doesn’t talk back. Laundry cannot tell you that you’ve waited too long to fold the clothes, and dust doesn’t suddenly swarm around your head, reminding you that it’s waiting to be swept away. During my writing time, I might throw in a load of laundry and change it over from washer to dryer, but then I throw it on a bed and fold it later, when the kids are milling around or busy playing – in other words, I do my everyday chores when the kids are doing their everyday play. The kids don’t miss out on time with mommy, and I don’t miss out on my writing time. Go through your to-do list with a fine tooth comb – it’s okay to reprioritize.
3. Make your work a family activity. While most of my writing time is spent in solitude, there are many times that I make writing a family activity with my children. I’ll give them a setting or character and ask them to come up with a storyline. While they’re crafting their stories, I craft mine.
If your job requires you to create spreadsheets or edit a manuscript, set up your child with their own creations – a little pad of paper can go a long way.
4. Plan ahead. Mealtime is a stressor for many moms. I often find myself staring into the refrigerator and wondering what I’m going to cook for dinner in the next 15 minutes. Do yourself a favor – buy an enormous desktop calendar, and then hang it on the side of your refrigerator. Spend 30 minutes online looking up quick and easy recipes. Print them out, pencil them in and voila! You can have meals planned a week or two in advance. Sites like www.thescramble.com and www.e-mealz.com make planning, and shopping, easy.
5. Children need your time just as much as your work needs your attention. While you’re insuring yourself time to work, don’t neglect the needs of your children. Children need to feel loved and special. They crave your attention as much as we crave the fulfillment of their joy. Be sure to schedule some alone time with them. After your children are asleep, if you need to complete your assignment, you can do so knowing that your children felt just as, if not more, important as that assignment. You’ve helped them to solidify their self-worth, self-esteem and most importantly, validation that mommy will always put her children before work. Who knew that 15 minutes could make such a difference?
6. Carve out time for yourself. Just as your spouse might need weekends off from his/her job, you need time off from both working and mommying. As a creative person, it’s very important to rejuvenate my mind, let new ideas form and flesh out my plots. Carving out a little me-time is a great way to accomplish that rejuvenation.
Many mothers feel me-time should be alone time – no children, no spouse and no work. Perhaps your child can have a date with daddy while mommy spends an hour taking a walk or reading a book. Many times, I find my rejuvenation time can be spent playing with my children – no telephones, no computers, no thoughts of work – just me and my kids. However you choose to spend your me-time, remember, you’ll have more energy and stronger emotionally and mentally, if you allow yourself a bit of rest and rejuvenation.
7. Moms need other moms. When I went from working outside the home to working from home, it was quite an adjustment. My daily accomplishments went from being widely recognized by other staff, to youngsters clapping their hands at a brownie I baked. There’s no doubt that moms need the support and understanding of other moms. You are not alone in your journey to find balance, and oftentimes, simply venting your frustrations will clear your mind and allow you to move forward. Join a mom’s club or an online book club or social site for moms. Knowing that there are women who are just like you, struggling with the same ups and downs, will help pull you through those difficult days.
8. Sometimes, electronic babysitters are not all bad. Everyone knows that letting your children play video games and watch television for several hours each day is not the healthiest thing for them. There are times, though, when you’re wrapping up a project, or absolutely must make a phone call, when 30 minutes of watching a parent-approved DVD isn’t a bad thing. Choose your electronic babysitters carefully, but don’t knock them all to the curb. You need your sanity, too.
9. If all else fails, beg, plead and bribe. I prefer to write when my children are at school, but when this cannot happen and I have a deadline, sometimes other shameful ploys comes into play. Not often, and only in times of utter desperation, will I promise something in exchange for 20 minutes of writing time. Shameful, I know, but sometimes a promise of a trip to the park goes a long way – and I always keep my promises.
Finding balance between work and home life can be difficult, but there’s no need to feel guilty. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, whip out this list and perhaps you’ll find one of these tips helpful.
Melissa is the award-winning author of two novels, Megan’s Way and Chasing Amanda. She is the founder of the Women’s Nest, an online social and support community for women, and is currently collaborating in the film production of Megan’s Way. Melissa hosts an annual Aspiring Authors contest for children, is currently working on her next novel. Visit Melissa on her website, www.melissafoster.com.
Originally published in Calgary's Child Magazine, Sept/Oct 2011