By Nina G.
It feels like an endless cycle sometimes, doesn’t it?
You wake up at the crack of dawn, rush through your morning and scramble to drop the baby off with childcare. You hop into an insanely long commute only to spend at least eight hours at work. While at work, you lug your pump and bottles and hope no one notices the pump sessions you’ve penciled into your schedule.
You’re back on the long commute and come home to chores that can’t seem to go away: cooking, cleaning, and child care duties. You play and read with the baby before it’s time to rock him to sleep for the next hour and crash for the night yourself. You wake up several times in the evening to put the baby back to sleep, and before you know it, your alarm is beeping, signaling yet another day to do this all over again.
And you wonder, “Is this how my life is now?”
No one wants to feel like they’re stuck in an endless cycle of no sleep and lots of stress, yet somehow you can’t seem to escape this loop. But you don’t have to feel stressed all the time. There’s a way to get out of this mess and attain a semblance of work-life balance:
#1: Get your partner to do stuff.
I honestly couldn’t function if I did everything for my family while my husband got a free pass. Raising kids with no support isn’t easy: the most direct way to ease the burdens off your shoulders is to pass them along.Think of the most stressful part of your day and get your partner to assume those tasks. For instance, if:
- You’re so over the middle-of-the-night feedings, alternate waking up with the baby.
- You’re frazzled with drop offs and pick-ups, arrange your schedules so one parent drops off while the other picks up.
- You can’t stand the thought of cleaning your house, write a chore list and divvy the tasks between the two of you.
- Remember: dads are co-parents, not babysitters. The responsibilities of caring for your kids and maintaining your home should fall on the both of you.
#2: Be 100% at work (and 100% at home).
Here’s the thing with work: it needs to get done. And unfortunately, sometimes this spills into hours after we’ve already left the building. The best remedy is to develop routines and habits that allow you to be as efficient as possible while you’re still in the office so that none of the work carries into your home.
Then, when you are at home, truly be at home. Turn off your work phone and resist checking emails. Being 100% devoted to both work and your kids when you’re present will keep you from feeling guilty at work for not making it home in time for your kids, or feeling guilty at home for not picking up the slack with your job.
#3: Involve the kids in your life.
I used to think doing everything in the evenings when the kids were asleep was the way to go. After all, how else are you going to cook a meal, figure your finances or deep clean the bathtub with kids in tow?
And for many tasks, this is still the case. But for others, don’t be afraid to do them while your kids are awake. You’ll save time by doing chores with your kids instead of anxiously watching the clock waiting for bedtime just so you can get things done already.
You may not be able to do all chores with kids around, and you shouldn’t focus so much on chores that you end up shooing your kids away or ignoring them. But you may surprise yourself (and save time) when you take care of stuff even with the kids around.
#4: Request a flexible schedule.
The nine-to-five, Monday to Friday grind may not work for everybody. Maybe you have a long commute, or you hardly spend time with your kids. Talk to your boss about a flexible schedule that works for both you and the company. Some ideas include:
- Telecommuting one day of the week (or every two weeks)
- Working an earlier or later shift
- Reducing your hours to part-time
- Coming in to the office for four 10-hour workdays
If all else fails, schedule your vacation days strategically so you have at least a few days of the month to simply be home with your kids.
#5: Use efficient time hacks.
Some time hacks can make all the difference between frazzled and frustrated. Check out these tips to save time during your day:
- Cook meals that can sit for a long time and doesn’t require you to stay in the kitchen (for instance, slow cooker meals or meals that bake or simmer).
- Sneak in errands when you can, such as during your lunch break or before you pick up your kids.
- Do stuff on the weekends to lessen the load during the week. Even picking out your outfits for the week or taking care of laundry can be a big help.
- Get a low-maintenance haircut. I still have long hair but I don’t need to style it in the mornings for work. Or save the fancy hairstyles for important work days.
- Outsource tasks you’d rather not (or don’t know how to) do yourself such as landscaping and gardening, cleaning, or pool maintenance.
- Do simple daily cleaning instead of deep-cleaning. Don’t burden yourself with maintaining a spotless home. Just make sure your home is tidy and sanitary and leave the heavy-duty cleaning for once in a while.
- Schedule calls during your commute. My husband would schedule conference calls while he was dropping off our eldest and heading to work.
- Prep the night before. You know how you feel super tired in the evenings? You’ll be even more tired in the mornings. Get everything you’ll need to make your mornings run smoother: pack the lunches, pick out your clothes, gather everything you’ll need to get out of the house.
#6: Reconsider your job.
I hesitate writing this tip because I don’t want to make it seem like it’s as easy to do as packing your lunch at night or having the kids help with chores: “Oh, having a hard time at the job? Then find a new one!” As if it were that easy.
But sometimes… burnout is real. And if your job is the major factor in your work-life off balance, then it may be time to reconsider your job. Maybe you need to switch to a new department with a more supportive boss. Or propose more efficient routines and habits to get everyone working on the same page.
Or find a job closer to home, one without the hour-long commute.
We can do all the time hacks in the world, but if your job is causing significant stress, then it might be time to find other options. Not saying this is easy or will happen in the next few weeks, but keep it in mind when it feels too stressful.
#7: Remind yourself it gets easier.
I find it much easier now that my kids are older than when they were infants. During those early months, you’re in the throes of breastfeeding, pumping or washing bottles. You’re might prepare homemade baby food whereas an older child can eat pretty much what you would eat. And you’re less likely to be sleep-deprived when your kids are 5 years old than 5 months old. It does get better with time.
#8: You don’t have to do everything.
And lastly, moms: you don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to shuttle the kids to every extracurricular activity. Ordering in pizza is not going to brand you as the Terrible Mom. And coming home late and not being able to tuck your kids in bed doesn’t mean you love them any less.
Instead, find what works for you. Find that balance that gives you the pride in a job well done, both at work and at home.
From Los Angeles, Nina is a working mom to three boys—a 5-year-old and toddler twins. She has been blogging for five years at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes about parenting and everything she’s learning about being a mom. Be sure to check out more of her posts about working moms.