I have been a working mother for over thirteen years. Over these years I have always worked more than full time since I have both a full-time career and an additional part-time job. Despite working at least fifty (and sometimes closer to sixty) hours each week, during these parenting years I have also earned an advanced degree, owned and managed a business, volunteered in my community and at my children’s school, and now I write for and manage this website and online community. Oh yeah, I also raised three children to school-aged, washed countless loads of laundry, spent thousands of hours cooking meals, vacuumed/dusted/cleaned my house over and over and over again, and I’ve carted my children all over creation and back again so they can participate in various extra-curricular activities. I’ve also managed to spend some quality time with my husband nurturing our marriage.
I’ve been busy.
There have been days when I have felt like Supermom. Those days I’ve thought, “Wow. I’ve GOT this. I am AMAZING. Look at ALL I do!” Then there are days, of course, when I feel like I do absolutely nothing right. I’ll have a bad day at work, forget to do something important for my children, yell at my husband for no good reason, and go to bed leaving my house looking like a frat house after an all night rave. I’ll have those days when I think, “Wow. I’m a mess. I can’t do this.”
Over the years I have developed various strategies (and ditched other, noneffective ones) that have helped me manage my days. I have notebooks, lists, calendars, and routines. I do my best to use my time wisely and I’m a pretty decent multitask-er. What I’ve discovered, however, is that while I certainly CAN “do it all”, I CANNOT “do it all” well. Something always suffers at the hands of something else.
Not too long ago (as I approached my 40th birthday), I decided this was no longer an acceptable way to live my life. I try not to be too hard on myself and I understand that I will always have lousy days and there will always be times when I’m not the best mom, the best wife, the best friend, or the best employee. Overall, however, I wanted to live a life I was proud of, be the type of mother my children needed, and I wanted to do most things well instead of “good enough”.
So, I decided to make some changes.
First, I removed most of my volunteer commitments from my life. I had signed on as a way to support my children’s school and their activities and after a few years I had the startling realization that my volunteering was actually taking me AWAY from my children. I wasn’t enjoying the time I was spending at the various events and meetings and I was certainly not giving anything close to my best effort. The incredible relief I felt the day I officially said “no more” validated my decision to be a quitter.
Next, I approached my part-time job boss and asked if I could work primarily from home. She recognized immediately that most of my work could, in fact, be completed from my home laptop and on my own time as long as I checked in regularly and met deadlines. With this easy change I actually gained valuable time. By pushing my “work” time to later in the evening (or whenever I feel is an ideal time for my family) I can now spend my late afternoons with my children driving them to and from lessons, sports, and other activities (instead of relying heavily on my saint of a mother). I can get dinner started and served at a decent time. I can run some errands or get some doctor appointments in. All I had to do was ask for this gift of time and I wished I had asked for it years ago.
Finally, I actually put me on my list of priorities. If I am going to be able to give 110% of myself every day to my family, my work, and other commitments I have to be healthy both physically and mentally. I am going to bed earlier. I am exercising more regularly. Every payday I find a way to treat myself for work well done. It may be something as simple as a white mocha latte WITH whipped cream or a new pair of boots I’ve been pining over. I keep track of date nights with my husband and schedule one when I feel as if it’s been too long since we’ve had some time to connect. I take time every weekend, no matter how busy we are with soccer games, birthday parties, and errands to sit. I may sit with a book, my iPad, or some Netflix. I may sit and play a game with one of my girls, read one of them a book, or watch them play. I’m learning to steal these easy simple moments from my busy life and savor them rather than think, “I should be (insert chore/task here)”. Those all can wait. Time spent with my family and for me is fleeting.
I think it is important to keep growing and challenging myself. There is certainly value in trying new things, taking on different projects, and pushing myself to test my comfort zone. It is equally important in my eyes, however, to also continuously take stock of my priorities to be sure I’m giving them my best effort and that I’m still proud of the work I am doing. Can I do it all? Of course I can. But I don’t need to.