I've been doing a lot of thinking about the balancing act of life lately...what components must come together to make your family happy, your house peaceful, and everyone in your home feeling well-balanced and fulfilled. It's tricky. It's tricky for everyone...working parents, stay at home parents, single people, single parents, married couples without children. And, it's especially tricky when you have to find the right flow when one of the players in your act does not have a schedule that is set nor flexible.One of my favorite bloggers, Joanna Goddard of cup of Jo did a balancing work/life/motherhood series that is a must-read. It really made me think about how we all struggle to find this perfect balance to make our life, and the people in it, as happy as we possibly can while also giving of our whole selves to make our work meaningful and successful. As I enter back into the working world today, thankfully into a job I'm psyched about and that only requires me to be there part time, I thought it would be a good exercise to do my own little post, using some of Joanna's questions, about how I attempt to balance the pieces of my life to make it all flow.
(Jack on the morning of his first day of school...sniff. Overly excited about holding his new lunch box.)
My work life has evolved from a full-time to a stay-at-home to a part-time working mama over the last year and a half. I went back to my full-time job as a clinical dietitian in Atlanta when Jack was 3 months old (heartbreaking) and toyed around with my schedule cutting hours, then some days to try to make my presence at work meaningful, but my time with Jack even more so. During this time, Jack spent a month at home with David and then 15 months at an in-home daycare with 3 other children. Our transition from Atlanta to Seattle allowed me to spend nearly three months at "home" with Jack...this came at a wonderful time of growth and readjustment for him. We knew that I would make a jump to part-time the first chance I could and our move to Seattle has, fortunately, allowed for that! Now, at 21 months old, Jack goes 3-4 days a week to a wonderful little preschool in our neighborhood.
1. What's your work schedule?
My schedule will always be changing since I will work as an outpatient dietitian counseling patients or teaching classes 2-3 varying days per week. I'm trying to take another day each week for writing, hoping appointments and errands don't get in the way! I will also write on the weekends or very occasional nights after Jack goes to bed, if David goes to bed early or is working.
No matter what, I'm going to spend one day each week focused on Jack. I'm looking forward to finding a class that we can join and rainy day activities to explore!
2. How do you handle childcare?
Because of my varying schedule, it worked best for us to have Jack enrolled four days a week at preschool. On the days I see patients, he, unfortunately, will be there the full 10 hours, but on the days I take for writing, he will typically attend for about 6 hours. Knowing he doesn't go every day makes the long days bearable. On patient Fridays, Jack will hang out with a babysitter for a few hours, because our preschool closes earlier on that day.
3. What would you love to change down the road (or would change right now) if you had a magic wand?
I think the biggest problem with our current set-up is that David is a completely unreliable player on the team. I'm looking forward to the day when we have at least a pretty good idea of when he will be at the hospital and when he will be home each day. Its difficult to work and do all of the childcare alone.
4. What's your favorite part of your work?
I am so excited to be taking on a new direction in my career by working in an outpatient clinic setting rather than in a hospital. I love to interact with patients and teach and my new job will allow me to do a lot of both! Also, I'm so thrilled to be doing some freelance writing and am really hoping I get more opportunities for this, especially since my schedule was tailored to give myself time for this passion.
5. What's your favorite part of your home life?
I love the days when David is home in the evenings and we can play in the backyard, go for walks, cook dinner, have dance parties, read, and snuggle before Jack goes to bed. Then, we get to have some adult time where we can watch a movie, just have a drink and talk, or make a longer dinner together. It doesn't happen often, so when it does, it's such a treasure!
6. How does your husband contribute to managing the juggle/house/childcare?
We've made it an unspoken rule to get up with Jack together when we are both home (except when David has worked overnight). We take turns playing with him and making breakfast/coffee. If David's home in the evenings, one of us gives Jack a bath and the other reads Jack stories and puts him to bed. When our schedules allow, we basically have a set of tasks and the counterpart to that task. I think being open to talking about expectations helps make a happier home life, so I talk about this subject quite often!
7. How do you and your husband fit your marriage into the balance?
Gosh...it's so easy to neglect you marriage once you have a child! There are so many other things that suddenly become ultra important and can easily take all of your energy and time if you let them. I think it's really critical to foster the connection you have with your spouse. We were not good about doing this in Atlanta, but we are now trying to plan for date nights on a semi-regular basis. We feel that its worth the babysitting fees to have time with each other and out with friends. And, if David is home at night, we often try to focus on each other after Jack goes to bed with no Internet distractions...it often feels like a stay-at-home date night, which is so wonderful.
8. Do you have time for yourself?
I am terrible at this! David and I don't get much time together, so its often hard to justify going out to do something on my own or with friends. I am VERY protective of my few quiet hours during the day when I am not working and Jack is napping...But this is a time I use to return phone calls, write for the blog, write articles, cook, do some Internet research...not really time for me. Also, I make a true effort to create exercise time 3-4 days each week...jogging strollers are wonderful as is having a daycare that's close and allows for walking/running to and fro! I'm going to really try to create some time for me in my week and time to go out with girlfriends. Girlfriends are so important and should be a top priority, especially at a time when I am making new ones in a new city!
9. What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?
Every day I find myself thinking, "If not mama, then who?" Mamas really are extraordinary in their ability to do so much in so many different roles, but we also put so much on ourselves! I think it's extremely important to be authentic to ourselves, to ask for help, to not be afraid to say when we feel overwhelmed, and to simply do our best. It's so easy to compare ourselves to other moms falsely thinking that they have it all. It's helpful to look to each other for help and inspiration, but what matters most is how we balance all our different pieces into real living with our family and friends. Be true to your own role!
10. Have you talked to other women about how to juggle everything? Do you think people talk openly about it?
I am not so sure people are open and honest about it and that is hard. My impression is that every mama stresses over making their own right choice that it is easier to put down another woman's choices rather than learn from them. I always hear stay-at-home moms say that they don't want someone else to 'raise' her child. And, some working moms feel superior because they have a career and income. The decisions we make have so much to do with our personal life experiences that it's hard to have a one-size-fits-all approach. And, admittedly, I'm still learning how to live and balance it all and doing the best I can along the way.
11. Do you think the juggle is harder for women than for men?
I do think the juggle is harder for women than for men. It seems that the day Jack was born I was injected with a healthy dose of guilt -- about not doing enough for him, not doing enough for myself, not calling my parents/sister/friends enough, not letting David know how special he is to me, not working hard enough. Because David's career dictates his schedule, it has been left to me to create a childcare/work balance. I know David would certainly help if he could and I know he misses us when he's gone, but I think when men leave and go to work, their minds clear to focus on their career in the forefront with their families in the background. As a mama, I don't find it possible to do that. I live and breathe guilt daily!
So, thanks for reading...I would love to know your own story, if you want to share.
And, this week's menu:
Tuesday: instead of a meal made in the slow cooker, let's make quinoa with roasted vegetables and celebrate summer's bounty of mint with mojito in hand!
Wednesday: greens and chickpeas
Thursday: summer panzanella salad
Friday: pizza made at home...on the grill!