A colleague shared a challenge she’s facing: if she prioritizes work, she misses the best hours of the day with her daughter. If she prioritizes time with her daughter and homeschooling, her work-time disappears and she finds herself at the computer late at night, working in the wee hours of the morning.
It’s a struggle I’ve lived, and not so long ago that I’ve forgotten the angst. When I home-schooled my girls, this issue seemed insurmountable. As my kids have gotten older and more independent, it’s somewhat easier, but still difficult.
When you love your work, how do you balance time with work and time with family? Or when work is necessary to meet the needs of your family, and you are juggling both, how do you decide what’s best? How do you manage all the unexpected crises inherent in being a work-at-home mom with babies and toddlers or young kids and teenagers?
In my homeschooling days, I crafted detailed schedules to fit in work and lessons, chores and time with friends. I colored-coded elaborate plans down to 15 minute intervals, which invariably got cast aside after only a few hours. You know why? Young kids are unpredictable, even ones who adapt to structure. One poor night of sleep or virus and all the plans fall apart. With older kids, structured schedules are easier.
I don’t have any easy answers here, but if you struggle with the challenges my colleague is facing, here are a few ideas:
Choose what’s best in each moment. At any given moment, you make a series of micro-choices about how you spend your time, how you feel about it, and what you make it mean. As much as possible, be kind to yourself and believe in your own ability to make the right and best choice in the moment.
Think about what you most want to create and set about creating it, moment by moment. Some of my best memories are of mornings tucked in bed reading books with my littles. Or cooking elaborate breakfasts with them in the kitchen, just because. I remember setting off for walks in the rain and singing loudly as we splashed our way around city sidewalks. My memories of both actual lessons and structured work are pretty vague, but I know the important stuff got done. I’m confident you’ll get the important stuff done, too.
Get as much help as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. I used to trade services with other work-at-home moms. I would babysit one friend’s kids in exchange for equal time of her helping me with housework. Later, when I had extra funds, I hired her to watch my kids while I got a few hours of work time. The bonus? She loved tidying up and she was a great multi-tasker, so I got help with my kids and my house was cleaner, every time she came over. I also hired mother’s helpers, pre-teen neighbors who loved playing with my kids in exchange for experience babysitting and a small paycheck. Hiring help means that when I do take time off, I am more free to enjoy my family.
Appreciate the flexibility you have. When I feel most frustrated about the tough choices I face with being both a full time mom and a full time business owner, I consider the alternative — 40+ hours per week away from my kids in a more structured work environment. Instead, I can choose to work at home when my kids are home, which means I am home with them, with all the benefits and challenges that presents. So I cherish the choice and realize this is an unusual blessing I enjoy. In the toughest moments, I remember that I chose this. It’s a blessing to choose.
Breathe. Even though juggling work and family becomes easier when kids are older, there are difficult moments on every journey. Breathe. You’ll lose your patience. Breathe. Someone will have a meltdown, and it’s likely to be you. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Remind yourself that you’re enough. Remind yourself about what’s most important. Remind yourself that the work will get done. It always does. Breathe.