I remember when I went back to work after my first daughter, Emma, was born. I was overwhelmed with questions. How do I focus on work when I left my baby with someone else? How do I know if I did the right thing by coming back to work? How am I supposed to remember everything? Am I a bad mom because I’m excited to only be responsible for myself for the next 8 hours?
So I did what anyone does these days when they have a question. I turned to Google.
One of the biggest questions I had was “How do working moms get it all done?”
So I googled that and “How do working moms do it all?” The search results were filled with articles telling me that I couldn’t do it all. They said things like “just accept that you’ll have dirty dishes” or that “your laundry will never be done.” They told me I would just have to lower my standards. That was the only way I would be able to get by as a working mom.
But that didn’t work for me. What if it makes me happy to cook dinner every night and to make sure we don’t ever have piles of dirty laundry laying around the house? What if mountains of dirty dishes would make me unhappy? As a working mom, what am I supposed to do then?
There was no good answer that I could find.
It made me angry. What kind of an answer is “lower your standards?” That’s not a solution to the problem. So I refused to believe it and I stopped looking it up.
I forged ahead and went on working, caring for Emma and (together with my husband) running our household the way I wanted to. It was difficult and sometimes exhausting, but overall I thought I had it under control. I didn’t have any new tactics or strategies, I just kept doing things the way I had been doing them since I got married, with all of the new responsibilities added on.
When Emma was about a year old, I got pregnant again. Things were fine throughout the pregnancy, though Emma did not like it when I came home from work and laid on the couch. She wanted attention from me so there was no after work nap while my husband dealt with dinner. I should have realized this was a sign of things to come, but I was too tired.
Ivy was born just after Emma’s second birthday. Emma stayed in daycare while I was on my maternity leave with Ivy, and I spent the whole maternity leave holding her or reading my kindle. I didn’t get anything done.
Caring for a baby was a little different the second time around. Just a tiny bit easier because I had been through it all once before. But maternity leave was like a break from reality.
I took a 3 month maternity leave and then went back to work. I thought things were going fine. Sure, I was tired and routines had to change somewhat, but by then I’d gotten used to the constant changes in routine. We were making things work.
Until one day I realized it wasn’t working.
We were sitting at dinner and I was thinking to myself “I don’t have the energy to give Emma a bath.” Something about it that time made me stop and think. “But wait, I like to give Emma a bath. Am I really that lazy that I can’t give her a bath? It’s not really that hard.”
It had finally gotten to be too much for me. I was trying so hard that even the things I enjoyed weren’t fun anymore. Ivy was a year old and I was exhausted, but I knew one thing.
That was not the kind of mom I wanted to be.
I didn’t want to be the mom that’s too tired to play with her kid. I didn’t want my girls growing up remembering me as the one that was always too tired or too busy to pay attention to them. So I made a decision. I decided not to be that person anymore.
The first thing I did was stop telling myself “I’m too tired…” I know it sounds kind of ridiculous and you’re probably thinking there’s no way it can work. But I promise you it can.
If the story you keep telling yourself is that you feel too tired, you’ll feel too tired. I’m not going to get into all the psychology behind it, but it’s true. Now of course there will be times when you really are too tired to do something. Want to go for a 2 hour hike in the mountains? No, too tired. Want to run a 5k? No, too tired. Most of the time our kids are asking for much smaller things than that.
Of course you also have to make sure that you’re not sick or there’s not something physically wrong with you. I know it can be really hard to pinpoint the cause of your fatigue. Believe me. I’ve had my thyroid removed and if the dosage of my medication is not right, one of the symptoms can be fatigue. I also know that I am terrible at recognizing it in myself. When my meds aren’t right, I just feel like I’m being lazy. It’s too hard to get anything done so I must just be lazy. That’s not always the case. Please don’t ignore those physical symptoms.
But if you’re not sure if it’s really fatigue or something else, think about it this way. Would you be willing to tell another adult (your boss for example) that you’re too tired to go over and get something off a shelf? Or go into another room and play a game? If not, then you’re not too tired to do it for your kid(s).
Like I said, I know it sounds really simple and kind of ridiculous, but it’s the most important part. You have to change the story you’re telling yourself, the way you think about yourself. In other words, you have to be aware of your mindset, that’s the first key to changing it.
You can’t make lasting change unless you change your mindset. (If that’s too vague for you, like it usually is for me, let me put it another way. You have to change the way you’re thinking about things or you won’t change the way you’re acting.)
If you take anything away from this article, I want it to be this:
You can be the kind of mom and the kind of person you want to be without lowering your standards.
You can get it all done and still have time to watch your naked 2 year old dance around the living room singing “All about that bass, ‘bout that bass” or laugh with your husband when your 4 year old says “Indeed I will.” When you look back on your day, you can remember the way your baby’s eyes lit up when she smiled at you. You don’t have to be too busy or too overwhelmed to be present for those moments with your children.
Let it really sink in. It’s not impossible to have clean laundry all the time if you’re a working mom and to have fun with your kids every day. It’s hard and it takes a lot of work, but you can do it in a way that makes you happy.
So now that we’ve covered the most important part, let’s talk about how we do it.
You may have already heard me talk about this, but I want to bring it up here too because it’s a biggie. It’s a habit I often fall back into. I know I’ve resorted to it when I tell my daughter I have to cut my fingernails and she looks at me and says “Do it right now.” It sounds simple, but it’s easy to overlook.
If you see something that needs to get done, do it. If you think about something that needs to get done, just do it. Don’t tell yourself you’ll do it later because later you won’t have more energy and you probably won’t even remember what it was. Later is most likely not going to be a more convenient time.
This is my version of the 2 minute rule, which is that if it takes 2 minutes or less to do, you should do it right away. There are a couple reasons I don’t think of it that way. One is that we often overestimate how long tasks will take us. The other is that sometimes a task might take a little longer than two minutes, but we are still better off completing it right away than putting it off. Probably the most important reason for me though is that the actual wording I use in my head is “I’ll do that later.” It’s easier to catch myself doing it if I think of “later” as the trigger. But if it helps you to use the 2 minute rule instead, by all means, please use it.
I still struggle with this from time to time because I’m not perfect, but I always regret it when I don’t do it. Like recently when I was traveling. I had everything packed and was about to head to the airport. I looked over and saw my water bottle on the counter. I thought to myself that I should grab it, but I was about to put the baby in her car seat so I told myself I’d do it “later.” Guess whose favorite water bottle and straw stayed behind? Mine. And my mom was shocked because she knew I took that thing everywhere with me. (The water bottle is in the background of the photo above. Oh how I miss it…)
Of course this doesn’t work with all tasks because some just won’t be realistic to do right when you think about them. But don’t worry, we’ll talk about that too.
Have a special place to leave yourself reminders for the morning. The corner of the dining room table is my special place. If there’s something I have to remember to bring with me that I couldn’t pack the night before, or anything else that I have to do in the morning, I write a note. I put it in that spot every time. I know that if there’s a little square of paper there, it’s something I have to do that morning. It’s not something I can put off.
Having this routine ensures that I’m not relying on my faulty mom brain to remember something 9 hours later because, let’s be real, the chances of that happening are not high. Make your life easier and designate a spot to leave yourself a note for the morning. Use this in tandem with the one above – if you can’t actually do it when you think about it (like you can’t get diapers because the baby’s already sleeping), write yourself a note. But write the note right away.
I don’t mean this as a place where you and your family gather. What I mean is a place where you gather all the things you’ll need when you leave your house in the morning.
I find it really helpful to put everything we need when we leave the house in one spot because there’s always a bunch of stuff we need for the day. Between kids in daycare and our own work stuff, we sometimes have to make a trip to the car to load stuff up before we even try to get the kids out the door. Designate a gathering place for that stuff and always put it there.
It doesn’t have to be pretty. Ours is just a certain place on the floor in the kitchen, but if we have diapers and wipes to bring the next day, that’s where they go. If we need to bring a blanket back to school, that’s where it goes. This way you’re a lot more likely to walk out the door in the morning with everything you and your kids need for the day.
I know, I know, you’re looking for actual tactics you can use and there are whole posts and courses dedicated to this subject, but I’m going to give you a few examples from my own life to get you started.
Go to only one grocery store. I used to go to two grocery stores every week when I did my grocery shopping. I know I’m not the only one that does this. Now I only go to one. The hassle of going to two stores isn’t worth it, so I picked the one I like best and now I only go to that store. End of story.
Keep meals and snacks simple. There are several different ways you can do this. I just do protein and a veg for dinner, sometimes with a grain on the side. If we have a couple kinds of meat that look like they need to get used, we might grill them both one night so we have the next night’s dinner halfway done. I don’t have the time or patience for recipes anymore.
If that doesn’t work for you, you can find a bunch of easy recipes and rotate them. Use a meal service. Let your husband cook. Get ready-made food somewhere (we’ve gotten a family dinner thing from Whole Foods that you just have to heat up). Try batch cooking. Try meal prepping.
Any of these options are good if they make your life easier and still meet your nutritional requirements. You could spend forever googling recipes. Please don’t do that. But know that there are endless options out there for simplifying your meals
Laundry. Oh, the laundry. I don’t have a problem with laundry. We do the laundry once a week and that’s it. That’s the way I like to do it because for me that’s easiest. If you need to simplify your laundry, I do have a couple of suggestions. You can wash everything on cold so you don’t have to separate it. You can wash your sheets every two weeks instead of every week. (Yes, normal people do this, it’s totally acceptable.) You can do laundry by person so that the whole load goes in one spot. Or if you’re doing laundry every day and it’s not working, try switching to once a week (or vice versa). If you really hate to do laundry, pay to have someone else do it. Hey, I’m just throwing it out there because it is an option, but we’ll talk more about paying to have stuff done later.
For things like clothes, toys, shoes, books the less you have the easier it makes everything else. It’s easier to clean, pick up and keep organized. Now I could write a whole lot more on this topic too, but that’s the important thing to know. In fact, I could probably write a whole post about each of those topics – if you want me to, let me know. I did write about what I learned from Project333 in this post about why you need a minimalist wardrobe.
Say no to things you don’t want to do, so you can say yes to the things you do want to do (like snuggle with the baby). I see this advice all the time and usually just kind of skip over it. I think to myself “Well, of course. Why wouldn’t I say no to doing something I don’t want to do?” But maybe it’s not always that easy, or maybe it’s not that easy for everybody else. I don’t know. Maybe we just don’t get asked to do a lot of things. But I see other people do things they don’t want to all the time, so I think it’s important to address.
We love our families, but when they ask us to drive an hour for a party that starts at our kids’ bedtime, the answer is no. We want to go to our niece’s dance recital but it’s right at naptime. The answer is no.
We don’t feel obligated to go to every family get-together.
Sometimes it’s important to my husband and he wants to go but I don’t. The answer is still no for me. He goes without me and usually he even takes the kids. He’s started says things like “I’ll take the kids and you can have some alone time.”
For years he wanted me to go to Sturgis and I said no. For him it was about spending time with his family, but to me it just sounded like a lot of drinking and sleeping on the floor in someone else’s overcrowded house. No thank you. Not my idea of fun. So he went alone. The last time he went, he took the two girls and I stayed home. I was pregnant and didn’t want to go so instead I got the weekend to myself.
For yourself and for your kids. My husband and I go back and forth on our kids’ bedtimes all the time because he always thinks I put them to bed too early. But our kids have proved time and again that the more tired they are when they go to sleep, the harder it is for them to fall asleep and the earlier they’ll wake up.
If they’re overtired when we put them to bed they will spend an hour or more messing around and keep calling out for us before falling asleep. Then they’ll wake up at 5:15! If we put them to bed on time they go straight to sleep and sleep until 6 (or 7 if we’re really lucky). I know all kids are different but this is true for all of our kids, from our infant to our 4 ½ year old.
Now I know how much it sucks to work all day and then come home and have hardly any time to spend with your kids. I remember when our now 2 ½ year old couldn’t even make it through dinner. And we ate dinner at 5! When she’d start getting really cranky during dinner we knew it was time to put her to bed and one of us (usually my husband) would get up and put her to bed and then come back to the table to finish dinner. That meant the only time I got to spend with her was like 15 minutes from when we got back from daycare till I started making dinner.
I hated not having any time with her after dinner, but I knew if we kept her up, it would be worse for all of us. She would just be crabby and whiny and we wouldn’t actually have any fun together, and then we’d get even more upset when she had such a hard time going to sleep. And we’d miss out on sleep too because she’d be up early. So, we moved dinner up to 5 and put her to bed as soon as we realized she needed it. We didn’t have to do it forever. Just until she got a little older and could stay awake longer.
We prioritize nap time on the weekends too. Now that we have 3 kids, we’ve gotten a little more lax about our schedule, but naps are still really important for us. Our 4 ½ year old will nap for 3 hours most weekends. When she doesn’t get her nap, it’s kind of a disaster.
This past weekend we let her go to a birthday party on Saturday from 2-5. She managed to get almost an hour nap in before we woke her up to leave. According to my husband she didn’t have that much sugar when she was there but she was out of control that night. She kept screaming at the top of her lungs, running around, being really rough with her sister and not listening to a single thing we said. It was like she thought it was the WWF. Then when we put her to bed she messed around forever before finally falling asleep. It was crazy, and that was when she just got a short nap!
Now because we don’t normally do stuff like that, we don’t have as much time to do fun things as we’d like, but it there are other pros besides the kids being well rested and behaving better. It gives me time to take a nap, my husband and I can get chores done, whether that’s going to the grocery store, doing laundry or mowing the lawn, or my husband and I can spend time together (usually hanging out outside having a beer).
Of course you know sleep is important for you and I hope you’re doing whatever you can to get as much sleep as possible, but don’t forget that your kids’ sleep is important for everyone too. And yes, I know not all kids are like mine and not all 4 year olds nap, but I truly believe you know your kids best and you know when they’re tired. Try not to let them get overtired and it will be better for everyone.
No devices when you’re with your kids. This one can be really hard, but I think it’s also really important. Unless you’re actively looking up something you and your child are talking about, you’re not actually paying attention to your child if you have a device out. Which means you’re not spending quality time together. Try to keep your devices put away while you’re spending time with your kids..
I get to spend time with my kids in the morning. We don’t usually play games or anything because most of that time is spent trying to get them dressed, get their shoes on, get their coats and sunscreen on. You know, all the things you have to do to get them out the door. When I get to spend time with them not nagging them in the morning is when we eat breakfast. I don’t have a problem not checking my phone then. It’s easy for me to pay attention to them.
It’s after work that I have a harder time not taking my phone out. The only real time I get to spend with them at night is between daycare pickup and making dinner, so I do my best to make that short amount of time count. That’s when I try my hardest not to check email, Facebook, Instagram, whatever it is and just focus on my kids. I also try to keep the TV off.
I think it’s a lot harder for me at night because I’m in the habit of using devices at night. I don’t allow devices at the table so it’s not a problem during mealtimes, but it’s what I do in the down times, when I have a couple minutes. And that pretty much only happens at night. I think it’s when all of us are more distracted. We’re tired after a long day and it’s just easier to sit on the couch and check Facebook than do something we actually care about.
Multitasking is not all it’s cracked up to be and as moms we have to do than anyway, especially when we’re juggling the needs of more than one child. Trust me, you’ll enjoy the time with your kids more if you don’t have your devices out when you are spending time with them. Everything else you do will probably be easier too if you’re not distracted by your devices. My personal rule is to not get them out until the kids are in bed. Then it’s game on.
You will probably decide at some point to pay up for things that will make your life easier
There are a lot of things that would fit into this category since you can pay to have pretty much anything done.
For my family, this mostly falls into the category of travel. When we travel, we will pay up to have a direct flight, park in the closest lot at the airport, rent a car seat instead of lugging one through the airport and buy snacks (or drinks) on the plane. Pretty much anything that makes travel easier for us, we will pay for.
Another category where we pay to have work done is home improvements. We’ve accepted that we just don’t do projects around the house ourselves. We pay to have them done. That door my dad said we should paint 5 years ago? We still haven’t painted it, but the painter is here today doing it because we decided to pay up. (It has now been painted as you can see from the photo.)
Now, I’m actually pretty bad at paying for certain things that make my life easier. There are things we’ve considered paying for but haven’t yet done: house cleaning and lawn maintenance would be the top two, followed by grocery delivery.
I think it’s totally normal to be hesitant about paying up for certain things. You may like to do the grocery shopping, but at some point decide it’s not worth your time. Or maybe you have experience painting and you know you could paint your dining room, but it’s been on your list forever.
The other side of this, that I don’t think people talk about very often, is that it takes time and energy to find the right people to pay to do things. We’ve looked into having someone clean our house, but the quote we got was insane. I don’t know how people find someone to clean their house. From what I can tell, it’s often word-of-mouth. We haven’t found anyone that way (yet). I do know that you can spend hours looking into it and not finding a solution, because there are so many ways you can go about it. That kind of defeats the purpose.
If you do find someone to do a job for you, you may even have to manage that person you eventually hired. That’s a whole different demand on you than whatever the task is. So paying up to make your life easier can in fact be a complicated thing. Only do that if the time and resources you invest up-front will be worth it to you. Remember, the point should be that it makes your life easier or it makes it easier for you to get other things done.
I’m fiercely independent and I like to do everything myself. At least that’s what my husband would say. What I know is, my husband used to always want to help with the laundry and I hated it. It felt like he kept wanting to do something that I was already doing. Plus it seemed like he always did something wrong if I did let him touch the laundry. But when I was pregnant with our third child, that’s one of the chores he took over. It wasn’t exactly a swap when I was pregnant, he just took over more chores. But that’s one we can now swap that we didn’t before.
All that time he was telling me what he wanted to do to help, and I wasn’t listening because I considered that my chore. Laundry was my chore like making dinner is my chore. Now you can digress into a discussion about why I felt that way, but that’s not the point at all, so let’s not go there. The point is, there was a chore that I thought was assigned to me but he wanted to swap and it took me ages to relinquish control.
It took three kids, but I’ve finally seen the light. Now if he wants to swap chores that I generally do, I let him. It won’t get done exactly the way I would do it, and that’s ok. It will get done.
I will admit that my husband is very helpful and involved and also a people pleaser. I know not everyone’s husband is this way, but if your husband offers to do a chore, just let him do it.
The flip side of this, of course, is if your husband hates one of his chores you should probably swap and take over for him. We did a chore swap and my husband didn’t even know. He’s happily surprised every time he sees that I’ve washed the girls’ lunch containers (a chore he hated) and it takes about 3 minutes to do it.
So if one of you is doing a chore you don’t like, swap chores, and you could both be happy.
The Merriam-Webster definition of agile is: having a quick resourceful and adaptable character. That pretty much covers what I mean by it, but what I mean by it is this: agile means realizing quickly when something isn’t working and finding a new solution. It’s kind of like being flexible, but it’s more than that.
As a parent sometimes we need to be agile about things like earlier or later dinner. If, like me, it’s important to you that you eat as a family but you have a little one that can’t make it through dinner, you may have to (temporarily) move dinner-time up. The same might be true of bedtime. If there’s been a change to your schedule or your child moved up a classroom at daycare, you might find that they’re overtired and you need to adjust bedtime.
Sometimes it might be more difficult, like a habit or bedtime routine you can’t keep doing. In these scenarios, it’s often something that takes a lot of effort initially and may seem daunting. You and/or your child might be very upset when you initially try to change your routine. For example, we used to allow our 4 ½ year old to call out for one of us every night. If my husband put her to bed, as soon as he came upstairs she would call out for me and vice versa.
We let this go on for a long time because, well, even though it was a bit of a pain we kind of liked it. Each of us was needed every night. But when we were expecting our third, we knew it wouldn’t be practical anymore and it was time to put a stop to it. It took a lot of explaining on our part and a few tries for her to comply, but that effort paid off. Now, one of us kisses her goodnight and the other one puts her to bed. No more calling out right away.
In this case you might argue we didn’t realize right away that something was wrong – we let it go on for a long time. But there wasn’t really anything wrong then. We anticipated that it would become a problem after the baby was born, so we worked to change it before that happened.
Children are constantly changing and growing and their needs change with them. It’s up to us as parents to recognize it right away and also to find the solution.
These are real examples from my life as a working mom. This is how I get it all done in a way that lets me enjoy my kids too.
There are days where I don’t want to do some (or all) of these things. Some days are just bad days. Other days, I think I’m too tired to vacuum the floor after my 2 year old spills finely shredded cheese all over it. It feels like it would take so much energy. But when I stop to think about it, I know it doesn’t take that long to do and I can probably muster up the energy. So I do it. And then I feel better that my floor is now cleaner than it’s been in the last week. I feel accomplished, like I can do anything.
Because I believe I can do it all and still laugh with my kids every day. I believe you can too.
Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment and let me know what your takeaway is.