I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over five years now.
I’ve worn many hats in my day—record shop clerk, waitress, secretary extraordinaire, organizer/planner, registrar, yoga teacher—but mommying undoubtedly has been the most difficult. I’ve had some pretty tough bosses, but nothing compares to little willful miscreants who know how to reach peak volume when things aren’t going their way. The art of negotiation isn’t always applicable in the mommy world, instead you become an expert at being a peacekeeper—or some semblance thereof.
I’m also a writer making a later-life career shift in the midst of raising kids. It’s a challenge. I hesitate to even call it a balancing act because, really, the kids have first say. Yes, I know there is much written about the need to put yourself first, but in practice, that often doesn’t apply. Children need our guidance. They look to us for direction, knowledge, and fun—whether it’s in the form of the a silly bird dance or using Mommy as a sticker pad. They need us, especially when they’re little. I’ve learned to roll with it, well, most of the time.
Throughout the years I’ve integrated tools that make my mommying work easier, thereby freeing up more time to focus on my projects. It’s not a perfect science, rather an ever-evolving one, but I’ve found these practices help my days run a little smoother.
1. Post an accessible list
I keep a magnetic list posted to our refrigerator where my husband and I keep track of items to add to the shopping list (I usually find the magnetic list pads in the Target dollar section). I often notice things are low as I’m cooking or cleaning, so it’s helpful to have a list within easy reach so I can jot things down quickly. Otherwise, it enters the land of momnesia…never to return again. There are still some days I curse the wind at having to return to the store for the third time, but most weeks I feel like a grocery rock star, and that’s all that matters.
2. Create a binder with your favorite, trusted recipes
I like to cook. I used to love to cook, and then I had kids. I’m sure one day I will return to the love phase, but for now I focus on food my family will eat and that I can prepare in a reasonable amount of time amongst chaos. So, soufflés are out and spaghetti and meatballs are in. As long as I can prepare it under an hour, I’m set. I’m a stickler for keeping things as fresh as I can (one of my non-negotiables, see below), which usually adds to the cooking time. And I’ve established a routine that generally keeps the kids entertained for about 40 minutes, leaving 20 minutes to either hope the hubby comes walking through the door from work or anticipate a few lectures as to why you shouldn’t drive cars off of your sister’s head. For me, 60 minutes or less works. Set your own time limit and fill your binder with recipes you know well. I refer to mine weekly as I make my shopping list to make sure I have items on hand.
3. Cooking at home is great, but take a night off once a week
Once a week, usually Fridays, we order takeout. I keep a small accordion file of local restaurant menus and I have the numbers of my favorites saved in my phone contacts. Since I’m gluten-free (and picky) there are only a few we use often, but it’s a day I can look forward to few dishes, time away from the oven, and more fun with the kids.
4. Invest in a dry-erase weekly calendar
I’ve often seen these calendars make their way into home décor photos where the dishes are perfectly placed, the kitchen granite is shiny, and the handwritten notes scribbled in the daily slots resemble something out of a calligraphy magazine. That is so not my kitchen, so I resisted for a while. Now I’m thrilled to have one. We post ours by the door to our garage since it’s a place that everyone passes each day, yet our weekly business isn’t displayed for all to see. It’s incredibly helpful for combatting my momnesia and for keeping my husband aware of the weekly events. It also helps alleviate that “am I forgetting something” feeling that often plagues us moms.
5. Have a place for everything
I know this is a broad point, but if you want to have more time you have to create a space conducive to it. I have, for the most part, found a place for everything in my home. If I need something, I can generally find it in less than five minutes (except for the ever elusive paper clips—I still haven’t found where I put those). It makes clearing the clutter so much faster and also prevents much of it from piling up in the first place. We have a designated spot for bills and keys. I use bins to store my everyday tools (hammers, screwdrivers), sewing kits, light bulbs, batteries, and duct tape. And I use toy boxes and fabric bins for the kids’ toys. Storage bins are a mom’s best friend. If you’re still sorting yourself through a bit of disorganization, then take one hour a week to work on it. There is empowerment in knowing the order of your home. And it will add many minutes to your week.
6. Toss in a load of laundry when you wake up
This is still a work in progress for me as I’m more of a night owl than morning person. Yet, during weeks when I apply this practice I find the laundry is manageable and I don’t feel the dread of a laundry day. By the time I get dressed, wake the little ones, and serve them breakfast the load is done and ready for the dryer.
7. Find amazing reliable help, and use it!
Rule number one in managing motherhood: ask for help. While I have some wonderful family nearby, life circumstances prevent them from being able to babysit regularly. Once my second child came along, I realized help was absolutely necessary. We signed on to care.com and found two incredible sitters. One I use regularly four hours or more a week to give myself time to catch up on writing, take a yoga class, or do whatever my heart desires. The other we use for date nights and try to stick to two dates a month. Money is always a factor when hiring help, but even if you’re able to give yourself two hours a week or spend some alone time with your partner a couple times a month, your spirit will be much better for it.
8. Decide on your non-negotiables
As I mentioned above, cooking as fresh as possible is one of my non-negotiables. There are times I won’t cut corners (fresh vegetables, homemade treats) and other times when the corner is much easier (like canned beans and tomatoes, for example) and a huge time-saver. I also insist upon a clean kitchen every night and an hour to myself in the evening to read, check email, and catch up with family and friends. Yes, a clean kitchen my appear obsessive, but I’ve learned if you wake to a messy kitchen with a pile of dishes, your day has already been set back. There’s something about casting my sleepy eyes on tidy countertops and a shiny sink that instantly puts me in a good mood. Find those things that keep you recharged, even if it’s simply quiet time in the morning with a cup of coffee, and add them to your day.
9. Designate playtime with the kids and stick to it
If there is one practice to do consistently, it’s spend time with the kids. It’s easy to get caught up in running the household and work obligations, but taking time to enjoy moments with your children equals instant happiness. The days I spend time playing with my kids are the days I’m in a better mood and their happiness soars. It reminds you why you entered this parenting journey in the first place. And it makes all your sacrifice worth it.
Parenthood is a test of endurance. It can be both maddening and amazing at the same time. While it can slow the progress of your personal goals, it can also enrich your life in extraordinary ways. There can be a balance. Your art can still thrive as you wipe boogies and pull spaghetti from your hair. That’s the genius of it. You begin to realize your own limitations and let go of your perfections. You find ways to manage your time and to make the most of those minutes you find. You’re every bit the artist you were before you became a parent, but maybe with a little less spontaneity.
Amy Cushing is a stay-at-home mom, yoga teacher, and writer who is bravely navigating the waters of parenting with her ever-patient husband and two small tots who run the asylum. She writes for elephant journal and also gives her two cents on her website. Connect with Amy via Facebook or Twitter.
Source: Bart Everson via Flickr