A working mom seeks balance

by Guest blogger on October 7, 2008

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Mommy guilt.

Just about every mother suffers from it, but there is no cure.  It seems no matter how much we give, how hard we try, in our own minds it isn’t enough. Some days I feel like a do a pretty good job of balancing my career, my family, and myself.  But other days, it feels like I’m falling desperately behind and failing on all three counts.

As a society, I often get the impression that we are slipping behind. That families have less and less time to spend together. It used to be that Sundays were sacred family time, now some people work Sundays, others use it to get chores done. It used to be that mom was waiting at home with freshly baked cookies when the kids hopped off the school bus, and now kids are in after school care programs while waiting for mommy or daddy to finish the work day and hurry off to collect the kids. But according to an article in the Washington Post, maybe we’re not doing as badly as we think:

In 1965, mothers spent 10.2 hours a week tending primarily to their children — feeding them, reading with them or playing games, for example — according to the study’s analysis of detailed time diaries kept by thousands of Americans. That number dipped in the 1970s and 1980s, rose in the 1990s and now is higher than ever, at nearly 14.1 hours a week.

So if we are spending more time than ever with our kids, why do we still feel so unbalanced? Why do we all feel like we’re not doing enough with our kids (or at work, or for ourselves)? I think part of it is that society tells us we need to achieve balance. We need to spend quality time with our kids. We need to get recognized and promoted at work. We need to be perfect wives. And we need to carve out time for ourselves. If we fail on any of those fronts, the guilt starts again.

I haven’t found a perfect solution, but I’ve learned a few things along the way that make it easier, that make me feel like I’m progressing in finding that balance and in particular in being more present for my kids, which is the most important element of the balance for me.

  • I quit my job and started a business. When my son was born, I decided that I couldn’t let someone else set my priorities any more. So I started my own business, where I get to decide how to balance my family and my clients, I decide how much work to take on, I decide when enough is enough.
  • Taking advantage of the time we do have. There are things that are part of our daily routine where I could shut my kids out, but where possible I try to bring them in. My son likes to help me bake and cook, so I try to get him involved when I can in meal preparation. It helps him learn how to get around a kitchen and also gives up some extra special time together.  I drive my son to school each day and pick him up, a total of about an hour in the car together each day. We have developed a repertoire of games and conversations that we have and I really cherish this time. Instead of leaving my daughter at home with my husband while I do the grocery shopping, I take her with me and talk to her as we go through the aisles.  Sometimes it makes these tasks take a little longer and makes it more hectic, but I think it is worth it in the end.
  • Co-sleeping. I have heard so many working parents complain about how little time they have with their kids during the week. Some parents arrive home from work at 6pm and have their little ones in bed by 7pm.  We do manage to sneak in more than an hour of time together in the evenings. Usually I end up having close to 3 hours with my kids at home before bedtime. But being together doesn’t end there. I share a bed with one or the other of my kids every night (we play musical beds sometimes). I find this time to be an essential way of staying close even when we can’t spend as much waking time together as we would like.  As I sit here and type, my daughter is sleeping on a boppy pillow on my lap.
  • Dates with my kids. I try to set aside some special dates with my kids. Sometimes my husband brings my daughter in to meet me for lunch. Every once in a while my son and I go out for an early dinner after school before going home. On weekends, I try to carve off half days to go out and do special activities like a walk or a visit to a museum with one or both of the kids. In the summer, I took Mondays off and often spent the day out and about with one kid or the other going to the park, stopping at a cafe for a snack, visiting the bookstore, having an ice cream, etc. When we just stay home and hang out, we do get some time together but that is often combined with doing the laundry, checking e-mail, cooking meals, cleaning up, and all the other things that get in the way of focusing on each other.
  • Read, read and read some more. Reading is a way of sharing stories and ideas. Reading promotes literacy. Reading lets parents and children bond and gives them a stepping off point to discuss feelings and topics of importance, to develop hobbies, to laugh together. We read to our kids every day and even when everything else is falling apart, I try to keep this as a constant. We have books everywhere in the house. We have books in the car. We have books in the diaper bag. Anywhere we go, we have books.
  • Accepting less than perfect in other areas of life. I’m lucky to have a husband that helps out a lot around the house. He is a stay at home dad and he has also taken on a lot of the household chores. But among the chores that we share or that I do, I’ve accepted that I don’t need to be perfect all of the time. Sometimes I get my daughter and I dressed all week out of an unfolded and unsorted hamper of clean clothes. Often I pay the bills once per month, rather than paying them as they arrive or paying them at the “best” time as per due dates and interest rates. I started out making my own baby food, but then gave up and went for store bought instead. My hair looks better when blow dried, but except on the coldest winter days or the most special events, I leave the house with wet hair.
  • Balance over time, not every day. I work really hard at some times of the year, often working several hours at night after the kids are in bed, but I also take almost 2 months of vacation each year that I spend exclusively with my kids.  Sometimes I take a night to go out with friends, but other times if my kids need me I may have to put social activities on hold. Some weekends I need to work, and sometimes I take a long weekend so that I can focus on family. If I try to achieve perfect balance each day, I will fail. But if I let things work themselves out over time, I may have a fighting chance.

All that to say that I don’t have the cure for mommy guilt. Not even close. But I’ve discovered a few tricks that help me give my kids more presence within the constraints of our ever busy lives. What tricks have you discovered to spend more quality time with your kids while maintaining your career?

Guest post by PhD in Parenting

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess October 7, 2008 at 11:49 am

Thank-you for sharing this. I stay at home full-time and still struggle with guilt that I’m not doing enough . . . it is good to hear that balance is the key, and imperfection is ok!

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Christian AP Mama October 10, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Like you, I quit my full-time job as a newspaper editor to take writing/editing contracts from a home office. At first, it was a little difficult learning how to balance everything, but I’m getting better all the time. The key, I think, is to always be looking for a solution…if you feel guilty about something, to think of a way to alleviate the problem and and try it and see if it works. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

For the first nine months after my first child was born, I worked full-time from home as a freelance writer and my husband worked part-time telemarketing during the evening shift, so there was always someone home and able to give our daughter plenty of attention…even if I had to hit the road for an assignment. When my oldest was 9 months, we moved and transitioned to more traditional roles — my husband working full-time for a factory during the day and I working from home (20-30 hours a week). This has been more challenging for me, as I now have to do more work after everyone goes to bed, instead of getting sleep myself.

What I’ve done is to set up my “office” (really a desk with a computer and some shelves on the wall for files, etc.) in the living room where my children spend the day playing. This way, I’m always right here when one of them need me. I’ve had to get used to tuning out noises (and the TV, when my husband is home) when I work, as I formerly needed it to be dead quiet to work. And I’ve learned how to cram a lot of work in a short time and still have it come out as quality work. Again, seeing what works and trying to problem-solve for solutions when I encounter something that doesn’t work.

Like you, I sometimes think that maybe I’m not giving my kids my everything by working from home, that I’d have more to give if I didn’t work at all. And the truth is, yes, I would be able to give more of me if I didn’t work — but I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am now, because I love my work. And being a happy person translates into being a happy mother.

It really does work very well for me to do my work in the same room as where my children work — and allowing them to distract me without me.

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Allison June 6, 2009 at 6:03 am

I work full-time but I have a flexible schedule where I work four longer 9 hour days and one half day. I also work from home 2 out of 5 days and my 1 year-old son only has to be in daycare 4 days a week. My husband has a flexible schedule as well which allows him to be home in the mornings with our son, taking him to the childminder around 9:30. I try to leave work at work when I am done and to be present with my family when we are together. I get my “me” time in the evening when I breastfeed my son down to sleep in the family bed I read a book (something I could not give up!). I usually stay in bed from 8:30 when he goes to sleep and read for an hour or so, this is much needed downtime for me.

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Jennifer June 23, 2009 at 9:47 pm

I am a single mom and self-employed. I found AP the natural way. I was all ready to do it like all the mother’s were telling me and when my daughter was born….instinct kicked in and I found out a couple months later that there was actually a name for this this. :) I am a hairdresser and once in awhile I get someone who thinks that AP is “un-healthy” and “not fair to the child”. It’s so frustrating! I have a very well balanced, happy daughter and that’s proof that this is right for us. It’s nice to see that others have the same struggles with balancing housework and time with kids and work. I am lucky enough to be able to make my own hours to suit my daughters schedule. Summer is hard as she is in school during the year and child care is “iffy”! I get family and friends to agree to have her “visit” for a week here and a week there and Grandmother comes to help us out for awhile. I recently quit working evenings so that I could give my daughter some sort of routine at night and it was the most wonderful thing I have ever done. I love the time with her. She still sleeps with me. It just seems silly to have her way across the house when it’s just the two of us. She will want her independence soon enough!

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