How Do I Find Balance?

How Do I Find Balance .png

The first week back to work following maternity leave is...let's be honest, simply about getting from point A to point B.

It's about learning what to pack for daycare and how early you have to get up to get everyone dressed and out the door.

It's about remembering the best route to work and what the heck your network password is.

And it's about finding the motivation and resolve to stay focused at work while saving enough energy to play with and care for your baby when you get home.

Many new working moms are surprised though at how quickly they fall into new routines. Work quickly picks up right where it left off and your little one adjusts to their new childcare schedule. Days fly by in a flurry of activity. You're exhausted, yes, but you're doing it.

The Bigger Picture

Then at some point, once you've ironed out the smaller, more tactical issues, you start thinking about the bigger picture. You start thinking about your career goals again and your parenting philosophies. You think about the constant push and pull that you feel between your career and motherhood. You think about balance.

How do I commit to my work without sacrificing time with my baby? How do I find enough time to work and parent and maintain all the little details that go with raising a family and a home? 

How do I find balance between devoting myself to my work and devoting myself to my family_.png

The truth is there is no secret formula or one-size-fits-all solution and a lot of it depends on your job, your schedule, and your support system both at home and at work. Some would argue that there is no such thing as balance. That the scales are always tipped one way or the other - work versus family - and it's a constant back and forth for which takes priority.

Having been a working mom for several years now, it's true. I've never found perfect balance for more than a week at a time. What keeps me sane is knowing that while this week it may feel like my job is taking the backseat to my kids, I know that will soon change and my job will have its turn.

Maintain Sanity and Happiness

So while balance may not be the ultimate goal or ever truly achievable, I have found several things to help me maintain a sense of sanity and happiness in both of my worlds, at work and at home:

Build Routines and Reduce Decisions

Getting into a groove those first few months back to work is all about setting up routines that eliminate decisions. Babies are always changing in that first year, so the more you can decide things in advance, the less you have to spontaneously react to. 

For me, that's things like having a very limited professional wardrobe (that fits!) so I don't spend time thinking about what to wear to work in the morning when the baby is crying and I'm pressed for time. Bonus tip - wear a robe over your clothes until you get to the door because...spit up and drool!

Transitions (home to daycare, daycare to work, etc.) are critical times where you should eliminate decisions. Think through your day and ask yourself where you can reduce your options or make a decision in advance.

Meal Prep on the Weekends 

I am always willing to sacrifice a few hours on Saturday or Sunday to gain some sanity and a little one-on-one time with my kids during the week. I do all my meal planning and prepping on the weekend so that I'm not deciding what to make for dinner when I've already had a long, full day at work. I simply assemble and heat what I've already prepped and I do that WITH my kids - toddler helping and baby on my hip or in the high chair. This easily gives me an extra half hour just to be/play rather than frantically cooking.

I'll admit that I don't LOVE spending my time on the weekend in the kitchen, but I HATE crazy weeknights more, so to me the time is well worth it.

Do Whatever It Takes to Make Life Easier

This could mean all kinds of things, but I've learned over the years that when I have high career ambitions but still want to be available and present with my kids, it's worth it to get the thing or hire the service that makes my life easier. 

For me, those are things like paying for great childcare that allows me to focus on work rather than worrying about whether my kids are happy. It's paying for a housekeeper to help with basic cleaning every other week so I don't have to scrub bathtubs. It's getting the nice pumping bag that holds all my parts and backup parts so my daily routine is more enjoyable because it's EASIER. 

These things can be big or small, and you have to do what makes sense for you, but I never regret spending a little extra on something that buys me more time and less stress!

Let go

This is a work in progress for me, but I am learning to let go of things that don't truly matter. I value relaxed time with my family, a growing professional career, my coaching work and living a healthy lifestyle. Not too much else matters to me in this stage of my life. As kids get older, I will absolutely add back in some of the things that I love, but for now, these are my focus. 

I find that giving myself permission relieves a lot of the guilt when I have to say no to things that don't fit on my priority list. And the more I do it, the easier it gets.

Remember, You Are Doing It

I live by these words. It's hard work to work full-time outside the home and keep up with everything around the house, AND be a great mom. But everyday you just do it. Remember to be proud of yourself for ALL that you do every single day. It might look like normal, routine stuff, but your every day is what makes up your whole life and it's pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.


This article is part of a series where I answer reader questions about working motherhood. I'm an open book and happy to answer any and all questions I receive, no matter how small. Have a question you'd like to see answered here? Submit it to katelyn@themothernurture.com. 

What To Do When You're Ready to Quit

What-To-Do-When-Youre-Ready-to-Quit.jpg

As a kid, I was practically a professional when it came to coloring. I paid close attention to every detail, never strayed outside the lines, and even finished each masterpiece with a little tissue buffing to give it that special shine.

One particular piece landed me first place in a coloring competition, and as my prize, I received a gift card to a local department store. The second they handed me that gift card, I knew exactly what I was going to get and told my parents right away. But in typical fashion for my parents, they told me I needed to wait one week, and if at the end of that week I still wanted that Turtle Tots turtle, they would take me to get it. 

One week?!?! That's a lifetime in the world of a kid. Their justification to me was that they wanted me to be sure this particular toy was what I truly wanted.

Now maybe they secretly thought this turtle was silly and hoped that I might change my mind. I've never asked them. But one thing they did know, was that the interests of a young child can change day to day, even hour to hour. So not only were they helping to ensure I would end up with a prize I really wanted, they were also teaching me patience and the concept of delayed gratification.

Missing Out

Fast forward 30-some years and I once again was in a position to practice what I had been taught. When my son was about 6 months old, I had to take a business trip that would take me away from home for 2 nights. Definitely not a long trip in the grand scheme of things, but for some reason, this particular trip felt like an eternity. Henry was in a particularly cute phase at the time and I returned from that trip to a mountain of emails at work, house projects that had fallen behind (no fault to my husband, being a single parent is hard!), and stories of all the fun the two of them had had in my absence.

I was tired just thinking about getting caught up.

I was sad that I had missed out on being with my family.

And I was angry that I was in a job that required me to travel, even occasionally.

Putting Lessons to the Test

So what did I do? I immediately jumped to thinking about quitting my job. I thought that if I didn't have to work, I wouldn't have to travel and therefore wouldn't have to feel this way again.

I thought about our budget and what it would take to live on a single income. I thought about breaking the news to my boss and to my clients. I even went so far as to say it out loud to my husband. To which he calmly responded,

"Is that what you really want?"

If it was, he said, then I should take some time to really think about it. To think about what my days would look like. To think about my career. To think about not just the short-term, but also the long-term implications. And if at the end of my thinking, I still felt as strongly about the proposition as I did right then, in that moment of pure frustration, then we would start to figure out how to make it happen. But give it some time, he said.

Time and Truth

Ok Mr. Life Coach. I felt like that kid pining for my turtle all over again. But unlike then, when I decided that in fact, I did want that turtle, I ultimately decided that I wasn't ready to quit my job and stay home. I realized that I really did like my job and working and that I was just tossing out quick solutions in the heat of the moment rather than thinking about the bigger picture.

Quick-Solutions-Rather-Than-Bigger-Picture.jpg

It's so easy to do that, especially when emotions tied to our kids are so strong. Things change, feelings change when you have kids. I know plenty of new moms who were no longer interested in their careers the way they were before having kids. The end of maternity leave is such a classic example of this because it stirs up all kinds of crazy thoughts and emotions. Only you know whether leaving your job and staying home is the right decision for you.

It's Up to You

If there's one thing I am slowly and painfully learning through motherhood, it's that everything changes. Be sure that whatever you are deciding isn't decided in haste. Make sure it's something that feels right.

And then make the leap, or don't. It's up to you.

Think-it-through.jpg

Whether it's about working or staying home, or whether it's even about your job at all, I am merely suggesting that you don't rush into it. Think it through. Sleep on it. Plan it out. Say it out loud. But most of all, give it a little time.

To this day, I don't regret staying at my job...or getting that turtle. But there are plenty of other rash choices where I wish I would have given myself more time.

Don't Set Yourself Up for Failure

DontSetYourselfUpForFailure.jpg

Productivity is probably not the first word that comes to mind when you think of the transition into motherhood. Beautiful, overwhelming, life-changing - those are more realistic. But productive? Not so much.

Talking to new moms about productivity is kind of like talking to fish about swimming. It's just something we do naturally. Moms are productive. We feed the baby, change the diaper, wash the laundry and in general, get stuff done because another little person depends on us to do the work.

But when you add working [mom] to your title, suddenly all you think about is productivity.

Getting Shit Done

I try to squeeze as much as I can out of my days. I aim to have a plan, be efficient and take action.

There are few things I geek out about more than productivity because when I have limited time and a lot to do, I want to find a process that will allow me to not just do what I have to, but do it as quickly as possible so that I can (GASP) have a few minutes of free time!

Lately, however, I find myself procrastinating, and as a result, barely completing half of my daily to-do list. Nothing is more defeating than carrying the same task from day to day and week to week until you reach the end of the month and just give up. I guess Oma isn't going to receive that thank you note after all!

When Things Aren't Working, Try Something New

You might tease me about the amount of time I spend reading about productivity, but it has provided me with a nice and somewhat expansive tool belt of ideas from which to pull. Whenever I find that my needs have changed and what I'm doing is no longer working, back to the tool belt I go to try something new.

As a working mom, I keep lots of different lists. I manage over 50 client accounts at work, stay on top of bills, budgets and financial obligations at home and keep track of errands, supplies and appointments for the family. That doesn't take into account the coaching and writing I do here for Mother Nurture and all of the many projects I would love to tackle personally (meditation, capsule wardrobe, book club...).

All that to say, with so much to keep track of, if I don't write it down it's not getting done. But lately, even if I do write it down, that's no guarantee that I will do it. I have been procrastinating and I don't like it.

So for the next few weeks, I want to try making some tweaks to my process so I can feel like I'm actually making progress. I want to end my day feeling like I kicked ass instead of feeling like the day kicked my ass! If you want to join me, here's the plan:

TIMING

In the book "Essentialism", there is a section devoted to a phenomenon called 'planning fallacy', which is people's tendency to underestimate how long a task will take, even when they have done that task before.

Tendency-to-underestimate-how-long-a-task-will-take.jpg

I am so guilty of this! For instance, I often think that meal prepping for the week only takes me an hour on a Sunday. Two and a half hours later when I am still in the kitchen cooking, I am frustrated, angry and ready t throw in the towel because everything else I wanted to do is now going to get pushed back or scrapped altogether.

On the flip side, I often put off reconciling our budget or putting away the dishes because I think it will take me forever. But setting a timer recently, I learned that I can empty our entire dishwasher in 3 minutes and I can reconcile a budget in about 10-15 minutes. That's nothing!

So I am going to start timing some of my recurring tasks and guesstimating the amount of time other tasks might realistically take me to complete. And I'm going to add in some buffer time.

Seeing 10 minutes next to a task should help me create a more realistic list and help me get started because 10 minutes is nothing!

RUNNING LIST

I said before that if I don't write it down, it's not going to happen. I'm sure you can relate. The problem is my running list gets so long with all kinds of tasks and ideas, many of them not urgent or time sensitive, that it's overwhelming. When I'm doing my weekly planning and putting my priority items on each particular day's task list, I struggle to identify the most important items from the "someday" items.

So I'm going to move my running list to a separate page so that it's not so visually overwhelming. I may even take it a step further and put tasks/ideas into columns based on urgency.

Either way, while I definitely need to write things down to remember them, I think I want that place to be not quite so front and center.

KEEP IT SHORT

I've written before about keeping your daily work list to a small number of items, like 3 to 5. If you get through those and have time for more, great! But at the very least, you should be able to get through 3 to 5 and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

While I still heed that advice for my work list, my household and personal lists have gotten out of control! I must think that I'm superwoman or that I have the power to stretch time because these lists have probably 6 hours worth of work on them each day. And once I take out my time at the office, time with the kids and time for just life in general (shower, dinner, kids' bedtime, etc.), I'm left with maybe 1-2 hours before I have to call it quits and go to bed or I'll be useless the next day.

I'm hoping that assigning time allotments to each task will help. But at the very least, I need to get back to prioritizing 3-5 items at home just like I do at work.

It's All About Expectations

When it comes down to it, all of these changes are really about having realistic expectations. Knowing how long something will take, knowing what the priority is, and knowing your limit is about setting yourself up for success.

Knowing-is-about-setting-yourself-up-for-success.jpg

When I set myself up for success, I approach my day completely differently than if I think there's no change to make a dent in what I need to do. I feel optimistic, encouraged and sure of myself instead of grumpy, overwhelmed and anxious.

Are you ready to make a few small changes to how you work and manage your daily tasks? Do you have other ideas for what you might do differently? Let me know by sending me a quick note at Katelyn@themothernurture.com.

Here's to taking back our days and setting realistic expectations!

What To Do When Sleep Is Not an Option

MotherNurture-What-To-Do-When-Sleep-Is-Not-An-Option

Ahh, sleep. For a new working mom, it is that elusive mystical unicorn.

As much as we hope, pray and cross our fingers for a baby that "sleeps like a baby", the truth is, most of us are not so lucky.

Even if you are lucky to have a sleeping baby, sleep still may not come so easily anymore.

There is something about motherhood that flips a switch and transforms us into a wake-at-the-sound-of-a-pin-drop sleeper. Or there are all the things that have to get done, often at the expense of sleep. There is work to catch up on, chores to get done, time that we want to spend with our partner or better yet, by ourselves!

MotherNurture-Something-Has-To-Go-And-That-Something-Is-Often-Sleep

When you can't do it all, something has to go. And that something is often sleep. 

While I would argue that there are stages of life when you should do all that you can to prioritize sleep, to get as much as possible, even if it's broken; I know from first-hand experience that it's not always realistic.

Existing on Caffeine, Chocolate, and Adrenaline

I know, because I have had two babies who loved partying in the middle of the night. Babies who went through stages of only sleeping while being held, only sleeping for 30 minutes at a time, only sleeping with meditation music or pacifiers or a hand on their back. You name it and we have done it. It's what drove me to enlist the help of a pediatric sleep consultant (a story for a whole other day).

I tell you this to say that I get it.

I have existed on caffeine, chocolate and sheer adrenaline for longer than I ever thought was humanly possible.

I have hit the afternoon wall so hard, so many times, that it took every ounce of restraint to not curl up under my desk for a cat nap. Speaking of cat naps, I have slept in my car on my lunch break, in the pump room, and during conference calls. Sleep deprivation of a new parent is R-E-A-L, Real!

But I figured something out the second time around that, while it didn't magically add uninterrupted sleep to my days, did help to slightly offset the continual deficit I was running.

How to Offset the Deficit

I figured out that when sleep is not an option, everything else that contributes to your health HAS to be an option.

Because your sleep is dependent on another little being, one who doesn't understand that lights out means sleep, there's not a whole lot you can do to get more. I get that.

MotherNurture-Think-About-The-Things-That-You-Can-Control

Instead, think about the things that you can control. Things like...

  • What you eat and what you drink,
  • How much you move your body,
  • How you quiet your mind and reduce stress,
  • How much you smile and have fun, 
  • How productive you are, and 
  • What you do to supplement your diet.

When you're running a sleep deficit, you need to have a surplus in the other areas of your well-being to make up the difference.


Here is my short list: the "surplus" areas that I focus on when I start to feel that overwhelming, body and mind-numbing sleep deprivation set in.

The key here is to know yourself well enough that you can decide which combination of these ideas is going to have the biggest impact in offsetting your sleep deficit. 

Food & Drink

The first think that I always want to grab when I'm tired is chocolate candy. I love some peanut m&ms and Oreos. But what I also know is that I always feel worse in the hour following eating those things than I did before.

So I summon every ounce of willpower and opt for fruit, vegetables or protein. (Better yet, I just don't buy those things so I'm not tempted, because who has willpower when you're tired?)

I also know that when I drink TONS of water, I feel refreshed. I consciously drink glass after glass on the days when I'm feeling particularly tired. It really does start to wake me up.

Movement

They say that exercise actually increases your energy levels, even though the thought of it probably leaves you feeling tired and exhausted.

Maybe you just start with something small like a walk around the block on a work break or up and down a flight of steps. I also love starting small with simple stretches or a sun salutation to wake myself up. I've even done this in a conference room when I'm feeling that urge to nap under my desk.

Quiet Your Mind / Reduce Stress

I have never found meditation as meaningful as I have when I'm tired. Because when I am tired, I am emotional; I am quick to anger; I succumb easily to stress; and I just feel, in general, like the sky is falling.

Meditation is like a nap on steroids. It helps to calm my mind and my emotions and leaves me feeling a bit like I've gotten some sleep.

It looks different for everyone. Do what works for you, whether that is counting your breaths in cycles of 10, starting at a candle, doing yoga nidra or using an app like Headspace or Calm. Give it a try.

Supplements

I always make sure that I’m taking my daily vitamin and whatever else I’m into at the moment. At different stages that has been Vitamin D, probiotics, magnesium, Vitamin B complex, digestive enzymes, protein shakes, etc.

When you’re tired and easily forget about eating balanced meals, getting a little extra boost from vitamins and supplements is never a bad idea. (Of course, I’m not a medical professional so consult with your healthcare provider before trying all the things.)

Lagniappe

...also known as a little something extra. Everyone has their thing that helps them feel their best. Whether it’s doing a little journaling, having a glass of wine, taking a bath, you name it. Try to add it in when you can. For me, it’s diffusing some essential oils that immediately relax me or help build up my immune system because when I get tired, I catch everything!

You know what your own lagniappe is. Don’t forget about it. Add it in when you can for a little extra boost.


Let’s be honest. Nothing truly beats sleep when it comes to feeling your best.

But it’s time that we accept whatever stage we are in and do what we can to offset that deficit.

The Four Words Every New Mom Should Hear

When I think back to that first year of being a mom, I shake my head and smile.

I can do that now. I'm on the other side.

But when I was in it...man, was I in it! I was in that stage of full-on sleep deprivation, of never-ending baby cries, of fevers and ear infections and teething, of short naps and multiple night-wakings, of long work days and corresponding mom guilt, of juggling work and home and family, and of battling PPD

I can honestly say that I was pushed to my breaking point and I thought it would never end.  

The Magic Words that Put It All in Perspective

I can tell you that it did eventually end. And eventually there was enough distance between that first year and the present to make me feel like I could do it again, because just 7 months ago, I became a mom for the second time.

I made sure to give myself enough time to recover, but not too much that I would forget how hard it can be in the beginning.

And it was hard. I had many moments of deja vu as I rocked and shushed another crying baby, powered through long nights and days with very little sleep and returned to work facing reminiscent feelings of guilt and overwhelm. And I admit that there were points when I thought again...I will never do anything other than care for this new baby and keep my toddler alive.

But then I would think back to that very first year of motherhood.

And I would think of everything I accomplished, not the least of which was raising a baby, and I would say to myself "I did it".

You Are Doing It

Katie Lee, author, speaker and lifestyle designer, says "your daily life is your whole life."

Think about that.

Life doesn't jump from one milestone or major event to the next. It moves through daily life even when that daily life is comprised of nothing more than nursing, diaper-changing, rocking and sleeping.

It's always hard to see the change when you're closest to it. Just like when you see someone you haven't seen in awhile and their weight loss is obvious to you but not to them. They see themselves everyday and the change is so gradual that they often miss it.

The same goes for those early baby days.

It feels like the same thing day in and day out, but the truth is there is change. Change in your baby and change in you.

So when I start to feel disheartened, when I think that surely my body and mind are going to break from lack of sleep and physical exhaustion, I remember that I am doing it.

Everyday, I am becoming stronger, I am learning, I am growing and before I know it, these everydays will become a year. And I hope it's a year I can look back on with amazement, a sense of accomplishment, pride and hopefully a smile too.

I am doing it.

You are doing it.

We are doing it.