I was reading through a story from a stay-at-home parent, which I really like. (Read it here). The premise is that you don’t have to have a perfectly clean house to prove that you are doing your job as a stay-at-home parent. I needed that reassurance today, but I wish I had read this years ago!
When I had my first baby, her needs absolutely came first, of course. I would strive to get a shower by 1pm, or not, and hope get at least one household item completed, and maybe 45 minutes practice on my flute. By the time baby number 2 arrived just 16 months later, I still got in a tiny bit of practice, but I gave up trying to get that one household job finished. Dishes piled up. The house smelled of the poopy diapers in the trash. The floors were a mess. Then the guilt started. Dinner was even difficult to get on the table. I felt like I was failing. Yes, I was teaching my daughter to love books, learn her letters, colors, numbers, and to count. Yes, I was breast-feeding my (then) baby and singing and reading to him. But my silly sense of accomplishment was instead wrapped up in keeping an orderly house. I felt like I wasn’t doing my “job.” I felt guilty and felt judged. How I was so wrong! I was absolutely doing my job. I was raising and teaching my kids well.
I have three children now and they are all in school. While that does give me a bit more time for my work — inside and outside the home — because of fear of judgement, I still struggle at times to keep my focus where it belongs: raising good children, not having a perfectly tidy house. My kids do well in school, they come to me with issues, they talk openly with me, they play well with others, they are happy. I would take those good qualities over having a perfectly clean home any day. It means I’m spending my time in the right way. I’m grateful to have been reminded of that!
Parenting is not easy. Even when things are going fairly well, it’s not always a breeze. Add pressure from work or the stress your child may feel at school, and the difficulty just multiplies. Parenting asks a lot from us humans. The role of mom, dad, grandparent, foster parent is multifaceted and demanding. You are the bedrock, the snuggle-buddy, taxi driver, cook, laundress, nurse/ first aid, maid, role model, cheerleader. 24/7. It doesn’t stop. It’s demanding, and we have to smoothly flow from one role to the next effortlessly, and with patience and loving kindness. Our children want that from us, and we need to provide that for them. I, for one, am no saint — I am as imperfect as any other person, so sometimes I fail at this. It’s an extremely high expectation of us, and who can possibly do it without fault? When you have an especially rotten week where nothing seems to go right, and the stress builds, we start to see fractures in our strong family foundation we have worked so hard to build. For me, I find that heart-breaking, but also, I see it as a demand for action.
I’ve blogged about this before, but one of the best things you can do to build your relationship with your child is dedicated special time with each kid. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite times of the day. I love to play with my kids!! Between my work, kids sports, the homework demands of our school, and extra-curricular activities and clubs, this week has taken special time away. What’s the obvious result? A little breakdown in our relationship, because when kids don’t get the positive attention they crave, they will get it in other ways. My kids resort to tantrums or picking arguments with their siblings or with us, their parents. The stress of everything brings us down and affects our relationship. I had to take action to avoid the downward spiral I suddenly found myself in.
My solution this week has been two-fold: (1) seek help from the school, so they can help my middle guy get himself organized and on-task, to alleviate some of the stress he is feeling from the demands of his school work, and (2) be more diligent about finding some modicum of play time with them, even if that means they stay up just a few minutes past bedtime (not too long, though!) to squeeze in some games, like we did last night. I also added an extra dose of loving words and encouragement to each child separately as I tucked them in, so they went to sleep feeling really loved. It was great way to end the evening, and tonight, we are going to have some extra special time and have a picnic at the soccer fields before my youngest son’s soccer game, since we don’t have much time for dinner. Despite the stress of this week, I am determined to find the fun wherever we can, as well as finding solutions to what is causing the stress so we can deal with it more effectively.
Whenever you find yourself caught in a whirlwind of activity and work, and the stress begins to crumble your day or week, make sure you can still find sources of fun together each day. Maybe, like us, it will be a picnic just before a game. Maybe, a trip to the movies is in order, or go out for a quick ice cream cone together. Maybe a game night after homework and dinner is finished. Whatever you can do to maintain the fun in parenting each day and reduce the amount of stress, it goes a long, long way to building your relationship with your children and repairing any cracks you’ve discovered in your foundation.
It’s not the most ideal morning. I stagger sleepily downstairs to the kitchen for that precious first cup of coffee. As I slowly begin to feel a bit less drowsy and start to pour drinks for breakfast, get their vitamins out, rinse off some grapes, I hear my daughter behind me. “Mommy, my throat really hurts.” Thinking she just has this nasty cold that my son has, I dutifully get out the flashlight to look at her throat, and yep, it’s a trip to the doctor. There goes the morning.
As we’re hurrying to get dressed so we can be one of the first in line at our doctor’s early morning walk-in clinic, my son with the cold starts complaining of a tummy ache. “I’m sorry your tummy hurts. You didn’t eat much last night, why don’t you try some grapes?” We hurry the boys up for school, and my daughter and I rush out of the house for the doctor’s office.
We get her all checked in and seated with her book, and I get a text from my husband. My little guy with the tummy ache feels like he can’t even stand the car ride to school, and my husband agrees he also needs to stay home. OK. So, after 1 1/2 hours at the doctor — yep, she has strep throat — we go home so we can be with my littlest one, allowing my husband to get the prescription and a few groceries before heading off to work. It’s only 10a.m. , and it already feels like it’s been a full day! I still have my flute and music staring at me, not to mention a trip to the library to return books that are due, and I still have my middle guy to pick up from school!
We have so far successfully been able to split up our day between some ABCya.com (they boost their math skills while I get a bit of practice in), snuggles, and reading, more snuggles, and what looks like now, a little bit of Simon. Sometimes navigating the hectic day of being a nurse, a mom, and a flutist can be really hard, but finding the joy in-and-among the craziness makes it so rewarding!
Parenting advice from sticky notes? Yes! Here’s what I mean: I have several books and related online articles that I have read over the last several years, which is a lot of information to take in. I have my books full of tabs and notes on information that I found particularly valuable or helpful. And as much as I try to flip through my books periodically to refresh my memory on my favorite ideas, I can’t always get to them, which leads to some forgetfulness on my part. I hate that! I’ve taken a great idea and lost it in the busyness of being a working parent of three kids. Gone — at least until I have a chance to pick up my books and refresh myself again.
My solution to this? Carefully placed sticky notes. I find an area of the house that I will see everyday (every morning and evening, actually) and stick my best, most helpful piece of advice up on that area. This reminds me everyday to work on whatever it is I want to work on. For just one example, in Rebecca Eanes book, Positive Parenting: Connecting from the Heart, she challenges the reader to give your child four statements of encouragement or positivity for every correction. The thought is that children are mostly told what they are doing wrong, and to avoid feeling like they can’t do anything right, you fill them up with positive attention. (It’s really great advice!! Do try it.) However, I was forgetting to actively try to get in four statements. What’s worse is that on my busiest, most hectic days, I may not get in very many encouraging words at all — maybe a quick “thank you” here are there — and the corrections just pile up. You can imagine where that leads! So, I have a sticky note on the mirror in my bedroom — something I see a few times a day — to remind me to work on at least four positive, encouraging statements in between each correction.
The sticky note reminders have started to drift into other parts of the house, as well, to help remind my children of some rules. I have a sticky note on our computer monitor to remind my children that online gaming is not allowed and what the consequence will be for breaking the rule (no computer privileges for one week) — we’ve talked about it many times, so they understand why, which is very important. I also have a sticky note to remind my daughter to work on 30 minutes of math games Monday through Thursday to help build her confidence in her weaker area. Therefore, not much has to be said on the subject. They see the notes, I see the notes, and we are all on the same page. No need for arguments, it’s all spelled out after discussing it.
So, in a manner of speaking, I get some of my best parenting advice from my sticky notes. I see them every day and am reminded every day to improve upon an area of my parenting. We all want to be the best parents we can be. We love our children, after all! There is no shame in getting help and finding clever solutions to help remind ourselves of what works, especially on our busiest days. So, here’s my challenge to you: find two or three of your best or favorite pieces of advice from positive parenting websites or books, stick them to your bathroom mirror or your bedroom mirror, and see what you gain from it. I’ve gained a fantastic way to fill my children up with positive attention and happy hearts!
On the days I’m not teaching at Indiana Wesleyan University, I love working from home! I can be here to help get the kids out the door for school. I can workout. And, best of all, I can wear what I want, be comfortable, and not have to worry about make-up and my unruly, crazy hair. I love it! I leisurely begin my practicing with long tones and get my creative juices going by thinking about tone color and all of the different shading possibilities. After that, maybe I move on to my orchestral work or etudes, pieces, or whatever I wish. I take my time, and I feel relaxed.
The problem with being home while I’m working, is that I get almost “too relaxed” or unfocused, and I let the distractions of being in the house enter my mind. I suddenly notice that the kids’s toothpaste is all over their sink. Gross. I remember that my daughter will have no clean uniform skirts if I don’t do laundry today. The carpet needs attention. Ewwww, why is the kitchen floor sticky?! Yeah, you get me. It’s not exactly a distraction-free environment, is it? I almost let it get to me today, too. So, that’s the paradox of working from home, right? I find it easier to concentrate and focus at school or in a concert hall, but every other aspect of working is so much easier and relaxed at home.
So, how do I deal with all of these distractions and not let them blow my focus and energy? I put them off entirely … until the time is right. I try to maintain a daily schedule at home, and that does help a lot. I usually do not allow myself to do housework until my practicing is finished. Yes, the toothpaste is still all over the children’s sink. Yes, the carpet still desperately needs a visit with the vacuum cleaner. However, I know that these things can wait until it is in my schedule to take care of them, and knowing that can allow me to set those distractions aside and focus on my work. I’m not saying it’s always easy for me: like today, I caved in and started laundry early, which ate into my practice time a tiny bit. Some days it actually helps me to swap blocks of my schedule. So, if there’s something that is going to nag at me relentlessly until I get it taken care of, I’ll just deal with it first, and then carry on with my work. The trick for me is to make sure that during my work time, that’s what I’m focused on, and during my blogging or cleaning time, that’s what I’m focused on. I have to shut the door on everything else until it’s the right time. It takes will power some days, for sure, but I always thank myself in the end.
Life can come at us like a fastball, and from all different directions, too, especially when trying to juggle being a working parent. In my case, I am a musician, a mother of three children, and a wife, not to mention all of the responsibilities that come with those roles. We love every aspect of our lives, and being high-achieving, active working parents, we want to be able to do it all! But how do we juggle or balance this thing called life? Achieving a healthy work / life balance requires us to set reasonable goals, take care of ourselves, and nourish our personal relationships while we advance our careers. Here are the 4 ways I achieve a sense of balance.
1.Prioritize projects. One way to create work / life balance is to prioritize activities or projects, and set long- and short-term goals. You may have 20 different projects going on at the same time. Remember, they don’t all have to be completed immediately. Prioritize your projects. Some projects need to take a backseat and wait for a little bit. That’s OK! You’ll get to it when the time is right. Long-term goals or larger projects can be completed when you get big enough gaps in your schedule. For your short-term or smaller-sized goals, try to get the quickest or easiest jobs done during the week as much as possible. Don’t let them sit! The more you can keep up with the day-to-day bits the less stressed you will feel and the more time you will have in the end. As an example of how I help myself manage my projects, I use a small whiteboard in my kitchen to set a daily schedule for the smaller daily or weekly jobs, and on my monthly wall calendar I track when I may have time to work on my larger projects.
2. Set aside some “me time.” Making time to devote to just you is a another great step towards achieving a sense of balance. This can be difficult at times, but it’s so important and worth it! I notice a huge difference in my energy and concentration level when I find even just 10 minutes to meditate, or practice mindfulness. I also dedicate 15-20 minutes most mornings to working out or to go for a run. These practices significantly elevate my performing ability. Workouts give me energy, stamina, and strength, and meditation allows me to keep my head clear during performances and to stay relaxed during the day. Another special “me time” is heading to the Farmer’s Market most Saturdays. There are several enjoyable activities out there for your special “me time.” Think about what the most relaxing or fun way would be to spend part of a Saturday morning that’s just for you, and make it a ritual that you really look forward to each week!
3. Maintain your relationships. The one aspect of a working parent’s life that is very easy to crumble, if not well supported and maintained in a healthy way, is relationships. Continue to date your spouse or significant other, and spend time with your friends. Some couples find it best to set aside one time each week or every other week as a guaranteed date day or date night. You can even mark it in your calendar like an important appointment that you can’t miss. Whether it is a long walk on a trail or the river-walk downtown, having game night with our close friends, a relaxed dinner nearby, or a movie, as long as you can get a few hours to yourselves, it counts, and it makes a positive difference towards the relationship! This can require thinking ahead and having babysitters and even back-up babysitters lined up. Communication is also a big part of cultivating and nourishing any relationship. When things are going well, talk about it! When things are not going so well, talk about that, too. It is healthier to get your feelings, thoughts, and emotions out in the open. Socialization, dating, and communication are easy to overlook, but it is an essential part of the work/life balance. Make sure you are working it into your busy schedule from time to time!
4. Play with your children. Finally, spend quality time with your children every day. Play with them, help them with homework, read to them, and talk with them. They need to know that they are important in your life, too. It’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in your day, but by giving them your undivided attention every day, you can avoid many behavioral problems that can arise from them craving your attention. Depending on the age and temperament of the children, even 10 minutes of fun here, and another 10 minutes there can go a long way toward helping them feel secure and appreciated. Also, give yourselves a fun weekend. Being a big part of their lives enriches your relationship with them and nourishes your own sense of fulfillment.
Preserving a good work/life balance is crucial to keeping us healthy and at our peak mentally and physically. It’s easy to let ourselves fall into a workaholic rut while other important aspects of our lives fall by the wayside. With just a little adjustment to our schedules like the ones above, however, we can sustain all facets of our busy life, giving it a more structured, flourishing, and harmonious feel. Ask yourself if you can delegate any of your responsibilities, if there is a way of making one part of your day run more efficiently, if you can hire household help, or maybe you can train yourself to wake up just 20 minutes earlier for that workout. Find what works with your own life structure, and stick to it! We are creative, imaginative people with a lot to juggle. We can apply this ingenuity to balancing our work with our busy lives, and live the enriching life we crave!
(Disclaimer: A version of this article has been submitted to Ezine articles, and another version appeared in the Chicago Flute Club’s Pipeline newsletter in the summer of 2018)
Working at home while the children are in the house can be a monumental challenge. I’m not gonna lie: they are my hardest days, and any parent that has tried this knows exactly what I’m talking about. The kids are off school today for Labor Day, so it’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s a [literal] mess — I had 2 sets of blanket tents and empty fruit and cereal bowls covering my dining area just one hour ago, and laundry is piling up! The blanket tents and loud zombie playing are super fun, but with concerts starting back up, I still have to practice. And of course, then there are the inevitable arguments breaking out and all the other small “fires” (so to speak) to put out. Put it all together, and it’s very difficult to work and can leave you frazzled. It’s so easy to want to give up.
Lately, I have found the best way to handle this is to do the work in chunks: work a bit, then play, work a bit, then play. I definitely allow screen time during my work time, which does help immensely, but since I limit them to 2 hours per day it’s not enough time to get my practicing finished. So, we’ve had to experiment a lot to find a workable solution for everyone, or something that the children will at least tolerate for me. For some parents, working quite early in the morning and after the kids have gone to bed is a good solution for them. Since I’m a musician, I can’t exactly get away with that on my flute, but I have left my quieter work for when they are in bed. In the past, I have tried to do all of my practicing in the morning, leaving my afternoons free to play with my kids, but I still found myself drifting towards working in chunks anyway. Another thing that has worked well is when I’m lucky enough to have my husband home at the same time (sadly, not today), one of us can be with the children while the other one works, and then we’ll switch off. I have tried many different ways of squeezing in work while they are home.
I don’t believe that there is a solution that works perfectly well every single time. Something that may work one day doesn’t work at all the next. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something goes wrong. I get it. I think the key is being flexible enough to allow change to happen without disrupting our work entirely. Yes, this takes quite a bit patience and ingenuity to work around major disruptions, but developing this fluidity can save you a lot of frustration and may make you more productive overall. (Just for the record, it took me 3 chunks of time to get this blog written!)