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!)
I have suffered from poor sleep for years. Long gone are the days of a blissful 8-9 hours of sleep. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Ever. Prolonged insomnia can lead to so many health issues down the road, and it absolutely wrecks you mentally in the short-term. If you’ve ever gone even a few days of not having good sleep, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s horrible.
My sleep problems started just before I moved to the UK for grad school. Yep, stress. Stress of getting my visa approved, stress of moving internationally, stress of being surrounded by some of the best flute students anywhere. Then, of course, there was the pressure once school started. So. Much. Stress. I think I averaged 1-3 hours of sleep total each night my first term, and I was able to up it to about 5-6 hours by my third term. I was so grateful! By the time I graduated and moved back to the States, I was sleeping better until I started having children. The cycle began again. Now, with changing hormones, it’s only getting worse! Enter another bad cycle of poor sleep. Over time, and working with my doctor, I learned some tricks to help. It’s still not perfect every single night, but I am sleeping so much better than I have in years. I’ve even managed to sleep through storms. That’s new! Now, even when I go to bed with my mind racing, I can still get to sleep. I want to share these with you, because, like I said, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this, ever. (Sorry, fellow mommas, but these methods work best when you’ve not had that glass of wine.)
1. Melatonin. First of all, ask your doctor or health care provider before starting any supplements, but I use 5mg of melatonin to help me reset my circadian rhythm. We think between grad school and waking babies, it just got out of whack. I only used it once I was finished with my pregnancies and breastfeeding. Start small, like a 3mg dose if you’ve never used it before. Again, see your health care provider first!
2. Use a weighted blanket, a heavy, large DIY rice pack that you can heat up, or anything with weight. The extra weight that you put on your body helps you to feel more secure. I absolutely cannot sleep without something extra across my chest. When it is the summer, and it’s hot out, maybe I’ll just use a pillow to hug, but having the extra weight has worked very well for me. My sister-in-law let me borrow her heated rice pack when we were staying the night at her house, and it worked brilliantly!
3. Write down your worries. If you are laying down for the night and you find yourself starting to worry about anything and everything, get right back up and write them out immediately. Usually you’ll find that either the problems don’t seem so huge when you look at them on paper, or you’ll realize that you can’t actually deal with them that second, but you can easily get to them the next day. I have found that this helps me to relax because I know I have a list of tasks to tackle, and I won’t forget about them.
4. White noise. I know that they say to have a completely silent room, but that actually doesn’t work well for me. It unnerves me to have complete silence, allowing you to hear every creak and pop your house or apartment makes. Maybe I’m odd? I think what happened was learning to fall asleep with my baby’s sleep sheep over the years, and now I have to have some noise. In any case, we have a small fan that we turn on every evening. It helps to keep the air moving, which is so nice, and it gives me the white noise I feel like I need. The other advantage to white noise is that it can give you something else to focus on as you fall asleep, instead of your racing thoughts.
5. Mindfulness and imagery. I use a few techniques here. One is to breathe in slowly while thinking of the word “in” and breathe out slowly while thinking of the word “out”. This worked for me for a long time. When I begin meditating, I’ll often use this to help me get fully relaxed. Another technique that I learned from a friend is to start at your toes and imagine that you are slowly filling up your body with sand. This has been working extremely well lately. I don’t even get past my ankles before I’m out! I imagine that my feet are hollow, and the sparkling sand is very slowly falling from my toes to my heels, filling up my feet. Once your feet are full, move up your leg, allowing your leg to feel quite heavy. I love this trick!
If you are suffering from poor sleep or full-blown insomnia, please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot! So many of us have been there, and we all wish you the best sleep. There are loads of ideas that might work for you. I also highly recommend seeing your health care provider, too. Sleep is crucial to a healthy life and for being at your best when you are caring for your children or at your job. Do try the above methods and see which work best for you. I use all of them every night, because I absolutely have to. Sweet dreams!
A few months ago I felt like I really needed a radical change in my parenting style — things simply stopped working well for me. My days were getting filled with a lot of negativity, frustration, and by the end of each day, resignation and tears. What worked for my children as toddlers and preschoolers simply didn’t work for a strong-willed, athletic, and super-confident boy of 8 (for example), not to mention the different personalities of my other kiddos! After all, as our children grow and develop, so do their attitudes, interests, and behaviors (as a result of more self-awareness, maturity, and confidence). Our parenting styles, in turn, need to adapt and evolve, as well.
It just so happened that an ad for Positive Parenting Solutions — https://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/ — popped up on my Facebook feed a few months ago. I had just had a particularly hard day of my son shouting at me most of the afternoon, which he was doing really often, so I thought, “what could it hurt?” I used my practice time the next morning to watch the webinar, and I have never looked back! It opened my eyes to understanding childhood behavior and needs so much better. I immediately bought Amy McCready’s book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time, and another book, Positive Parenting, by Rebecca Eanes. I will tell you that I have read and re-read Amy’s book several times, and I have since added sticky notes to direct me straight to what I usually need guidance with the most. Rebecca’s book has been an excellent supplement for alternate approaches.
These books teach you about parenting your children through positive attention, encouragement (not to be confused with praise), and empowerment, giving them some much-needed control over their own lives. In these books you learn tools and scripts that are designed to help you encourage them and teach them life’s valuable lessons on more-or-less their terms. It teaches you that your home life is, indeed, a democracy, as opposed to the more authoritarian style that most of us grew up with. As a natural result of some of the successes of the tools and lessons I have learned along the way, I actually feel more empowered, too! What a win/win situation!
I will say that the road has been really bumpy. It’s been a challenge, for one, getting my husband on the same page as me — not because he doesn’t want to, just lack of time to learn the techniques — but it is essential that your spouse/partner is in lock-step with you on this. Also, I’ve learned that my own personality has been part of the problem! (Say, what?!) Yeah. So, not only did I need to learn to adjust how I handle all of the difference situations that pop up day-to-day and to change our routine, I needed to adjust my own personality and be more cheery and less frantic overall. Needless to say, I’m still working on that! I am a person that likes a lot of control and order…oh, and did I mention that I am a little short-tempered, too? Haha, yikes! I’ve had to learn to let A LOT of stuff go, speak more gently/ less firmly, walk away from conflicts and power struggles, and hand over a lot of power (positive power) to my children. I’ve also learned that children learn so much more from just sitting down with them and talking calmly and lovingly with them about their choices and about empathy (i.e. using time-IN), rather than just using time-outs as a means to direct behavior in the heat of the moment, which I can attest to, definitely doesn’t work. It does require a TON of extra effort, but it’s so worth it!!
After implementing the techniques from Positive Parenting Solutions, the above-mentioned books, and from various websites devoted to positive parenting, I have rarely had to raise my voice or even ground my children. They simply learn from the choices they make. Encouragement gives them a sense of significance and be more willing to cooperate. Positive power, positive attention, and helping out the family gives them their much-needed sense of belonging. I absolutely love this approach! Again, like anything new, it can have its ups and downs, and I’m definitely still learning myself! But, overall, there has been a very positive difference in our house, and I love the growth and change I’m seeing!
A few months ago, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness: focusing on the present moment. I did some quick searches online to get a feel for what it entails. I even stumbled upon an article in a Women’s Health magazine written by a woman who spent an entire week at a facility doing nothing but practicing mindfulness for 10-11 hours each day: no talking, no phones, no outside communication, and a few light vegetarian meals per day. Enlightening! So, I thought I would try it out for myself, and in the process I have discovered a wonderful new awareness of my body, thoughts, and my outlook. I love it!
My approach is simple. I lay down on the floor in a semi-supine position (flat on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the floor). I begin by closing my eyes and taking slow breaths in through my nose and out through my nose, feeling the air rush in and out the whole time. I feel how it makes the inside of my nose feel. I feel how it rushes into my lungs and fills my chest, and I feel how it exits my body and back through my nose. These sensations are the only sensations I focus on for several breaths. When I feel my head start to clear and almost soften (i.e. muscles have relaxed!), I then start to feel for my pulse internally and how it rushes the blood throughout my body, continuing to take in my slow, deep breaths. Next, I focus on how my skin feels flush against the floor and take in all of these sensations. If at any time my head starts to fill with chatter, I bring it back to any one of these sensations and continue my focus. My only goal during this time to be completely aware of all of my senses at that moment.
After about a week or two of devoting 10-15 minutes of my afternoon to practicing mindfulness, I noticed a positive change in my concentration level and outlook on the day. My favorite part is that I have found it easier to clear my head of needless chatter, especially while I’m practicing or performing. I can much more easily chase away negative thoughts or feelings and regain focus. Relaxing and bringing a more positive spirit to the day has become easier, as well. I also like how much more aware and tuned-in to my body I’ve become as a result of mindfulness. My ability to fall asleep has greatly improved, too! Overall, it has made such a powerful impact on my life.
As parents and musicians, it can be so difficult to find the time to squeeze this in. Honestly, I started out just trying to get even 5 minutes worth every day, and that was tough. However, once I started to feel the positive impact it was having on several areas of my life, I felt more encouraged to try to go longer each day. I definitely encourage you to work up to 10-15 minutes every day, even if you have to just start with 5 minutes like me. After one or two weeks, you’ll begin to take notice of some positive changes. Enjoy it, and let it continue to influence more aspects of your life in an encouraging and positive way!
The last few months have brought so much work for me that I’ve neglected my site for a bit. Apologies! It’s been exciting, though! I served as the Chair of the 2015 Indianapolis Flute Fest, where we hosted the fabulous Jasmine Choi (www.jasminechoi.com). I even played for her the week before Flute Fest!!! She’s such a wonderful coach! Then, I had the honor of playing in the Hilbert Circle Theatre for a wonderful woman, Susan Kitterman, who is retiring in May as the director of the New World Youth Symphony Orchestra, where I played piccolo in 1995-1996. I also got the opportunity to be a part of the Butler University Arts Fest, playing the music of Rogers and Hammerstein and sharing the stage with the Butler Ballet (second only to Julliard!). Of course, I had my regular orchestral work in-and-amongst the other work. It was hard work and a little overwhelming at times, while juggling three small children, but it was worth every effort!
My toddler decided just before the Flute Fest that he was ready to potty-train. Yikes! I wasn’t ready, but if he was ready, then I had to be. It was a little frustrating at times, but once I took a breath and got comfortable with stopping every 20 minutes or so to put him on the toilet, it got easier. Once he developed awareness of actually urinating, then it got significantly easier. I think that that is a large part of the process: creating awareness. Toddlers are busy and want to go, go, go. They are so busy playing that they likely don’t even realize that they are urinating (pooping is another story — they are quite aware of that!). Once we both could recognize the signs of needing to go, then it’s just a matter of making it to the toilet. Sometimes he would fight it quite a bit. In the early stages of potty training, you really can’t push it too much, or you’ll turn your child off of it. However, once they are quite accustomed to using the toilet, you really do need to insist that they go and use it. As my husband, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, likes to tell me, “potty-training is not a linear progression,” meaning, it’s often two steps forward and one step back. Keeping that in mind helps significantly, too.
I learned so much about self-discipline, patience, and the importance of exercise and relaxation techniques during this incredible time. Because I had 3-to-4 shows worth of music at any given time, I really did have to pace myself and stagger learning each show. I had to trust myself that I could still play successfully without playing every single note every day, which is completely impossible when children are involved. I learned to be patient with the learning process of my own work and with a potty-training toddler. This is where the exercise and relaxation techniques really come into play and help out. (see previous posts). It has been a learning process for me on so many levels, and that is what makes being a musician and a mommy so rewarding and enriching for me! Now I’m on to preparing for another possible recital. The excitement just never stops!