When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually stumble for a second. Am I a freelancer? Stay-at-home mom? Am I full-time? Part-time? I tend to get a little cheeky in my response, telling people that I’m a freelance writer and part-time stay-at-home mom, because honestly, that’s what it feels like. When my kids aren’t home, when they’re at school or at other activities, I’m all about the work, but when they’re home it gets a little more complicated. I know there are a lot of parents out there, working from home in one capacity or another while also being incredibly available for their children, and it’s hard and frankly…exhausting.
My secret is compartmentalizing. It’s not always an exact separation, but attempting to schedule my time for either work or for parenting has been very helpful in making sure everything I need to do each day (and want to do each day) gets enough attention.
On a typical, weekday morning, both of my kids are out of the house to school by 9. This gets me free of my parenting responsibilities shortly after that, with a solid three hours to schedule as I see fit. This is my primary work time since I’m guaranteed an interruption-free environment to really be productive. Having made a to-do list the night before, organizing my work tasks by priority, this is the time of day where I really dig in. My goal is to cross off as much as possible on my list before I have to pick up my first kid.
It may seem like a lot, to dive right in first thing, but I’m a morning person, so this becomes an ideal time for me to put on my freelancer hat. It’s also a time of day where it’s relatively easy to get people on email. I’ve found that many people start their day going through their inbox, and are more likely to respond to emails before lunch than after. This time of day is also popular for scheduling meetings, assuming all my clients are close to, or in, my time zone, so having this part of my day devoted to work makes me accessible to my clients.
Based on the volume of work I have each day, this scheduled work chunk may also include a few chores around the house or a few errands. It’s relatively easy to throw in a load of laundry during work time or shoot out for a few items at the grocery store while I’m alone without losing momentum on any of my current projects.
From the hours of 1-5 I am a stay-at-home-mom, filling my time with kid pick-ups, homework, and the transporting of young people to various after-school activities. We do a little bit of everything - urban gymnastics, swimming, soccer, and dance. Each day has its set obligations, and between them I try to actually spend a little time with my kids. We hang out, do a little homework, briefly talk about the day, play a little.
Having a hard stop for work before shifting gears means that whatever I didn’t get done still lingers in my head, and I may steel a little time during the mom shift to get more work done. The only caveat is I won’t be able to work without interruption, lots of interruption, the kind of interruption that requires me to do things for my kids that they really can do for themselves, but feel compelled to ask me about. It creates a mixture of productivity and frustration, which I try to avoid in order to remain a pleasant person during this mommy time.
Again, it’s about prioritizing. If I see a 30 minute window to work during mom time, I have to be okay with accomplishing only a fragment of what I could do with 30 minutes during my morning work time. I usually am. Afternoon work time equals 5-10 minute spurts of work, and that’s okay.
There is no squeezing in of work during the evening. This is dinner time, family time, and bed time. This is the best time of day. Again, it’s another part where I’m fully focused. It’s also the time of day where I’m usually a little burned out. My husband cooks, the kids and I relax, and I get some much-needed down time. We all sit down together, as often as possible, for dinner, prioritizing conversations about our day. Everyone gets a chance to talk, and even though dinner is usually pretty short, it’s a great way to spend family time.
After dinner, if there’s time, we might take a quick walk or play a game together, but mostly we go straight from dinner to bedtime prep. This can take upwards of an hour with showers/baths, nighttime reading, tucking into bed, and getting everyone to actually fall asleep. This portion of the evening is a little more frustrating since I begin to turn my attention from family time back to work, and anything I’m going to have to accomplish before I can wind down for the night.
Once the kids are really asleep, the kitchen is cleaned, and the house put slightly back together, I have my own time once again. I spend this in a variety of ways, sometimes going back to work for a few hours if need be, sometimes plopped on the couch with my husband watching TV, sometimes all by myself, engaged in a quiet activity. I’ve hung up the mom hat for the night and am now a cross between a freelancer and a tired parent. I enjoy the control I have over this time to break it up based on my own needs, not having to rush.
I try to read a little bit each night before going to bed (assuming I don’t fall asleep on the couch) as a final way to wind down and reset before getting back up the next morning to start the routine all over again. I also make sure to exercise each day to help clear out my head, as well as maintain many to-do lists and a highly-organized iCalendar to keep my life in sync and operational.
Wearing two hats each day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in a constant battle between the two. It’s possible to be a little of this and a little of that without sacrificing your sanity. It’s even pretty rewarding to juggle feeling fulfilled as a working professional, who contributes financially to my family and feeling fulfilled as a mom who’s able to be with her children. It took me a long time to get to this place, tying a lot of other combinations of work-life balance which failed, so I feel very lucky to be doing both right now, in increments that seem to work for both me and my family.