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This topic is something that’s on my mind a lot this year. Our goals for our business (this blog) are pretty big this year, and it’s necessitating me taking more time away from my children than I wish I were. It should — hopefully — only take a year before I have more flexibility again, but it is what it is for right now.
That means that I have to really struggle to balance working at home with raising my children. I figured probably other mamas out there are in the same situation!
What My Days Look Like
Briefly, I want to share with you what my days look like right now.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
These days, I don’t work (much) during the day. We keep Mondays for doing cleaning and home chores, like cooking big batches of food. This week we made a double batch each of soaked waffles and soaked English muffins. We play and do activities in between our chores, and the kids help with chores.
On Wednesdays we often stay at home and play. If we do go out, we try to stick close to home and be back by lunch time. It’s important for all the kids to take naps, because we have church at night and don’t get home until 9 (an hour past the kids’ bedtime) and they don’t often get to bed until between 9:30 and 10, by the time everyone has had a snack and gotten changed and so on. We tend to keep it low-key so they aren’t too tired for church. In the summer, when we don’t have church, we tend to go out more.
Fridays are our “out” day most of the time. We go grocery shopping every other week, and on in-between weeks, we might hit a science museum, have a play date, go to a playground, etc. We’re hitting a January thaw right now (supposed to get up into the 60s this weekend!) so we might hit a playground today!
I do work on all of these days during nap time, although Mondays I spend part of that time finishing up any cleaning. I also work Mon/Fri evenings once my husband is home and the kids are with him. I don’t get as much done in the evenings when I am at home, though, because I am tired and thinking about dinner and bedtime routines.
Tuesday and Thursday
The babysitter comes 9 – 1 these days. We basically get up, get dressed, grab some breakfast, do some minimal morning chores, and I head to work. The kids play with the babysitter, going outside if possible. I come back at 1 and get them fed very quickly, get toys cleaned up, and off to quiet time we go. (That’s really hard, when I’m working till 1 instead of 12 — they are already about ready for quiet time!)
I then work during nap time, and often during the evenings as well. I spend quite a lot of time working on these two days. I stop for dinner and bedtime routines.
Every other Saturday we have family visiting and I take most of the day to just be with them. Sometimes on Sundays we have family days as well, and have friends visit, or we just work on various projects around the house and preparing for the upcoming week.
Other weeks, I might spend one or both days out of the home, sitting at a coffee shop and getting focused work done. I work better when I don’t have chores and kids and other things to worry about. When I’m home I divide my time and it’s harder to focus, especially on long-term projects. I spent more time out than usual as I was working on my book on children’s health. I just finished it (the first draft) this week!
That’s where *I* am. I’ve learned some about balance through this process, and I’ll share some ideas with you.
How to Keep the Balance
Keeping the balance isn’t easy. I’m not going to give you specific instructions, like “you can’t work on weekends” or “you must be finished by 8 PM every night” or “keep family dinners sacred.” There are seasons where maybe these ‘ideals’ just aren’t possible, for one reason or another. So rather than strict guidelines, I’ll give you some ideas and questions to ask yourself.
Set Your Goals
What are your ultimate goals, for both business and family? Our goal right now is to get our business to grow enough that Ben can cut back to 60% time by the end of the year and I can hire an assistant. (There are lots of little steps to get there, but that’s not important.) For us, right now, that means less time as a family, so that in a year, we can have a lot more time as a family…both of us. When we’re making decisions, we keep in mind where we want to end up and that we might have to make some sacrifices in the short term that we’d rather not make.
Set Your Boundaries
On the other hand, I refuse to work more than two days during the week because I want to preserve my time with my children. We don’t need a lot of time for homeschooling at their ages, so three days a week is plenty. You have to know what your boundaries are, too. What is most important to you? That you have dinner with your family every night? That evenings/outside business hours are for family? Decide what boundaries are right for you and set them.
Ask for Help
For the hours during which you need to work, find a childcare situation that works for you. It is no fun trying to get work done while your children are needing you — for them or you. They feel like they’re not really getting your attention and you’re not really getting anything done. Is your mother or mother-in-law available to help? A friend? A babysitter? Do you want to work mostly when your husband is around to watch the kids? We choose to have a babysitter come in 8 – 10 hours per week and I also work some weekends so that the kids are well cared for when I am working. To me it is important to have consistent caregivers, so they have had the same babysitter for a year now. Alternately, if we have a big project going on, we will ask grandparents to come spend time with them. This is positive time for everyone because it encourages them to develop a relationship with their grandparents.
Make Good Use of Your Time
Write out a to-do list every day or every week. Set aside time to get done what you need to get done, and balance it between day-to-day projects and long-term projects (or whatever else you have to do). I keep 1 – 2 days a week for writing daily posts, answering emails, and dealing with other right-now issues. I also spend some time each day checking email and interacting with fans via comments here and on Facebook. I keep another 1 – 2 days to work on long-term projects. If there’s something that must be done, I make sure I do it. If I find I’m struggling to focus, I will turn to somewhat brainless long-term projects, like archiving old posts or setting up Facebook posts. This way at least I can get useful work done even when I am tired or lacking focus.
Balance Short- and Long-Term Projects
If you’re trying to build a business yourself, long-term strategy is important. You will need to build a brand and a reputation, and work towards future promotions. I have spent quite a lot of time working out my general calendar (post themes, contributors’ schedule, major project releases, etc.) for the entire year. Business strategy and long-term thinking is so important…but shouldn’t take up more than 20% of your time, typically. Don’t get so excited about strategy and future projects that you let the present details go.
Keep the Boundaries
Once you have set your boundaries, stick to them. Outside work time, just put it aside. Don’t keep your laptop nearby and check in too frequently. Don’t keep a smart phone with you and check it frequently. Be present in your life with your family. Make a point to make memories, enjoy your children and spouse, and have some fun. There’s a time to work and a time to stop. I’m still not great at this (unless I am away from home during the day — I don’t have a smart phone, so when we’re out, we’re out) but I am working on it.
Remember the Seasons
In some seasons you may be away from your family more, especially as you’re struggling to build the business. We spent the first two years doing little extra work, and the third year it was minimal (that was the first year I had a babysitter and we started with just 4 hours a week and I didn’t really work much on weekends). This year is “crunch time” as far as business growth so things are different. But I know it’s only a season. Sometimes it’s hard, especially when a child says “I just want to be with you right now” or “It’s time for Daddy to go back to work and you to stay home” or doesn’t sleep quite as well. (I swear they have this sixth sense and when my husband is home they will wake at 6 – 6:30 instead of sleeping in an hour later like when he’s not home!) It’s easy to feel guilty for the time you are missing with your children. But these seasons, they are temporary and necessary to improve your family’s situation for your child.
And honestly if something’s not working for your family, sit down and re-evaluate your goals. Can you work less? Hire someone to help you? Involve the children in some aspects of your business so at least they’re with you? There are sometimes other ways. And if your business goals have to be stepped down to meet your family’s needs, that’s okay too. Life changes constantly and you have to be flexible.
How do you balance work and family?
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