A few years ago, when our kids were just shy of one and three, my husband looked at me with exhausted eyes and said "if we get through these years without losing our jobs, getting divorced, or our kids resenting us, it'll be a win." Hyperbole, yes. But that day, it felt like the absolute truth.
He had spent the previous half hour scraping carrot puree off the kitchen floor and walls while I had physically barricaded our son's door (glass of wine in hand) so he would stay in his room and go to sleep. The laundry was piled up, we were out of milk, toys were strewn all over the place, and we had a growing pile of paperwork to deal with. We were in the thick of it -- burning wicks that didn't even exist anymore -- trying to maintain intense training and cooking and working and socializing and parenting amidst continually interrupted sleep and way too many nights on planes and constant feelings that we were spread too thin and doing a mediocre job at everything but a stellar job at nothing.
A few months later I decided to leave my full-time job and consult part-time instead. Something had to give, and for us, it meant me shifting work down and shifting life up for awhile. This re-defined what 50/50 meant for us. It meant I did more dishes, but I also got to read more books with the kids and run outside in the sunshine and work in cafes on my own terms. It meant my husband worked later, but he got the early morning workout slot most days and avoided the grocery shopping. It meant a bit of an identity crisis for me, but it meant our kids had more stability within which to establish their own early senses of self. In the end, this shift helped us stabilize, giving us both the energy to anchor our values and the time to focus on our children and on each other. It enabled us to emerge from the toddler fog stronger and fuller than we were when we entered into it.
We're now back to a dual working parent life, which still feels busy and hectic, yet this time around, it feels whole and connected. It even feels...dare I say...steady. Definitely not always easy, but steady. For now. Tonight. The kids are a few years older, and we have a few more years of perspective under our belts. We've practiced patience and prioritized taking care of ourselves and our marriage alongside taking care of our children. We're making it work.
Making it work is about the big things, like prioritization, and the small things, like how to get dinner on the table. Here are a few of the small things that help our family make working parenthood work.
1) Plan your meals for a week, and leave some room for spontaneity. We usually plan four meals and leave the other three nights open for leftovers or takeout or going out or (my personal favourite) breakfast for dinner.
2) Stay home on Friday night. We're not Jewish, but I love the idea of Shabbat dinner, and we try to honour a low-key family Friday to close out the week and restore before the weekend. Starting your weekend tired makes it feel over before it begins.
3) Set limits at work early so that people know when you're focused on your family. And be flexible outside of those times to make up for the limits. I'm happy to work at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning if I can have lunch with my daughter on Thursdays. Which brings me to...
4) Have lunch with your child(ren) once a week. I do this every Thursday. It's a little thing that makes my heart feel light and life feel a teeny bit more integrated.
5) Have a lunch date with your partner once in a while. Your babysitting is already covered!
6) Get a daytime babysitter on a weekend sometimes. It feels indulgent, but it's so much better to go out when you're awake versus exhausted. We've started booking a babysitter so we can work out together every other Saturday morning. Racing our bikes beats falling asleep in our pasta any day.
7) Re-cap your kids' days and your day together. Understand how they spend their time and help them understand how you spend yours. Rituals build trust and depth.
8) Unitask. I'm working really hard to focus on one task at a time at work, and it's hugely helped my productivity. Don't underestimate the power of focus at work, at home, anywhere.
9) Sleep. Make it a huge priority. Everything is easier after a good night's sleep. Everything.
10) If you're totally, absolutely, beyond maxed for a long time, re-evaluate. Something might have to give. Making peace with that, and taking action on it, may make all the difference in the world.
The days -- the dawn of parenthood -- are beautiful and messy and sleepless and hard and amazing and slow-moving and fleeting all at the same time. When you're in the thick of it, it can be hard to see the bright spots amidst the sleepless nights. But they're there, and it's worth it to find ways to live and work in ways that help you soak their brilliance.
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