As a working professional, mother of three, a wife, and a graduate student, I often get asked the question "How do you do it all?", or get comments like, "I don't know how you do it!".
Sometimes I reply by saying "I don't either", or "It just happens", or I just nod, smile and give few tips on how I try to stay organized. But I keep going back and asking myself the same question of how I really do it. With three school-age kids (11, 10 and four), different demanding activities (gymnastics, diving, ballet, art and violin) in addition to school, homework, reading, chores... as well as my graduate work, demanding job and a husband(!!), I can't lie and say that it is easy but I can say that somehow we make it work, and it is not rocket science nor are we super heroes.
Just like any other mum (working or not working), I get stressed, feel overwhelmed, things sometimes do slip through the cracks and at times I barely meet deadlines (school projects, papers, registration, paperwork, etc.).
Also as a development and public relations professional, my job can get pretty demanding with evening events, weekend meetings and conferences. I also have a husband who travels often for work and has an equally demanding job.
After several comments, chats with close friends and even family members who often tell me "you make it sound so easy, we still do not get it," I decided to share a few tips that I personally use in order to make it work. I do not claim by any means that these are magical tips, or that they can or will work with each family setting, but at least (so far) they are working for us and I hope they can be of help for any of you out there!
Tips to make it work:
Like many mothers, I am a BIG fan of lists (I am kind of addicted to them too and it is becoming a serious problem -- just kidding, but I do LOVE lists). I keep lists at work, at home, in the car and even for my kids. For me, unless it is written down, it won't get done. Lists do keep me on track when it comes to deadlines, school work, trips, sports tournaments, camps, events, etc. I also try to keep the lists with two open sections, short-term projects/things that needs to get done immediately and another list that I would like to do but does not need immediate attention (like going through closets in the garage for example; this has been on my list for almost six months or more!)
I always keep my calendars up to date. We have a master huge calendar in the kitchen along with my phone calendar, work calendar and I also keep track of my husband's calendar (sorry, I have to!). I know it is a lot to track especially that I have to juggle calendars of my work, my husband's work/schedule, school, sports and tournaments. As long as it is there, it should be fine. I make a quick daily ritual of checking all of these every day to make sure everything is in sync and nothing is overlapping.
3. Juggle and multitask
As long as you do not mind it, do it! I understand the stress and anxiety that one gets from juggling but (for me personally) I get a satisfying feeling when I am able to get things done rather than letting it fall through the cracks.
4. Good is enough
My husband is a perfectionist and I know he would argue with me on this but sometimes it is better to get it done rather than make it perfect. (It will definitely depend on how important it is.)
5. Always keep it Simple
I am a big fan of simplicity. Do not over do things. Whether it is a party you are throwing, a project your kids are working on, or even the daily meals. Simple is always better and more effective. It makes your life easy and less complicated.
6. Work as a team and cooperate
You and your husband (partner) are one team. So please work as a team, cooperate, collaborate and continue to work things out. The end goal is the same.
I know that my husband and I sometimes over communicate (my fault) but we find a way to always keep the channels open. Texts, phone calls, daily/weekly meetings or even emails (sometimes I send him an email instead of telling him something face-to-face in order to avoid seeing the shock on his face -- especially when we have a huge upcoming expense, long trip or if he has to babysit the kids for the night!
8. Keep mistakes to a minimum
This is pretty hard, but mistakes are not an option. If they happen, they need to be kept to a minimum. In a busy life where you are trying to juggle many things, mistakes can cost you to miss important appointments, being late to work, forgetting to pack lunches, etc. Always be prepared and know what to expect in order to avoid these mistakes.
9. Keep things organized
We have a rule in our house that we do not sleep at night until everything is back to where they belong (every day). Never leave a messy car, a messy garage nor messy closets or kitchen. Mess elevates stress and increases the chances of mistakes. It is simple as long as everyone knows where everything is and your responsibility is always to follow-up and make sure that chores were (really) done, this way you do not allow the mess to happen in the first place.
10. Make it easy on yourself
My life theme is "If you can buy it, go ahead!" I understand that we are all tempted to bake those fresh cookies for the school bake sale or sew this costume ourselves for the school party but you know what? We do not always have the time to do that and the kids do not really care (honestly they do not). As long as you participate, you are fine. I am not saying that you NEVER do it, but if you are very busy, take it easy and go ahead and buy the cookies or the costume. Your kids will have the same experience and will never even remember in the longterm!
11. Be there
With two working parents, it is usually hard for both of us to be there at the same time. For us, one of us has to be there (both is usually rare and it is a perfect situation then!). The kids understand as long as they are mentally prepared.
12. Keep your kids involved
Always make sure that your kids understand the bigger picture. Take them to your office, social functions and parties of your work (holiday parties, concerts, etc.), and also let them understand what exactly are you doing, what difference you are making and the relevance of your role in your organization. When kids understand this, they feel proud, show support and in fact encourage you to continue to do what you do. They also need to understand that each one of us has his/her own passions and dreams that they need to pursue and we all support each other.
13. Keep the love and the silliness alive (as much as you can)
I blame myself for not doing this as often as I used to but I try to leave love notes in my kids' (and husband's) lunch boxes, go out as a family and watch movies together, have fun, take trips as a family (even if these trips include traveling for sports, you can consider those as mini vacations).
14. Ignore the drama
Life is full of drama. Whether it is parents at the school, sport teams, or at work. Keep the drama and the gossip to zero. Do not get involved in any of this as it is (from my point of view) a waste of time and energy. I would rather invest my time doing something beneficial or finishing a task on my to do list rather than talking about this other kid on the team who misbehaves, the two mums arguing over the PTO elections or hear co-workers whining about the new project or deadline. Grow up!
15. Be a role model
Because it does not always work and sometimes we do things in front of our kids that we regret later but at least working as a team, supporting working women and following your passion will give a positive message to your kids that (hopefully) will resonate with them in the longterm.
16. Do not compare your life to others
I am working on a book titled Life Is a Package where I see my life and the life of every single person on this planet as a package. We have everything we are meant to have but in different percentages. If you have the money, you may eventually have some health problems. If your health is great, maybe you are having problems with your parents or a kid. Our lives are complete the way they are and it is up to us to accept it, enrich it and make the best out of it. Comparing your life to others (better or less) does not do any good to you or to the other person. In fact, it leaves you with a feeling of envy, jealousy and helplessness. Invest this time in exploring ways of how to make your own life better. You have everything; just dig a little deep, you will find your blessings.
17. Focus on what works
Parenting and marriage (unfortunately) do not come with manuals. What works with a family may not work with the other. Thus, focus on what works and try to find ways to make it better.
18. Date nights
We do not do this as often as we should, but I have to tell you that whenever we do them it feels great. We come back energized, fulfilled and reconnected. Find the time!
19. Support system
Have a dependable babysitter, carpool system and a trusted group of friends that you can depend on in case of emergencies and unexpected situations.
20. Grocery shopping
We have a system -- once a week (every Sunday) for the perishable items and once a month for long-term/storage items (poultry, snacks, coffee, rice, pastas, juice, etc.)
21. Be flexible
Do not panic, unexpected things will happen. Thus, you need to always have a flexible mindset and be prepared to act fast. Whether it is a call from school about a sick kid, a broken arm, or a last minute change in work schedule or meetings, be flexible!
22. Always look forward
Always have a plan and share it especially with the kids. Kids tend to be more engaged when they are part of the plan and the bigger picture. Keep them in the loop!