Tag Archives: work life balance

Things I Do Manage To Get Done

After posting up my list of things I probably never get around to doing, I thought I would type up a list of things I have done, as a sort of a pat myself on the back!

Spend quality time with the kids, including some fun stuff, while holding a full-time job with a long commute!

Keep up this blog

Sometimes my kids are not sticky, quite a feat when you consider that the youngest puts everything in his hair.

Still see my friends, on occasion.

Exercise once a week (or twice a month…)

Do well at my job.

Get my hair cut before it looks completely ragged.

Read other people’s blogs (and comment sometimes!)

Help others, on rare one-off basis, but better than nothing!

Manage household budget and still comparison shop and get deals to some extent, so that we can spend on cleaning help and where it counts.

Do some household chores.

Washed the dryer lint filter.  I just found out that it’s not enough to just take out the lint after each drying.  Build-ups can cause a fire if you don’t scrub it out every 6 months or so.

Feed kids healthy and mostly organic home-cooked foods (with lots of help from my husband and mom)

Eat relatively healthy and even bring lunch to work once in a while. I’m not holding myself to high standards here but I do avoid fast food and not overspend in this area.  I do think that all these years of cooking and eating have helped a lot since I can whip up quick, healthy meals.

Read books (at this rate, it’s will be about 6 total this year)

Organized my sweaters, and to some extent my entire closet on a vacation day.

Of course many things have fallen through the cracks or aren’t done as often as I like.  We still haven’t figured out how to squeeze in couple time on any regular basis.  I would like to exercise more, which I do think is do-able if I start getting up earlier consistently.  I am woefully out of sync with pop culture and real culture, which I define as well-reviewed books/movies/TV shows/music and thought-provoking articles.  While talking with a childless friend recently, I realized that most of her cultural references were lost on me.  So-and-so played a concert in town. No idea. Everyone is talking about this book? Never heard of it.   An interesting NPR story? Doesn’t ring a bell.  I have seen a certain Disney movie a hundred times however. 

Still, I am happy that this list of “things done” is as long as it is!

A Precarious Balance

I’ve been thinking a lot again about work/life balance because of Working Mother magazine.  A recent issue profiled an MD, a supervisor and a high-power executive at a tech company about their work-life struggles.  In general all their articles profile women in higher-income brackets, probably due to the demographics of their readers and the general assumption is that if these women can do it, people with more regular schedules can, too. 

While I enjoy reading about these high-powered women and also about freelance WOHM moms, I feel that the majority of media ignores those truly in the middle-class (and lower middle-class).   We don’t enjoy the kind of flexibility that higher-powered women enjoy and we can’t delegate away chores like those with financial advantages. 

At my company, those in manager positions and above enjoy a higher autonomy.   They don’t have to ask permission to work from home.  They also have the money for nanny and cleaning help, something that my household has paid for but at a great sacrifice (and only temporarily).   They can still enjoy many luxuries like massages, travel and dining out.  True, they have greater responsibilities, too, and they’ve earned it.  But their solutions often aren’t applicable to those those in lower income brackets.  In other words, they can buy some balance while many people don’t have that same privilege.

That’s why I’m sharing my thoughts now, as a non-manager making a middle-class salary in a high cost of living area.  Like many average working people, I don’t enjoy the flexibility of working from home or part-time hours, both of which I truly crave, so I make the best of my situation.  Before I delve into my tips, I must say that we manage OK because my husband does have a flexible schedule and we have nearby parental help.   The third part of the equation is flexibility at work, something that is within my control to a degree.  

  1. Earn Your Stripes:  What do I mean by this? I mean that before having kids, you should build a solid work reputation and prove your value to your boss, so that he/she trusts you to do your job without constant monitoring.  If your boss values you, there is a greater forgiveness factor when you have kids and your finely balanced life is thrown off-kilter.  There’s a chance that you’ll manage to keep your career almost on track or entirely on track if you’re a true superstar and that you’ll still get just enough family time to keep sane and happy.   I have managed to “earn my stripes” so to speak at my current company and with my current boss. Although I am sure that he’s not happy about my increased absences, he and my co-workers have been super supportive because I still finish my projects on-time.  Plus,  I have a reputation for being efficient, productive and supportive of others. 
  2. Learn to read your boss: Every boss is different. I’ve had bosses who valued creativity; one who valued initiative; another that valued anticipating his/her needs.  If you can make yourself invaluable in ways that matter most to your boss, you’ll be more appreciated.   This sounds like simple advice but I’ve seen many employees who focus mostly on what they want to do, without thinking about company goals or what makes their boss’s life easier.
  3. Take certain projects off your boss’s plate:  With Tip #2 in mind, If you have a strong skill where your boss is lacking, try taking that project off his/her plate.  For example if your boss hates to write, offer to do more writing-related projects. Same for reporting or spreadsheets or presentations.  Ideally your strengths are his/her weaknesses.
  4. Take longer lunches:  Because I’m a trusted team member, my boss doesn’t watch my comings and goings like a hawk.  I appreciate this and I don’t take advantage.  On most days, I actually take shorter lunches and when it’s super busy, I eat at my desk.  However, if it’s a slow day, I can run errands and eat lunch in a little over an hour. Having that flexibility to get bigger chores out of the way allows me to have more free time during non-work hours.
  5. Just plain dumb luck:  You can work really hard but your boss just thinks that everyone is a robot and can put in 110% with no risk of burn-out.  I’ve been fortunate to have many good bosses.  I’ve also been “fortunate” that for various reasons, my co-workers have had work/balance issues, too, so that the spotlight isn’t on me, the dreaded working mom of young kids (!).

I’m glad that I have this flexibility and while my life often feels unbalanced, this flexibility allows me to plow forward and enjoy parenthood without guilt. 

Here are more interesting thoughts on the work/life balance:

http://thehappiestmom.com/2009/05/balance-vs-flexibility/

http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2012/02/no-ones-gonna-stop-me-from-having-it.html

Laura  Vanderkam wrote a book about time management and while I haven’t read it, I was struck by the negative reviews on Amazon.com — basically her advice was mostly applicable to those with money and only certain types of careers like writing:  http://www.amazon.com/168-Hours-Have-More-Think/dp/B0043RT8EU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329869680&sr=8-1

How do you manage the work/life balance? Do you have flexibility? I’m especially curious to hear from those in non-management level jobs who don’t have the funds to delegate away chores and errands!

My Balance: Oil and Garlic

A Cup of Jo has a great series on working moms. She interviews work-from-home moms, mostly bloggers and those in design-related jobs. It’s a refreshing look at work/life balance and I really enjoy reading about how other moms “do it all.”  I also wished I read this before I had kids.

Since the women spotlighted are freelancers with relatively flexible schedules, I thought it would be helpful to add in my thoughts as a working mom with a long commute and non-flexible schedule! 

 Note: A few hours after posting this, I realized that my situation is still easier than having both parents working traditional 9 to 5 jobs.  For example, for the first 6 months, my husband handled the night shift so I could rest and go to work. If we both had to get to the office, we would have to split the shift, which would have been pretty hellish.  It does seem to get better once babies start sleeping through the night at around 7-8 months.

1. What’s your work schedule?

I get up at the insanely early hour of 5:15-5:45 a.m. depending on the day.  I get up earlier if I have to bring the kids to my parents.  On the days we have a nanny, I get up about half an hour later.   I have a 40 minute to an hour drive to work each morning. 

I start by 7:30 am and it’s often go, go, go.  I do some of my best work in the mornings.   My lunch hour is my “alone” time.  I do run errands sometimes but I also try to just relax and read at least 3 times a week.   If it’s really busy at work, I try to work through lunch rather than stay late.   I get home around 5:30 pm every night. I hop into the shower and try to spend as much time with the kids as possible.  My husband usually makes dinner.  The kids are in bed by 8:30 – 9 pm which is pretty late. I think they should sleep sooner but I admit that I like the extra time with them.  We try to give ourselves an hour or so to wind down but oftentimes I’m lucky to get a half hour of TV.

The only flexibility with my work hours is the start/end time.  Years ago I chose an early start time to avoid traffic.  It has worked out well since I didn’t have to switch my hours after having children.

2. How do you handle childcare?

We have a part-time nanny who also does some light housecleaning, which makes a huge difference!  My parents also help part-time.  My husband has a freelancer’s schedule so he is able to be with the kids the most.  I feel lucky that I have such a wide support system even though there are many days that I wish I was the one at home with them. 

3. What do you find best about your current set-up?

I keep reading about people who work 50+ hours a week so I guess I’m glad that I work 40 hours (45 if you count the hour lunch) and that I’m not expected to work on weekends or be on call.   I really value my weekends and try to spend most of that time at home with the kids.   I definitely don’t make enough effort for “me” time or date nights with my husband and I should! 

4. What advice would you give to other moms about the juggle?

There is so much to say about this!  I’ve written about working mother guilt and the work/life juggle before.  Guilt is so unnecessary and the work/life juggle is harder than you can imagine. 

I think that women in the U.S. don’t have a real choice when it comes to staying home because our maternity leave system is horrible.  You’re asked to make that major decision after 3 months (or less) when you’re sleep-deprived and your baby is so needy. Plus working makes breastfeeding very difficult and I think maternity leave should coincide with breastfeeding needs at the very least. 

My best advice is to NOT equate staying home with being a good mother. You can be a good mom if you work!  My second best advice is to really look at your husband as an equal partner, not the secondary caretaker.  It’s great for the husband to be there for the kids, too, and in many cases, it’s possible because you both work.

On a practical level, take advantage of online services like Amazon Mom. They have great prices on diapers and wipes plus free shipping.  Update: Amazon Mom sometimes changes its program and benefits so I can’t say it’s always the best for diapers and wipes anymore.  I miss it though for its convenience but don’t want to pay for a Prime membership and no longer qualify for the Amazon Mom membership. 

5. Do you think the juggle is harder for women than for men?
Yes.  Women are just judged more harshly for being away from their children.  I supposed we’re also wired differently in some respects.  Women are also expected to be the family event coordinator, and the one who buys all the gifts and writes thank you notes etc…  If you and your husband both forget a birthday, even if it’s his side of the family, the wife will probably get judged for the lapse while the man gets a free pass.

It’s not that men are off the hook in terms of guilt.  Society guilts men the other way. If they’re not “supporting the family”, they can feel bad. They don’t have the playgroups and support groups that SAHMs have.

The Work / Life Juggle: The Good, Bad, And Ugly?

I’ve neglected this blog to concentrate on the work/life balancing act and I must admit that it’s hard in many ways but also not as hard in some ways. In my usual pessimistic way, I will start off with the “ugly” truths.

– You will miss your kids.  Even if you have a short commute or call home every hour (which you should not do at work), you will miss the little things.  You’ll even miss changing their dirty diapers every few hours. 

– You envy everyone with a more flexible schedule, and I mean EVERYONE, from housewives to retirees to your unemployed friend driving a beat-up car.

– You will get little sleep and still have to perform at work every day.  It does get better as the child gets older, but the pure bliss of uninterrupted 8-hour sleep is a thing of the past.   

The Bad

– You will have good days and bad days, where you get mad at yourself for being a 9 to 5 cubicle slave.

– Everyone assumes you’re always thinking about the kids and since you’re a woman, you must be plotting your escape to stay at home. 

The Good

– You have an excuse to shower.  For those of you without kids, having the time to shower daily is a BIG deal for parents of infants / toddlers.

– You have time to eat in peace and quiet.

– You’ll have time to blog.  If I stayed home, there’s no way I would bother to login to wordpress and keep writing. However, I do have down time at lunch to write so I will continue this blog. 

– You have more time than you think!  This last one is really important.  Unless you’re one of those rare individuals who was always super-efficent and with a super high-powered job, chances are you will be able to find time for raising kids.  I’m not going to lie and say that priorities don’t get shifted or that you will get as much time with them as a stay-at-home parent.  However, I realize now how much time I wasted before kids.  Here are some ways I save time now:

  • Instead of watching re-runs of so-so sitcoms, I only make time to watch my favorite show. 
  • We no longer watch movies and plan to suspend or cancel Netflix. 
  • We don’t watch much sports (one game per week, if that!) 
  • I no longer sleep in on Saturday mornings. 
  • We’ve paid for cleaning service to do hated chores like mopping and deep cleaning.
  • We are not exercising, which is not a good thing but I haven’t found time for that yet. 
  • On weekends I check emails and browse the web only once or twice and for less than 30 minutes. 
  • I rarely pack my lunch anymore. I spend more and bad fast food are everywhere; however I am making healthier food choices and try not to spend too much.

You will find the time and energy to enjoy parenthood!

In my case, I am fortunate to have helpful parents who are willing and able to help with childcare and a husband with a flexible work schedule.  I am very lucky to return to a job that is challenging and rewarding enough to make it worthwhile. 

I also admit that I don’t feel that much guilt.  Despite some bad days, I’m okay with working.  I knew going into parenthood that my steady income and health insurance would necessitate going back to work.    

I won’t go into my thoughts about our country’s maternity leave policies or the whole working mother/SAH debate right now but I do plan to post up some advice and thoughts at a later date.  I think the whole working mom/ SAH debate is rather useless.  If you stay home, you’re not automatically mother of the year.  You may be less frazzled but you may also be impatient, critical or suffocating toward your kids.   My mom worked and she is the most patient, wonderful and generous mother in the world, no exaggeration.  Those are qualities that are independent of working/not working.