The question is always the same. How? When I tell people that I’m a mother-of-two who works three days for one company, freelances on the other four (around looking after the boys) and wrote my first cook book when on maternity leave… they look at me like I have two heads. They want to know how I can do that and not dissolve into a puddle of overworked exhaustion.
I don’t think there’s anything especially magical about how I do all that, but I thought it might be useful to hear a little more about how I’ve come to find balance in my days.
After hearing me talk about feeling like an imposter living someone else’s life, a friend recommended I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. The book is a wonderful read that I’d highly recommend. It’s central theme is to encourage women to knock down the stereotypes and boundaries placed in front of them in the workplace, and lean in, all the way.
What struck me when reading it was that I do feel that I have leaned into my career for a long time and climbed the career ‘jungle gym’, as she describes it. My career, albeit relatively short, has been rich and varied and I’ve worked with some fantastic and inspirational people, from whom I’ve learnt a lot. I truly feel like in taking that scary step and putting myself out there in the form of my book (I will share more on this with you very soon) I am leaning in so far that I’m likely to bang my head on my Mac, if I get any closer.
And so for me, I found myself reflecting on the Sheryl’s words and thinking less about leaning in to work and much more about leaning into motherhood. Not letting my passions for my career sidetrack me into fully embracing all of my role as a parent, and growing as a person and learning from my children as a result. The key to doing this, I think, is managing my own expectations that I can’t have it all at all times (that is super parent territory), but more importantly, it’s about finding a happy resting place for all the facets of my life and feeling like they are all tended to as much or as little as they are needed at the time.
Being intentional with time
One thing I have found that really works for me is to be more intentional with how I manage my time. For example, on my three work days I find that I am super tired and I don’t have much energy to give to my boys. And yet they have been without me all day and so I recognise they need the time, attention and focus from me. My compromise is that after I’ve had my dinner (generally something I’ve previously batch-cooked, because I am always so grateful for a replenishing meal after a long day), I will make a cup of tea and the three of us will hang out on my bed.
Sometimes we’ll read books, but more often than not, we just fool around for 30 minutes or so. Playing games, seeing if Jonny can learn any new words. At the moment I am encouraging the boys to take turns and to learn to share… so we play games that practice that. This time is our time together – it’s planned in as much as I am deliberately carving out time for it, but recognising that I’m tired, and it’s the end of the day for the boys, we just see what we feel like doing with that 30 minutes together. Most importantly, there is no pressure and it doesn’t feel forced.
Now I appreciate that to a parent who spends all day with their children, 30 minutes of quality time together may sound a bit somber. But, for us, that’s what we need to fill our cups of each other on my work days. On the days when I’m with the boys all the time, I am also busy preparing their meals, sorting laundry, running errands and so on. Sometimes I’m lucky if there are 30 minutes of genuine quality time that is solely focussed on just them..!
Finding a rhythm
In terms of fitting in work, I think it’s a bit about becoming the master of getting things done the fringe hours, as well as knowing what work brings you energy. I definitely work better if I have a big slot of peace and quiet in my day to write or work on projects, but if I waited for these luxurious long slots to do all my work, I would never get anywhere.
Instead I try to get up early, and work then, when my mind is clear and there are no distractions. I also make use of the 20 minutes here and there, perhaps when Rob is bathing the boys or if they’re outside playing in the garden and I’m waiting for lunch to cook. Those little snippets of time add up over the course of a week and I find them really good for ticking little things off my to do list, that don’t need a lot of focus or brainpower.
Getting energy from my work
I worked a long time as a freelancer before I realised that there were some projects, especially those that involve a lot of spreadsheets and analysis, that simply don’t bring me energy. These are the things I would procrastinate from doing when I sat down at my desk and they took every ounce of my energy to see them through. It’s so obvious to me now, but I choose to work on things that I’m passionate about and love (and if I really can’t avoid doing a spreadsheet project, I’m going to charge accordingly so I have some other form of motivation!).
Working on my cookbook was relentless and tiring but it gave back to me so much more… Finding out what it is that you can do that will give you energy back is probably my number one tip.
Having said all that, I think it’s important to be mindful of everything that’s going on and acknowledging that even if I feel like I have the energy work on something at 9pm, knowing that I’ve already given a lot of myself to work on particular day, my time is probably better spent on something else. In doing so, it means that when I do come to do work, I’m not burnt out.
Making space for me
Leading on from this is that when you’re busy being a mother, partner, homemaker and everything else, it’s so easy to lose sight of yourself and your needs. I have come to realise that the time I give to my own self care, whether it’s reading a book, having a bath or just sitting in the garden with a cuppa when the boys nap – this is so important. It’s about grounding me and resting my busy mind.
Being honest, I will admit that I do occasionally get that pang of guilt in my chest when I am not making ‘optimum’ use of my time and whittling down my to do list… but I know now that this ingrained reaction is something I’ve been conditioned into feeling. I am at my best when I’ve give myself the space to be quiet in the midst of all the busy, and I simply have to keep reminding myself of that.
Ultimately I think it’s about being gentle with ourselves and throwing away any sense of what we should be doing as parents. Somewhere, in the midst of all the chaos, there is likely to be a middle road that allows us to lean into all aspects of our lives and these in turn will give energy back to us.
I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts of how you’ve come to find a balance and calm in your lives in the comments.