If I had a dollar for every time somebody has asked me how I cope, I would have a lot more dollars than I do now.
When I was working full time, many people asked me how I managed to do that plus be a mother to three children. Even though I am now working part time again, people still ask me how I cope with work and family, or just work, or just family: ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ and ‘You’re braver than I am; I only have two children and that is hard enough!’ and ‘I couldn’t have done that when my children were small.’
So how do I manage? I began to think about it. I hadn’t really been thinking about it; I was just doing what I had to do. The trouble is, if you think about things too much you can make yourself feel dizzy and a bit crazy. I tried not to let that happen.
1:: Firstly, I have a really supportive husband. Not only does he take charge of much of our morning routine so I can get ready for work, but he is around a lot, working from home. It gives us so much flexibility, so he can pick the children up from school and take them to school when I am working. He has always worked from home and I can’t imagine what it would be like to come home from work and not be able to poke my head into his office to say ‘hello.’ The children always have their father around. Not many fathers have that opportunity and we feel really really lucky to have him around all the time. We are a bit distracting for him, but he doesn’t mind.
2:: when I was working full time, I chose to employ a cleaner. Before I did that, I found I was spending half my weekend cleaning, washing and tidying and sorting – just the regular duties that come with running a household. It was ridiculous. Having a cleaner meant that I had that extra time with my children. Our cleaner was excellent. She did the washing and the cleaning; she made beds as well! Now that I am working part time I am doing the cleaning and washing and I am okay with that; I enjoy it in many ways, actually.
3:: We adhere to little routines: In the evenings I lay out the children’s clothes for the next day. We make lunches in the mornings. The children unload the dishwasher in the afternoons. I load up the washing machine in the evening and set it so it is ready in the morning. If I keep on top of our enormous laundry needs, things seem perfect.
4:: We try to make food preparation more efficient. One way we manage this is meal planning. All right, I am not perfect at this, but we have a whiteboard in our kitchen, on which we write down the week’s menu. It saves thinking time at that horrible arsenic hour, when everybody is tired and hungry. Another way we manage is that we cook simple meals. Barbecued chicken with salad and potato. Steamed vegetables and steak. We save those meals that require recipe following for when we have more time, like weekends and my days off from work. We also manage the time used for cooking: we use the slow cooker and the pressure cooker. I do lots of baking on the weekend, so the children have yummy and healthy food for the week.
5:: We make time for each of the children every day, especially at bedtime. This might sound like a no-brainer, and it is in a way, but it is very easy to get so busy with work and housekeeping that you can forget to sit and chat and read and sing and play and imagine and wander and wonder with your children. Each of our children love different types of attention and it is our daily goal to give them that time and attention every day. Some days are easier to do than others.
6:: We try to balance our time between work and play, including socialising on weekends. It just helps life to feel less like work work work. Generally we will socialise at least one night on a weekend, and spend one day doing a family activity and the other day doing jobs around the farm. It might not always work out that way, but that is the way we like to plan. These days I never clean on weekends. With everybody home, children playing in the garden and the sandpit and all the work we do outside, why bother? I do the cleaning before the weekend and we all do a quick tidy and clean on Sunday evenings.
7:: We keep fit. Being fit gives me more energy and helps me cope with the workload of being a teacher and a mum and homemaker. Sometimes I slack off and stop exercising as much, usually when I am tired and busy, but these are actually the times when I should exercise more! Being fit also helps me sleep better and my mood is better too, both of which help me cope.
8:: As a general rule, we do not have the television on during the week. We never have it on in the mornings. Funnily enough, the children never ask to watch television, unless they are exhausted and the weather is foul.
9:: Having time just as a couple helps Monte and I find balance in our busy life. Whether it is getting a babysitter and going to dinner and a movie or simply going for an evening wander about the paddocks or a cup of tea on the deck when the children are abed, we find some time to chat on our own.
10:: Mostly I am learning that things do not have to be perfect. Even though I find this difficult, my floor does not have to be spotless all the time and it doesn’t matter if the windows have fingerprints everywhere. Sometimes we eat a crappy meal because we are all tired and disorganised (hello hot dogs). The main things are that our children are well-fed, well-rested and happy. We are a close family and we eat meals at the table together and we all clean up afterwards. We talk a lot and we do things together. Getting our priorities right makes life much more manageable.
Actually, we cope quite well. We reckon our lifestyle is pretty great and we have a very good balance of work and family fun and farm. It is often a good exercise to take stock of how you manage with all your duties. I found this a positive experience.
Do you have any tips for coping with being a working parent? Or tips on managing life in general?