Being a parent is hard! Throw working, keeping a house together and trying to maintain your own sanity into the mix and it becomes infinitely harder. In today’s world, it is impossible to concentrate on only one thing at a time, so how do we make sure that none of this suffers?
I don’t believe I’m half hearted with anything I do. I’d like to think that I throw my whole heart into everything and most of the time, I’m pretty sure I do. It can be difficult at times, especially with so many roles to fill, it can feel like I am being torn in two…or three….or four and it is easy to notice when things are out of balance.
I went back to work when my son was 5 and a half months old. I was a bundle of nerves and so many emotions on my first morning back after maternity leave. We had done some settling in sessions at the nursery but it had only been for a couple of hours and I had not left Z with anyone other than my mum or husband for longer than that.
DB and I dropped off our son together and drove the 15 miles to work. I must say that I am very grateful that the big guy was with me, I think I would have turned around when I was halfway to work if I had been on my own. Every mile seemed to stretch an invisible rubber band from my heart to my son’s. That’s the only way I can describe it. It felt tighter and tighter the further away I got.
As I don’t do things by halves, my first day back at work was also my first day in a new job so I really was quite nervous about how the day would pan out. It was hard going back after 7 months maternity leave but throwing in all the anxiety of a new job made it even more difficult.
I have the sort of job where you can’t be distracted and I have to be very focussed on what I do. I was also breastfeeding so I had scheduled breaks for ‘pumping’. During those breaks I would lock myself in a changing room and look at photos of my son on my phone. I shed tears over the fact that I felt guilty because I hadn’t thought of him for the last hour or so and the day dragged.
On the drive home, I could feel the tension gradually getting easier as I got closer to Z again. The elastic band becoming looser. I couldn’t wait to scoop him up in my arms again.
I would love to say that it was only the first day I felt like that but it continued for many months. In fact I still have ‘the guilt’ over leaving him and I doubt that will change for some time, if ever.
As a working mum, I know that I will not always be able to go to his class assemblies, sports days and nativity plays. I know that he will be disappointed and so will I but it doesn’t mean my heart won’t be with him. I cannot be a mum half-heartedly.
I spent 5 years at university training for my career and I constantly have to develop my knowledge of new techniques and materials. I cannot do my job half-heartedly.
I married the man I met when I was 17, who I then met again when I was 28 and who has been my partner ever since. I cannot be a wife half-heartedly.
The other roles in my life also require my whole heart: daughter, sister, friend, runner, stepmum, homemaker…
So, how is this possible? How do mums manage to fulfil all their roles with a whole heart? Do we do it with a detriment to oursleves?
I think we all need to remember that we need to look after ourselves with our whole heart as well. How do I do that? I run, I meditate, I cook, I take pride in my achievements, I find things to be grateful for every day and I try to learn lessons from my mistakes.
How do I juggle all the different aspects of my life?
Lists, lists and more lists…
I have lists in my diary, lists in my phone. I have shopping lists, lists of things I need to do today, lists of things I need to do tomorrow, lists of courses I want to go on, books I want to read and I think I even have lists for my lists. I find crossing things off my lists intensely satisfying and at the end of the day I will write in my diary what I have achieved that day.
Keeping a diary
I don’t mean a journal kind of diary, I mean a diary to keep track of appointments and things that have to be done on certain days at specific times. We have a family calendar to keep track of what the 7 of us are up to so that we can make sure there aren’t too many clashes. I also write in my diary at the end of every day. In the half hour before I go to get ready for bed I will jot down at least three things that I am grateful for and what I have achieved that day and any lessons I have learned (in other words, have I made any mistakes that I need to be careful not to repeat).
Making time for myself to do the things I enjoy
I enjoy many activities: cooking, baking, running, fitness, reading, knitting, sewing and spending time with friends are just a few of them. I generally carry out at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week, and try to make the most of the time when my son naps on the days I don’t work so that I don’t spend the whole time cleaning, doing washing and other chores. I try to do at least one thing I enjoy every day.
Not doing too many classes
When I was on maternity leave Z and I went swimming, did baby sensory classes, sing and sign, baby and me, music classes and probably a few others too. I really enjoyed them and they certainly helped me to build my mummy gang. Since I returned to work I try to enjoy the time I have with my son and it often involves playing at home or going to the park. As Z is in his ‘helpful’ ‘me do it’ stage, I make the most of it and get him involved with some of the chores too. I find this makes the whole process a lot more enjoyable, even though it often takes a lot longer than it normally would. I see this as quality time with the boy and he is also learning valuable life skills. We do still go to swimming lessons and toddler rugby as he is a very active boy and I believe that these are activities he will continue to be interested in as he gets older.
Not watching much Television
I used to watch LOADS of TV. Well, maybe a couple of hours a day. Now, I can take it or leave it and to be honest, I prefer to read. I have a few programmes that I really enjoy watching but I must say THANK GOODNESS FOR CATCH UP TV!! I don’t think I would watch anything if this wasn’t around. I have never really been into the soaps (go on judge me) although Made In Chelsea is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I usually turn into a pumpkin around 9.30 so I only have a few hours in the evening after Z goes to bed to get all my jobs done and write in my diary and that doesn’t leave a huge amount of time for TV.
Getting outside every day
I believe the benefits of being outside far outnumber just getting a daily dose of vitamin D. There is something about a blast of fresh air that perks me up and makes it easier to cope with all the other tasks. As a child my parents used to take me out for a ‘walk’ at the weekends and I wasn’t always that keen on going but it has definitely given me a love for being outside. I often find myself dragging the stepkids out to ‘blow the cobwebs off’ with lots of resultant grumbles and even the odd sulk but I hope that as they grow up it means they will appreciate being outside too.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”
Scheduling time with my husband
I know, it sounds crazy doesn’t it? We both work and we both have hobbies we like to do outside of work so if we don’t schedule time together then we can go whole weeks without really talking to each other. We have Wednesday and Sunday evenings as ‘our time’. If one of us has a meeting or an event to go to on those days in a particular week then we will juggle it forward or backward a day but we always make sure that we at least have this time together. It doesn’t mean that we only have time together on those days but that this is our protected time and we both know we will spend it together. We aim to have at least one ‘date night’ a month and spend time as a family as well.
Morning routines, evening routines, cleaning routines and weekend routines mean that necessary jobs get done, Z gets to nursery and bed on time and DB and I get to work on time.
I know all that makes me sound like some crazed control freak but this is all pretty flexible and it works for me. All of these tricks mean that I get to spend time with my family, my friends and even get some time for me too. I would love to hear how other people manage to juggle all the different aspects of their lives…..