I went through a time around the birth of my second baby, and for a while after, where my life was completely off balance. I shared the story in more detail in my post Just When I Was About to Break, but the short version is that I was putting way to much on my plate and way to much pressure on myself. The good news: I learned a lot about how to find balance as a working mom.
Being a mom comes with a lot of pressure. Let’s be honest though, much of that pressure comes from ourselves. Our own expectations can be unrealistic. And our idea of what others will think is often way off base. And being a working mom adds a whole other layer of pressure, even if you are self-employed.
Find Balance as a Working Mom
1. Become the Master of Your Schedule
Scheduling my time is absolutely essential for me to feel balanced as a working mom. And I don’t just mean scheduling work hours and sticking to them. I am talking about creating a daily schedule, from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed.
This doesn’t mean you have to actually schedule an activity or task for every minute of the day. In fact, I encourage you to have plenty of white space in your schedule. But for me, it helps to schedule in my planner what my focus is throughout the day. If you need to, set alarms on your phone to remind you of when you need to switch your focus. If I don’t do this, it is very easy for me to get caught up in a task and end up spending more time on it than I had planned – which means less time on another priority.
My schedule varies depending on the day of the week, but here’s a rough example of what a daily schedule might look like:
5:00am – 6:45am: Wake up routine; work
6:45am – 7:40am: Get myself ready for the day; get kids up and ready; have kids make their beds; make and eat breakfast with the kids
7:40am – 8:10am: Get kids ready and off to preschool; return home at 8:10
8:10am – 11:20am: Work
11:20am – 1:00pm: Pick kids up, prepare and eat lunch with kids, settle down for nap/quiet time
1:00pm – 3:00pm: Little Miss S has quiet time then does independent activities in my office with some guidance from me; Little Miss K naps; I work
3:00pm – 4:00pm: Kid Time
4:00pm – 4:30pm: Housekeeping
4:30pm – 6:00pm: Make and eat dinner, clean kitchen
6:00pm – 6:30pm: Family time
6:30pm – 7:30pm: Bath time routine; story time; kids’ bed time
7:30pm – 8:00pm: Catch up time
8:00pm – 10:00pm: Downtime w/Hubby then Bed time
So, as you can see, some of those times don’t have actual activities scheduled, but I do have an intention for what I do with that time. For example, during “Kid Time” I am focused on my kids. It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily playing with them, but I’m not working and I’m not doing housework. Maybe I take them outside or to the library, or maybe I have them help me with something they enjoy, like baking muffins.
I keep a rough schedule for each day of the week. Because I basically have three jobs (consulting, teaching college courses, and blogging), my days are not all the same. Some days have different working hours, some days kid time is shorter, and some days I schedule in time for running errands, for instance.
2. Identify Your Priorities and Make Your To-Do List Work For You
I think the biggest mistake we can make is trying to do it all. But that’s not possible for anyone, working moms included. So figure out what is MOST important for you to accomplish. And be totally realistic and brutally honest with yourself.
My favorite method for making a to-do list that works great for me is to make my weekly to-do list consisting of everything I need to get done that week. Then each day, I put a star by the top three – and ONLY three – things I MUST accomplish that day. Once I’ve completed those, I mark them off and select the next three things. If I end the day with anything starred but not crossed off, those are the items I start with the next day.
Alyssa, at Good + Simple, has another awesome system for prioritizing your to-do list. The point is, figure out what’s most important to you and work your to-do list accordingly. Find a system that works well for your style and rock that system.
3. Have a Long-Term Vision and SMART Goals
Having a long-term vision helps you keep things in perspective and helps you keep in mind what you are working for. Your vision should be a broad look at what you want your life to look like long-term. Maybe it includes being debt free, or helping your kids graduate college debt free. Or maybe it includes owning a vacation home or traveling the world. Whatever it is, your vision is your guiding light that helps you set goals and make decisions.
SMART goals are Specific (what exactly is it you want to accomplish), Measurable (how can you tell when your goal has been accomplished?), Attainable (realistic), Relevant (help you work toward your vision), and Time-Bound (have a deadline). If your goals miss one of these characteristics, you could be wasting your time or setting yourself up for failure.
In order to help you maintain balance, your vision and SMART goals should address all parts of your life, not just your work.
4. Only Commit to What Helps You Accomplish Your Goals
Saying no can be one of the biggest challenges for many women. But I always try to remember that saying “Yes” to one thing is really saying “No” to something else — and vice versa. So when you are faced with a commitment, ask yourself what you’ll be saying no to if you take it on. That has hugely helped me keep my obligations and commitments in check.
Related: Just When I Was About to Break
5. Strive for Being Present Rather than Being Perfect
The pressure for perfection that moms feel is real. Even the smallest – or imaginary! – infractions can leave us feeling like failures. It will not be easy to do what I’m going to suggest here, but it will be so worth it. My advice is FORGET ABOUT PERFECTION.
Instead of spending your time and energy on trying to be perfect, take that time to nurture relationships. Be present with your kids, your husband, family, and friends. In my post about focusing on intention in 2016, I mentioned that I want to involve my kids more in housework as a way to actually spend more time with them. But that means I have to be ok with less than perfectly clean bathroom mirrors and counters. And you know what? It’s well worth the trade-off. Reading the book Hands Free Mama helped me with this tremendously. It’s such a great book all about turning our focus toward what really matters in life.
6. Simplify Meals and Housework
You guys, seriously, meal planning is probably my number one strategy for creating balance as a working mom. Meal planning makes things so much easier. Not only does it mean that I’m not hemming and hawing over what to make and scrambling to get something on the table last minute because I wasn’t prepared, it also means that I always have what I need to make dinner because I knew exactly what to get at the grocery store the previous weekend. And it helps me save money on groceries.
Planning our meals ahead also let’s me plan around how busy we are and make sure I have simple meals planned on nights we need it most. I have a few tricks I use for really simplifying cooking dinner, and I try to make sure I plan for meals that use those.
Related: 4 Tips to Simplify Cooking Dinner
Housework is one of those things that will never be entirely done, and it can feel overwhelming because you just know you’ll never get caught up. So letting go of perfection is an absolute must. It’s ok if your house isn’t 100% perfect 100% of the time. At the same time, keeping a tidy house does help maintain a certain level of calm and order – which makes life a whole lot easier than a messy house that feels stressful and chaotic.
The key? You guessed it. Balance. I make housework a little easier by not trying to get it all done at the same time. I do a little each day, some days more than others, but I don’t stress that I’ll never truly get “caught up”.
Related: Spring Cleaning for Working Moms
7. When You Can, Hire Help
In your work or in your home, if you can afford it and it helps you reach your goals, seriously considering hiring some outside help. I get asked often how I run a business from home with 2 small, energetic children running around. My secret? They go to preschool five mornings a week. It works wonderfully for us.
You could also hire a cleaning service to help with housework, or some help with your work. Virtual assistants are actually a lot more affordable than you might think because they often tailor their services to exactly what you need.
8. Make Time for Self-Care
This should actually probably be number 1 on this list. If you aren’t caring for yourself, you won’t have the mental, physical, and emotional energy to maintain a healthy life balance. Get adequate sleep, get your body moving on a regular basis, and pay attention to what you put in your body. You’ll have better energy to balance all your juggling balls.
Related: 70 Healthy, Real-Food Snack Ideas
That’s not all self-care means though. Also make time for doing things that interest you, stimulate your mind, and fill you up. Make time for people too. As an introvert, it is super easy for me to forget to make time for people who don’t live under the same roof as me. But that is another part of self-care.
Related: 3 Hobbies that Soothe the Soul
The biggest lesson here is that finding balance takes effort. It’s not really something you discover, it’s something you work hard for. Have you found ways to maintain balance as a working mom? Do you have any tips you’d add to this list?