I can’t put my finger on when, but sometime after I became a mom, I noticed an unsettling difference in my self talk. Each night when my head hits the pillow, a critical voice seems to slink stealthily into my thoughts: Are the kids over committed in their schedules? Are my husband and I saving enough for retirement? Do we have the right amount of life insurance? Should the kids be getting more iron?
The criticism seems to run the gamut, and even if I can think of tons of examples from the day of how I totally rocked the working mom/house manager balance, still I tend to second guess myself.
Quieting that voice moved to the top of my priority list when we welcomed our third baby home. My husband and I realized what it meant to be outnumbered, and the desire to manage a hectic schedule with purposeful planning became palpable. I wanted to climb into bed at night knowing I had done what I could, not like I was flailing and holding on for dear life.
I concentrated my efforts on finding structure and routine and being super intentional with time. Through this journey, I’ve finally managed to find what works for my family’s busy schedule, what keeps us feeling connected to one another, and simultaneously what allows me to feel fulfilled.Once I made up my mind to find more structure, I started by analyzing my own personal obligations and desires. My professional life and the hobbies I consider “life-giving” are varied: I am a writer, a yoga teacher, and I’m involved with several mom and church groups. The nature of my writing career means each day could look different (it’s a beautiful thing to be able to write from anywhere or to write after the kids go to bed!), but I quickly discovered a fluid work schedule was, for me, an enemy to productivity. Instead of varying my schedule from day to day, I decided to set strict working hours for myself.
In addition to my “have tos,” I decided that self-care–be it yoga, a run, or ten minutes with a book–would be a part of every single day. More importantly, I would never feel guilty about it. Before this decision, I would let my “me time” be the first thing knocked off the to do list. I’d also shirk the topic in conversation with my girlfriends because I felt frivolous. But when I accepted that the importance of self-care isn’t just for me, but that it’s also for my family (because I return feeling renewed and ready to fully engage), I became more resolved about this tiny window I would carve out and learn the art of purposeful planning.
I also implemented a practice that has truly changed my day to day motivation. Each morning I ask myself: what would the best version of me do today? I start with a super tight focus–Well, she would drink eight glasses of water. Easy. Then, I expand to tasks that take more brain power or time. It’s not fool-proof, but succeeding at any of the tasks makes me feel like I’m being and striving the woman I know I am and can be.
After squaring away my obligations, I turn my attention to my kids’ schedule, which isn’t quite as easy to stronghold with homework, playdates, and extracurriculars. And because all of their invitations and opportunities sound so fun, we had a season of utter mayhem before I came to accept that our time was finite. I would be mentally spent from work, but I still needed to give my all for math homework, basketball practice, storytime at the library, and homemade pizza night….on the same day. I thought living this way, zooming from activity to activity without taking a breath in between, would ensure my kids didn’t miss out on experiences, but it actually equated to feeling so rushed that no one was enjoying time at home or away.
Eventually, my husband and I sat down and talked about what was most important for us as a family. We first filled in our shared digital calendar with the have to’s in our purposeful planning. We have blocked off time that, barring a natural disaster, won’t be interrupted because it was just that life-giving. After-dinner quality time, church on Sunday, and my weekly yoga class were some items we quickly etched in stone. Then we carefully considered our priorities to be able to select the want-tos.
We gave the two kids who are old enough to weigh-in the option to tell us their wants, and we all started working on the idea that saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another. There’s only so much time in a day, and if it’s not firmly spoken for ahead of time, I’ve learned that it will be sneakily sapped away.
With our weekly and monthly calendar written out at the beginning of each month, half the battle is won. Yet the real magic of work-life balance isn’t in the planning–it lies in how we spend the days and hours. In order to have the perfect work-life balance as a mom, I remember it takes revisiting what we’ve prioritized and constant re-commitment to purposeful planning.
From time to time I may still have a visit from that critical internal voice, but now instead of letting those whispers usher in feelings of guilt, I take them as cues to carve out an extra slice of time for whoever needs it, including myself.
Leslie Kiel writes for TheTruthAboutInsurance.com and is a wife, mother of three, and yoga teacher. She loves finding the balance between activity and stillness, no matter how elusive it can sometimes be.