A tipping scale
Is there even such a thing as a balanced life? Is there a mom or dad out there that has managed to have it all: quality time with kids, a good fulfilling job, AND sufficient me-time? I don’t know many. And the thing is, when things are out of balance, and one portion of your life seems to be hogging your waking hours, then it’s a stressor that affects everything: your patience, your health, and your happiness. So , what’s the secret? I’m certainly no expert on this (because I often fail in the me-time category), but I do know some things that can help.
Schedule it. Not that your calendar should rule your life, but if you take the time to enter your me-time, and make sure that you account for it before everyone else starts making demands, then you’re much more likely to have it. And don’t let the me-time be the first that can slip when things start piling up. It’s important and don’t neglect it.
Ask for help. Not with everything, and not with the things that you feel would be compromised if you are not the one at the helm, but I bet if you sat down right now and thought about it, you could come up with at least 5 things you could hand over to someone else, and they would be able to do it (mostly) as good as you. And is it okay that someone else cooks dinner a few nights a week? Absolutely. Give them clear directions on what you want (at least one veggie and a salad, a protein and a grain, less oil, more spice, whatever), and give them clear feedback. Trust me, they’ll be great. Do you really need to be the one packing the school lunches? Do you really need to be the one doing the summary reports or is your time better spent elsewhere? Give the list an honest try, and I bet you’ll discover tasks you can had over to someone else, and earn yourself 3 (free!) hours.
Make lists. I know, how OCD of me. But what better way to save some time and effort than by not having to redo things or double up on things just because you forgot something? No one wants to go to the grocery store at all, let alone a second run because you forgot a key ingredient or much-needed supply of something. Ask your family if they need anything from the store before you head out, and then you won’t get the ‘Did you get my xyz? Because I really need it and we ran out.’ as you walk in the door with the grocery bags. This isn’t just for shopping though. For tasks, too, or for paperwork, or even homework. Getting multiple similar tasks done one after the other saves mental energy, and reduces stress by ticking off several to-dos in one fell swoop. One more thing about that list: does it REALLY all need to be done? Are there items on there that cannot only be handed off to other people (see #2), but can be crossed off for good? Especially as our kids grow and change and enter new phases, their needs and wants change. Sometimes, we don’t see this change and we just keep doing what we (used to need to) do, and don’t realize that it’s not necessary any longer.
Let your people know you are prioritizing your time, and ask for their help. Let them know why it is important for you to have sufficient time for these various compartments in your life (e.g. work, kids, exercise, home tasks, etc), and ask for their support. This goes hand-in-hand with asking for help and scheduling it. If the kids know that it’s mommy time right now, or it’s workout time, they will understand. They will give you that 30 minutes for you to do whatever it is you need to do, and trust me, they will be okay do entertain themselves. You can take that time. Don’t be a martyr. Maybe the first day they will keep coming back for attention, but stick to it, and give the time to you. Don’t cave, this is important.
Turn things off every once in a while. It’s okay if you don’t answer that email or text RIGHT THIS MINUTE. It’s okay to prioritize what you are doing now over what is trying to get your attention. Studies are showing more and more that multi-tasking isn’t actually all that effective after all. It’s better to do the task, finish it, and then move on to the next rather than do several things at once. (Of course, this is the woman that has at least 10 tabs open, and 3 emails going at once, plus this bog entry, so perhaps I should listen to my own advice…) Focus on what you are doing. And it’s okay to just turn off the phone, put down the ipad and enjoy a tech-free hour or two. Focus on real people instead of internet world during that time.
Be true to what you want to do. Sometimes it’s okay to say “I can’t” and sometimes it’s okay to say “I won’t” because that is what you believe. Sometimes it isn’t just about being too busy or over-booked. Sometimes it just isn’t going to happen, and if you need to say so, then say so.