Right now I'm juggling a job in Manhattan at a very exciting firm, four kids, a wonderful husband, a 90 minute commute, a dog, cat and eleven chickens and some truly amazing friends. I love it.
I get asked a lot how I make this work. I'm taking no credit for the fact that most of the time, it works. Really! I have awesome friends and a super-duper husband and I'm working towards a Proverbs 31 lifestyle and life walk.
But I know that all women who have kids and work have some of the same decisions to make, and maybe the things that work in my life will offer some balance to another woman making the same choices. The first thing is recognizing that my choices are working for me, but not everyone will have the same priorities - it's about peace with your own choices and not feeling the need to justify or explain them to others.
Here's my list:
1. Motivation - I figured out WHY I work and that really steers me in my career. Although I've enjoyed lots of success and been very blessed with the positions I've achieved, I don't care one bit about being in management or getting a C-spot one day. I work to provide for my family, period. I insist on excellence in everything I touch, but I'm not about the politics and the getting ahead thing. This means I could take a job at a lower-stress position that paid more and feel just dandy about it. If they like my work and promote me, great. If not - well, there will be other things.
2. Family comes first - the only time I will ever, ever make a decision that takes one second of my free time away from my kids is if it is an investment in something else. I have one or two friends I will do this for, and of course my husband. Otherwise, count me out of "girls nights", no-kid excursions or late hours at the office. This also means that if my kids need school stuff and I'd like a pair of shoes, kids win. I can wait on the shoes. This job means I don't have to make those either-or choices so much anymore, but for many years I did. They win, every time. The flip side of this is recognizing when the investment really is needed. I desperately wanted my dear friend's advice so I skipped the family picnic (sent both sets of kids with the two dads) to have lunch with her. I bought new clothing for this job because the dress code is much more formal than my last shop, although I'd have preferred to stash those funds for our next Disney adventure.
3. Saying NO - related to the previous one. There just isn't enough time to do all the things I'd love to do, but our church is very active, our friends do neat stuff, and the list quickly gets long. We say no a lot mainly because we have to in order to keep everyone sane. I do not apologize, I'm just honest and agree to what I can, but then do not feel guilty for making choices that help my family.
4.Organizing - I'm a little anal. The kids have a strict routine for things like lunch (bake bread night before, lunchboxes empty and sandwich tupperwares rinsed out, pack snack while your sandwich is being made in the morning). We have tubs and shelves and baskets. Everywhere. I have hand-me-downs in the attic waiting to work their way down the pecking order. I bank online. We get clothes out the night before, for everyone. I use my Outlook reminders for everything! We have a bulletin board right in the middle of our kitchen with the Gold Copy of our calendar and all our invitations/phone numbers/stuff we need to do.
5. Clutter - related to 4, we're ruthless about de-cluttering. If it's damaged, it goes. If it is outgrown - it goes. Our toys are shared, so there isn't the need to buy four of things we like. I go through my closet and the kids at least 3 times a year and clean out. If they have too many of anything - it goes. There are too many people in our circle who need stuff, and there's the Salvation Army besides. The kitchen counter gets de-cluttered every day. Any toy who finds his way into my kitchen - goes (three strikes rule, actually). It's draconian, but it means that we live in relative sanity rather than being stressed out by mess and drama in every room.
6. Chores - I think of it as building a work ethic. I relish the opportunity to serve my family by doing things for them - even laundry - but I want my children to understand the value of serving, of being responsible. So they each have things they are required to do. Partly it is to help Mama (like dog-feeding and chicken egg fetching) and partly it is to train them.
7. Good use of down time - I have 3 built-in hours of "me" time during my commute. That is when I read, do my Bible study, take naps. That way the work and family time don't have to be trimmed to make way for "me".
8. Pragmatism reigns - we recycle, and are green but we are not ruthless about it, for example if the kids leotards are in the laundry and ballet is TODAY we will use the dryer rather than the clothes line. If I wake up on a weekend and just am not feeling the kitchen, we will absolutely eat our lunch out. On the other hand, I would love for my house to be cleaner but am not willing to foot the $400 monthly bill for a house cleaner yet, so I live with a little dust and fingerprints.
It all sounds very organized and blissful and truthfully, a lot of our routine works - but it's not perfect and I'm a long way from as organized and Martha as I'd like to be. For one thing - I haven't found a consistent schedule window for exercise. And this year, with my husband recovering from knee surgery, the yard looks WILD because I don't have mowing the lawn as high on our priority list as he does.
And it's a work in progress. This system is GREAT when the oldest is 10. I know kids who drive, after-school sports and whatever path is set before us with our jobs will change everything, probably the very minute we have this stage down to a system.
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