One Working Mom’s Answer to: “How are You Doing All This?”

A hard-working pediatric therapy colleague, 6 months pregnant, sat down next to me  at the end of a group we had co-facilitated this afternoon and asked seriously, “How do you do this — full-time parenting, and all this work?”

My immediate response to her was, “I did not work like this when my kids were little. I worked very part-time for years. It was only when they were both in full day school two years ago that I started working this much.”

This is true. I see colleagues with established practices starting to have children when their careers are already ramped up to full speed and I have no idea how they do it. I barely maintained my sanity when the kids were little and I was working 2-3 partial days a week. Sure, there are women who choose to or need to work full-time right from the start, and in all honesty, we’d be in a better financial situation today if we had gone down that road. But I am ultimately happy with the choices we made and I feel like things both at home and work are going very, very well.

I can say this with some confidence because I have, as one friend put it on Twitter tonight, managed a hat-trick this week: 1) our Flummox & Friends Kickstarter project was fully funded on Monday, 2) I was mentioned in a New York Times article about use of iPads with children with autism on Tuesday, and 3) the preview copy of the first book I’ll be published in, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, has come out today (not in my hands, though). So today I almost – almost, mind you – feel I can say I’ve reached a certain level of success in my career. Which has prompted me to pause this evening and really think about how to answer my colleague’s question…what else should I tell her?

The first thing I need to say to new working moms out there is this: I know for a fact that I could never be doing what I am doing in my career if I didn’t have a true passion for it. No one would ever throw themselves this fully into work they didn’t absolutely love. I don’t mind the extra hours I put in at night, early in the morning, and on weekends because this is my practice, my career. It’s extremely satisfying.

But beyond that I learned early on that I needed HELP: a lot of it, from a lot of people. I could work, yes, but not running my own practice and pushing forward on all the projects I am working on these days to this degree, without a ton of help. I also had to get really skilled at saying “no”.

First of all, there are professionals who help me out on a regular basis. Our incredibly reliable, and often very flexible, babysitter is a godsend. Usually I have her pick up the kids from school twice a week but if I need an extra day she can often do it. I’m not afraid to ask her to pick up milk for me on their way home from school if I see at breakfast that we’ll run out in the middle of (or before) dinner. If I’ve left laundry in the washing machine I will leave her a note asking her to please throw it in the dryer for me. Dishwasher full of clean dishes? Please unload it while the kids are doing homework. It’s worth a few extra dollars at the end of the day to get help with these “little things” that make my whole day run smoother.

The lovely woman who cleans my house and office twice a month is another person I could not manage without. I need to be on top of keeping both places well-stocked and having things in order – and most weeks just making sure both locations have enough paper products all week seems to be a bigger task than I can handle – but she truly does the hard stuff. Walking into my house or office and finding everything clean and tidy a couple times a month relieves my stress immensely. It’s not always easy to afford these things and sometimes I have to put off a cleaning or two until the bank account better supports them, but I do depend on them for peace of mind.

I am heavily reliant on my online calendar. I use Google Calendar and it’s synched between my computer, phone, and husband. Throughout the day, alerts pop up on my iPhone screen reminding me who I’m supposed to be calling in five minutes and showing the phone number. I have, over the years, developed too many routines to recount here — for example, which bags I take to work and what goes in each one. (I am regularly leaving for work carrying a laptop, an iPad, my purse, a bag with a coffee thermos, water bottle and lunch in it so that I don’t need to buy lunch, plus usually some files and therapy materials – I used to forget at least one thing every day but over the years I developed some good rituals that work for me.) I also believe that my adherence to certain routines at the busiest times of the day help my kids stay calm and on track. Routines keep us all better regulated, which means less stress and way more fun.

Then there’s the network of friends I depend upon – you know, those people you can call at the last minute if you need someone to pick up your kids and wait five minutes for you after school because you’re stuck in traffic, or the families who will take the boys for an afternoon if need be. And I’m always happy to do the same for them. I have no clue what I’d do without them; the trick is to ASK for and OFFER help when you find yourself in a community of families.

The kids themselves are a huge help, and I’m not sure I’d have pushed them toward so much independence if I didn’t have to, but it’s definitely a silver lining of our lifestyle. They take care of business, those boys – making their own breakfasts and lunches, setting the table for dinner, keeping their room clean, showering without our help, and so on.

And in the end, the person I lean on the most is my husband. Matt pulls his weight around the house and always has. He uncomplainingly brings a new copy machine down to my office on a Sunday afternoon (even after we’ve hosted a late-night sleepover party for a bunch of sixth grade boys), and hooks it up for us so that it’s all set for the new work week. He does laundry and cooks and organizes. Somehow, although I pushed so hard to get a dog, Matt is now the one who walks him nearly every morning and late every night before bed. He gets up early a couple times a week to drive him over to doggy day care so that I’m not dropping off the dog while also trying to get the 5 kids in the carpool to school on time.

I’ve always said there’s nothing in the house I can do that Matt cannot do, and that’s 100% true. I am the multi-tasker and the planner around here, but he’s as capable of carrying our plans out as I am and there is truly never a word of complaint or a sigh of irritation.

I work hard to take care of myself, too. I go to yoga on Saturday mornings and try to work out a couple other mornings a week before work. I get enough sleep.

And, finally, I’ve learned my limits. I say “no”. All the time. I say “no” to social events, to new clients, to extra sessions at work, to non-essential meetings, to parties I don’t feel like attending. I have discovered that by saying “no” to the things I don’t care so much about, I am leaving space to say “yes” to more of the interesting and unique opportunities that come my way.

So that’s how it works for me. It’s ever-evolving, depending on the nature of my work and the needs of my family any given year, but this is what works right now. What works for you?

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