Life with two is more work and is more demanding with two, but I feel like we’ve adapted to it well. My friend Jenn actually said, “You are being way more Zen about this than I thought you’d be.” Me too, actually. I thought I’d share some of my tips on how I survive working at home while facing the demands of a newborn and a very spirited five-year-old. It can feel like that quote from Alice in Wonderland about running as fast as you can just to stay in one place, and if you want to go anywhere you need to run twice as fast as that. Since I stay home I manage the lion’s share of the household maintenance, keep up on the needs of the family, cook most of the meals, spend quality time with the kids, grow a garden, and write this blog, and occasionally work on one of my side businesses. It’s a lot to manage but I have clear priorities which helps me decided what gets done. I also have an active social life and make time for my husband and my family. I hope I’m not making it sound like it’s too good to be true. There are times when I slack off of my routines and get overwhelmed. I am very far from perfect and so offer these tips from a survivor’s point of view, rather than an expert’s.
When Isobel was born I was forever trying to get her on a schedule. All the parenting books I had read demanded that I have my newborn on a schedule otherwise my life would erupt into a ball of flames and nothing would ever be okay. Why, if your infant wasn’t on a schedule, how on earth could life go on? Answer: easy. I could never get Isobel on a schedule, no matter how hard I tried. And I tried so hard. Every day. She was too busy being a baby to notice, and my failure to control her wake-sleep patterns made me feel like a failure. Schedules and routines are very important when you have an infant, but this time I did things in reverse. Isobel and I have our routines and schedules instead of the baby. They are modular and flexible. We get all the same things done, just maybe not in the same order and the same times everyday. We are all happier for it.
Building a schedule around your priorities is probably the biggest gift you can give yourself right now, after an unlimited giftcard of kindness. The basic needs we focus on are hygiene, dishes, tidying up, fixing meals, gardening and laundry. I also have daily blog stuff that I work on, and Isobel and I play together and with the baby. We manage to work in errands, cleaning, and family time as needed. I don’t do it all everyday, but we manage to get it all done every couple of days. This was the most valuable thing I learned about being a WAHM – doing it all every couple of days instead of doing it all daily. Some people refer to life as a great balancing act, but I dislike that metaphor because a perfect balance is unattainable. It sets us up for failure. Life is about cycles and moving through the schedules and routines that make up the pattern of living.
My house isn’t always clean. Not by a long shot. And that is by design. My time is limited and right now clutter and dirt, in a certain amount, are tolerable. Anthony and I have talked about what we feel it’s important to get done and what can wait a few days. He has his chores that he thinks are really important to do and I have mine. After I get those done, I stop and move on to something else. I feel that this point is so important I’m going to say it again: there is a point at which I stop. I am done. Is there still more dirt lurking in the corners of my house? Yes. Are my closets perfectly organized? No. But in this case perfect is the enemy of good. I don’t waste my energy obsessing over the house. I get done what we need to get done. When something starts to get out of hand (usually Isobel’s room), I add to it my to do list and clean it on a day when I have time, or I wait for Anthony to get home and we do it together. The point is, you and your partner decide together what needs to get done and what you have time for. This way you are not, again, setting yourself up for failure.
This is not an option for everyone, but it has been a wonderful option for me. I get a lot done while Elias relaxes in the sling or naps snuggled into the curve of my body. I often wear him while I sit and type or or eat or do other seated activities. It’s not just for walking around! I probably wear him about 30% of every day.
Encourage independence – Brainstorm solutions to help your older children do some things independently. For example, I noticed that I was constantly having to get stop what I was doing, or get up while nursing, to get Isobel a glass of water. Our kitchen isn’t set up in a way that allows her to get it all on our own. Now I keep Isobel’s Hello Kitty water bottle filled with fresh water on the lowest shelf in the fridge so it’s ready to go at all times. This solution has saved not only time, but frustration.
Automate things – Automate bill pay, email replies, reoccurring household or business supply orders, post scheduling–automate whatever you can. Save your precious energy for more important things.
Simplify and streamline tasks – Setting up drip irrigation in the garden took an enjoyable afternoon hanging out in the garden with my friend Jake, and has paid off by making watering my garden a simple task of turning on the hose and letting it run. Find ways to make as many things as easy on yourself as possible.
Above all, go easy on yourself if things aren’t working out as well as you’d like. There’s only so much any of us can do in a given day and being hard on yourself ultimately won’t help you get anything done. Reevaluate your tasks or how you are spending your time if need be, but don’t waste time feeling guilty. Remember, you decide what success looks like, and it’s different for everyone.