“Working mothers are guinea pigs in a scientific experiment to show that sleep is not necessary to human life.”
A friend of mine, who didn’t have kids at that time yet, asked me a question long time ago: “How do moms manage to work and run the house with children at the same time? When I come home from work in the evening I’m exhausted to such an extent I can only breathe and cannot imagine myself doing anything else except lifting my
phalanges lower limbs high into the air and stay still for at least 30 minutes. What about working parents? How do they manage?”
Back then I was working as a home-based freelancer with my first daughter who was almost 2 and I couldn’t tell her how it feels to come back from the office. Nevertheless, there are quite a lot people around me who
are lucky to raise great kids and work full time far away from their bed and kitchen.
So yes, it’s a big and interesting question: how to manage the level of productivity, professional focus and concentration during the work day and then be an energetic and happy mom in the evening of the same day. And though I cannot give advice to parents who spend most of their lives in an office, I surely have been through the pain of keeping myself awake through romantic summer nights with deadlines I had to meet, and during noisy vacation days when I had to exploit my talents despite the crazy sounds coming from the kids’ room.
Here is how it works for me.
To make it simple I will divide the day into 4 parts:
morning – waking up and plugging into your source of energy
work day – squeezing creative juices without using too much caffeine
family time – spending happy time with kids and family (or leaving them and go for a nap without feeling guilty)
bed time – putting the little ones to sleep and enjoy a few quiet moments before collapsing to bed
The “good morning” stage: wake up time, make up time, meditation time:
As the joke goes: the most important is to get up. Will wake up later.
The way to keep yourself balanced through the day begins right from the moment you wake up. Your work conditions, work environment and your personal health – all play their role in the degree of your love or hate of the world by the end of the day.
Different things work well for different people. For example, do you hate waking up early and getting to the office by a certain hour? Then doing so will drain your energy and empty your source of inspiration before you even get to work. Something must be changed in that case. Of course, not all companies allow to work from home or arrive late, but you know the situation better to evaluate what can be done, how the schedule can be maneuvered to fit itself best to your nature.
Do one thing that makes you happy in the morning
Even if it means 30 minutes less sleep. A quiet cup of coffee (unless you have a talking coffee cup), a 10-minute meditation with some native American flute music, a short walk outside, breathing exercises, muffin baking, drumming – anything that helps you pass this sensitive time called “morning”. I strongly suggest doing it while the kids are still asleep (it works well with older kids who hate waking up anyway). There was a time when I finished a big muffin with two cups of instant coffee while reading jokes.
At other times I used to meditate and do soft stretching with gentle yoga music in the background. Both activities are completely different, but all is good as long as it serves the purpose: make me happy at this stage of my existence. Don’t try to do something “healthy” just for the sake of it. Better do something that might sound less perfect but does the job.
Now you are entering the 2nd stage – the work day
with different working hours, different surroundings different lighting and even different placement of your laptop while working. (there were times when I discovered that sitting
crooked straight at my home desk makes it so hard for my back that I was unable to concentrate. So either replace your chair, your back (huh?) or just move to the sofa.
There are certain false truths that might stand in the way of great experimenting. One of the myths I was bound to is – “inspiration comes at night” or “nights are the best time to do creative jobs”. This is totally wrong. Muses come, muses go – sunshine is not their enemy. Night is, indeed, a great time to work but remember, that you have to wake up early the next morning (this is not a post about free artists who sleep during the day and work during the night). As a working
night owl parent, straining your brain at night is a luxury you cannot afford anymore. So keep on experimenting.
There are other myths people might be telling you, or you might read somewhere that can keep you away from optimal work flow process.
Another example is: “I can do it all alone”. There are a lot you can do, but sometimes you need help of others so don’t feel abashed, confused or embarrassed to look for help from colleagues, friends or whoever you can. Don’t try everything before asking for professional advice. Don’t try pulling the carriage all alone but rather look where you can use knowledge of others and offer your help in return. Don’t be a lone wolf.
These are only two examples, but I’m sure there is a ton more. You can share your own in comments.
Say no to the perfect conditions
That will never happen. If you are getting tired after the first 10 minutes of work that can mean two things: either it’s not your day (get more sleep, jump a little bit and roll on your back). Or – you hate your current task so much that you are exhausted from the inner fight or having to keep yourself chained to the damned working activity. If you hate it but cannot drop it at this very moment (a client is waiting for your report, article etc.) stop the work for a few minutes and meditate – think of the whole situation it as a life exam (that will not last long for various reasons), imagine yourself doing your best and finishing it.
Now it is the third phase of the day called “family time”
There is a joke: “do you also call the day when you clean, cook and tidy up – your day off?”
Family-time is when your kids get back from schools-kindergartens-nurseries-playgrounds. It’s not necessarily evening and you’re not necessarily ready for the switch from “serious” brain work to the “light” brain work (playing, jumping, talking, soothing, controlling etc.). Here are some tricks I use to guarantee soft landing from “work” to “home”:
Take them out
Even if for 30 minutes. Usually, kids don’t get enough time being outside while at schools/kindergartens anyway. You surely don’t get enough fresh air (unless your office is in a tree house) as well. So you all need this refreshing time to spread away the remains of the work/school energy that is left there. There is almost nothing better than gaining powers in the fresh air.
Or keep them busy
with anything at home while you are regenerating. Give yourself some time alone, even if it means letting them watch a 15-minute cartoon, a 10-minute TV show or showing them a game they can play without adult supervision. This should be really short, just for you to shake off the work mood. (There are cases, though, when I am too exhausted to spend quality time with anything except my pillow. Then, the 15-minute playtime turns into 40-minute cartoons/games/TV shows while I regain my energy in another room. Don’t pretend to be cheerful and energetic when all you need is a good nap).
Read to them
Reading out loud is something most kids like, and most moms don’t find too hard to do. Dining time, for example, is a great time for storytelling. What is so good about reading out loud? First, it’s a good way for a mom to get relaxed. You don’t even have to make up stories but read the written text. Second, it’s a good way for the kids to learn something (therapy fairy tales or fables) and be with their mom at the same time. I, personally, find reading out loud a great opportunity to teach my kids something, to communicate with them (they ask questions, I explain) and to enjoy a homely atmosphere.
At this point, when the 4th phase arrives (and your partner arrives from work as well) it’s time to turn the active part of the day off. Putting them to bed is a separate topic we’ll discuss later. Good night, meanwhile.