Balancing Act

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A coworker, who is several years younger than I am, made the comment to me the other night that she didn’t know how I balanced everything. Between school, working part-time, and a new relationship, she was struggling to fit everything in. She couldn’t imagine even more time constraints with working full-time, having a child, spending time with a partner, maintaining a household, and attempting to have a social life.

I responded that it was a very delicate balancing act, and some weeks I got it wrong.

As if on cue, that night, my son was up sick for 2 and a half hours; then went to my mom’s and threw up all over her because I don’t have paid time off yet and had to go to work on 4 hours of sleep because money.

Other weeks, particularly at my last job, I would be so miserable because of my work environment and a woman on my staff in particular who put her heart and soul into making me miserable and a director who would not back me up, I couldn’t give what my son needed. I needed time to myself, and those weeks my son suffered.

Sometimes, I would put my family and my son first, and my director would chastise me for not putting my department first (while she and the other two managers got to take time off for their families without any push back…it was a very toxic work environment to say the least).

Sometimes, I would get the balance right between work, child, husband, and child, only to have a relative or friend complain that it’s been forever since they’ve heard from me.

Frankly, the balancing act sucks. You can look online for tips on how to balance being a working mom, but I don’t find any of that information useful. It’s idealistic and it doesn’t really tackle the reality of how hard it is to do it all. Something always has to give, and I find that it’s either me who’s stretched thin, or my son or husband gets the short end of the stick. I used to think I needed to drop part-time to make this all work well, and I know part of that was because I was quite unhappy at the last place I was working. I’m happy where I’m at now and not really interested in giving that up. So what do?

Some of the things I’ve learned to make things easier on myself are:

1. Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep! I eat my breakfast and lunch at work, so I make all of that ahead of time, put everything into containers, and save space in my refrigerator to keep everything. It makes far more sense to make scrambled eggs once than five separate times, no? It makes far more sense to get all the salad stuff out once than five separate times? To cook and shred chicken once? Trust me, it makes more sense this way.

2. Crock pot freezer dinners: I swear by the crock pot because it maximizes my evening family time, which is only about 2 hours before my son goes to bed, and I want to make sure he and I have quality play time because he’s missed me all day. Sometimes stuff turns out too mushy in the crock pot, I’m still learning how long to cook things before setting it to warm. I’m getting there. I try to prep these too ahead of time in freezer bags that I can store. I can easily throw together chili, stir fry, fajitas, chicken parmesan, etc.

3. I had to pay for a cleaning service. I was getting so pissed off and upset that my personal time was being spent cleaning that my husband and I were having blow outs over it. They came every other week and it helped me relax more. They don’t pick up after you, you still have to do that. You also still need to clean your own litter boxes, do your dishes, do your laundry, and mow your own lawn. But knowing I don’t have to do the rest was a big weight off my shoulders. I realize this isn’t a viable option for everybody, and for a while it wasn’t for us either. We tried dedicating an evening to cleaning the house and whatever we didn’t get done, we’d tackle first the following week.

4. Multi-task: I don’t mean answering emails or playing games on your phone while you’re supposed to be playing with your kid. I mean reading while you’re on the Elliptical or taking a bath; taking the longer route and jogging your kid to the park; folding laundry while watching Grey’s Anatomy. These are things I do to fit everything in without feeling like I’m falling short somewhere.

5. Set a date night you and your partner can look forward to. You don’t have to go out anywhere. Until recently, my husband and I lived two hours away from the nearest relative. No one was watching our kid for us. And our extra money went to a cleaning service so that I’d stop having meltdowns. We would buy popcorn, decide on a movie to watch on Netflix, buy a cheap bottle of wine, put the kid to bed, and spend time with each other. It’s nice, you and your partner need that.

Some other things I’ve learned:

*Set boundaries with relatives. If you only have time for people one day a week because you both work full-time, then make that clear that you need at least one day to prepare for the week and the other day will be rotated.

*I also lay my clothes out for the week on Sunday night. I also make sure my son’s diaper bag is ready to go, his cup of milk is in the fridge, my coffee mug is at the Keurig, and my alarms are set. It’s better this way.

*If you’re miserable at your job, that makes this balancing act so much harder because you’re stressed. If there’s nothing you can do to change your job situation, at least make a goal for why you’re riding it out. I stayed at my toxic work environment because I wanted to reach my certification and once I reached that, we were going to move back closer to family. That happened a year sooner than we were planning and I’m much happier where I’m at now, but knowing why I was sticking it out and having that to work toward gave me something else to focus on when things really sucked.

*You’re going to get it wrong some weeks. Some weeks, you’re not going to be able to give what you should to your partner. Some weeks, you’re going to go to work on 4 hours of sleep even though your son is sick because money. Some weeks, you’re going to realize it’s been 9 months since you last talked with your best man (whoops). It’s going to happen. Forgive yourself, because you’re trying and this balancing act it not easy.

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