My life as mom started almost 16 years ago. I traded in my teaching career to be a stay-at-home mom. I started off with a bang. I was going to be the best mom I could be, and I took my job very seriously. It never crossed my mind that it could be challenging, chaotic, and crazy. I had just finished teaching a classroom of twenty-eight first graders, how hard could it be? Right? I put on my supermom cape and started to soar (for a short time). In a blink of an eye, I had 3 kids under 6. I gave so much of my time taking care of everyone else that I had forgotten to take care of me. As much as I loved being mom, I knew being supermom was not healthy for anyone. To protect my sanity and my health, I needed to take my cape off and find a balance.
Eight years into parenting I began work toward a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling. I chipped away at it slowly and began to find myself again. I started writing, created my blog, and wrote and published my book DiddleDots: Tips to Ease the Craziness of Parenting. As time passed, I began writing curriculum for parenting classes and taught a few here and there, I started and completed my internship in counseling, and I graduated. I had become a “sort of” working mom and could do it while my kids were in school. When the school day was over, I turned back into mom and enjoyed the best of both worlds. Until summer.
Inevitably, the end of the school year would magically appear, and we were all excited for no structure! The first weeks were filled with late nights, late mornings, television, board games, swimming, and nothingness. Pure love! But then it slowly changed. I was antsy to do some work, but my kids were used to a supermom that was available 24/7. I could feel myself getting cranky, half-connected, and short-tempered. I needed to set up some boundaries AND I needed to be a fully present mom, not a mom that had one eye on her computer, one eye on her phone, and half a brain on her kids.
And so it began, my quest to balance mom time and me time:
1. I bought a timer. I explained that while the timer was set it was “Mommy Time” and unless the sky was falling, they needed to survive without me (and they could).
2. I bought a chalkboard and wrote down the jobs I expected them to do while I was working.
3. I made sure the jobs I chose for them were jobs they could do by themselves without my help.
4. I gave them a piece of chalk to check off their job when it was complete.
5. Once their jobs were complete, they had earned free time.
6. I made sure that the playroom was stocked with games, Legos, and dress-up clothes.
7. When my kids were younger, I packed a special box that only came out during “Mommy Time.” When “Mommy Time” was over, the box was packed up and put away. The excitement of the box and what was inside held their attention more than their everyday toys.
8 .I created a jar that could have been titled, “I can’t find anything to do so I will do more chores” jar. This was filled with different jobs to do around the house. If they came to me and said, “I’m bored!” I just turned to the jar. They only came to me one or two times because they quickly learned my solution for boredom.
9. And there were the expectations that went something like this, “I need to get my work done and so do you. After you are done with your chores, you can play. If I get all my work done, I will have time to play too. If I can’t get my work done, we don’t get to do anything. Capiche?”
10. I also knew my rule of not being disturbed needed to go both ways. When it was “Kid Time” I needed to be fully present: no emails, no texts, no Facebook, just me and my kiddos.
11. And then there was sibling rivalry. If something major happened, I dealt with it immediately and would reset my timer. If it was something that could be dealt with later, I pulled out an old teacher move—I had them write down or draw what happened and put it in what I called the, “Stuff mom needs to deal with later” box. Inevitably they took care of it themselves, but I always found time to talk through any issues.
12. One thing I have learned about sibling rivalry. If kids get the attention they need, sibling rivalry is not so bad. I try as much as possible to have one-on-one time with each of my kids. Fifteen minutes of undivided attention goes a long way. Life gets busy and I sometimes forget, but I always remind my kids if they need a little extra mommy time to simply ask.
13. Finally, remember the ages and stages of your kiddos. For little ones, you need to be realistic. I NEVER got anything done without the help of a babysitter, mommy helper, or video! Those truly are the supermom years where the caregiver is in survival mode! If you are there, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and read my article, “This Too Shall Pass!” As they get older, start with 15 minutes and go from there.
Today my kids are 15, 13 and 9 years old. Although it looks a little different now, I still follow the same ideas. I set the timer, and it is go time. Does it always go smoothly? Absolutely not, but it helps. I can get (more) work done, my kids are learning about responsibility and setting boundaries and I am able to be the mom I want to be. I traded in half-parenting all the time for whole parenting some of the time.
So, whether you are a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a “sort of” working mom like me, use the techniques above for any breaks you need. Sometimes we just want to close our eyes, read a magazine, or talk on the phone. Sometimes we need to work, cook dinner, or go through a thousand personal emails. Whatever the reason, take off your cape and fill yourself up. It teaches so many lessons and truly does make everyone happier.