Yep, I’m a working mom. There’s always a lot going on. Like this.
The scene: My husband is away. I responsibly lay out the ingredients for homemade chicken meatballs, a dinner the kids typically love and one that is OK for the “healthier” eating kick I’m attempting right now. I reach up in a cabinet to get out the breadcrumbs, when the can of cooking spray falls from the top shelf and bops me right on whatever that bone is called that’s behind your eyebrow. OUCH. So now I have ice on my head, and three kids saying “I’m hungry!” or “Mom!” or “Mommy!” or “MOM!” all at once, asking me to watch a pretend wrestling match, get out a toy, look at a TV show, check out a dance move, find a superhero cape, avoid a Lego structure, get them food, pour them milk, ALL. AT. ONCE.
Forget the meatballs. I’m thinking about a possible black eye from the cooking spray, of all things, landing on my face. Pre-made chicken nuggets and packaged fruit cup is going to be dinner tonight. And that’s going to be OK. It just is.
Did I mention I have a new role at work that I’m trying to learn? Or that I’m attempting a fitness and healthy eating routine? And, did I mention that my husband is away, that I’ve slept fewer than — wow, I don’t even know how many hours, but certainly not enough — per night for the past ten years? And that, as I’m standing here with an ice pack on my head, I’m scrolling thoughts through my head like whether I took the medicine I was supposed to take, whether I remembered to put eczema cream on D this morning and whether the chlorine in the pool at swim lessons this weekend will bother his skin, what time the Boy Scout event is tomorrow, whether we’re heading toward nuclear war, whether the flu will hit our family, whether there’s clean laundry for tomorrow, whether I paid my phone bill, whether I mailed the birthday card on time, whether I included all the right people on that email, whether I can develop that strategy my boss requested, and …
Do you see where I’m going?
I’m about to cry.
But as I head into the bathroom, take the ice off my head and look in the mirror to see the bump, E comes in and asks, “Mom, what happened?”
I choose to laugh instead of cry, as I explain that the cooking spray came barreling out of the cabinet onto my head.
OK, onto the chicken nuggets and fruit cup . . . only to realize I never turned on the oven. It’s OK. Turn it on. Cook them fast. I’m not going to crack. I’M GOING TO MAKE THIS WORK, just like I have been for the past 10 years of being an insanely busy working mom.
Making it work. I find myself thinking of that phrase often. It’s how I operate. It gets me through weeks and days and moments. I have a challenging, interesting career that I enjoy . . . but I admit I do wish it required fewer hours so I could do what I think is a better job at balancing being the mom I want to be and succeeding at work. As the savvy Lauren Smith Brody mentions in her book, The Fifth Trimester, working moms often feel guilt, but this guilt is “a relic left over from a time when women had more of a ‘choice’ about whether or not to work.” As I said, I enjoy my career, but I also don’t quite have the choice of not working. So, what can we working moms do? We make it work and we do a darn good job at that.
Here’s how I make it work for my family as a working mom: (stay tuned for a future blog post about how I make it work at work as a busy mom of three boys)
FORGET PERFECTION, or at least redefine it:
There are days I try to be the “perfect mom,” only to realize there’s no such thing, and if there were, everyone would define it differently. Sure, I tried to get the wholesome meal on the table and to cook it while my kids did something other than play on the ipad. Today, that didn’t happen. BUT, we all ate together (honestly Perdue chicken nuggets and Dole fruit cups are just fine for me for dinner — delicious, and easy to prep even with an ice pack on your head!), stories were told, laughter was shared, and it was . . .dare I say . . .perfect.
FORGIVE YOUR MOMFAILS:
Parents are welcome to observe classes at the elementary school today? Smack in the middle of the day when you have colleagues in from out of town and meetings to lead? Yeah, it’s OK to miss this one thing at school. Remind your kids you were at the holiday event and the Halloween parade. And trust that you won’t be the only parent missing from observation day. Do you generally know what’s going on in your kids’ classroom, and in general know what they’re learning about? Are you familiar with the teachers and have an open line of communication with them? Do you send your kids off to school each day with a hug and wishes for a good day? Alrighty then.
Did you forget to make sure the Tooth Fairy was going to come one night? I hear she pays double if she’s too busy or too far away to make it on the first night. Disaster averted.
MAKE IT SPECIAL:
There are so many mornings I just want to cuddle my little guys while they’re still little enough to allow it and enjoy it. So many days I wish we didn’t have to jump out of bed, and in a whirlwind of a routine do breakfast, pack lunch, pack backpacks, make sure we have the right accessories for the day (karate uniform, recorder (oh my, yes, we’re at that recorder age), Cub Scout uniform, $ for the book fair, etc.) while also figuring out whether I should wear a blazer or something more casual, reminding myself to take one deep breath and look in the mirror before leaving the house to make sure I rubbed in my blush and cut the price tag off my shirt (since there have been times when I haven’t).
But most days, we need to get up and rush out. That doesn’t mean I can’t make it special, though — in the mornings or in all the other time I spend with my boys. Special treats in their lunch boxes, slicing cucumbers to the exact thickness they like, making sure their favorite shirt is clean and available . . . to family movie nights with special snack platters, singing them songs I made up for them when they were babies, or playing games as a family. I hope these are the things they’ll remember. Not rushing out the door in the morning.
I recently taught my boys a secret code that my first grade teacher taught me way back when: If I squeeze your hand three times, it stands for “I – Love – You.” They now do it to me all the time. It’s little. But it’s special.
PSYCH YOURSELF UP, NOT OUT:
You. Are. Amazing. Don’t forget that. Moms understand completely that the best laid plans to get a family ready and out the door in the morning are often derailed . . . by the kids. Having a battle about whether he should wear a coat? Don’t bother. Don’t psych yourself out of a good day imagining him freezing and shivering at recess and ending up frostbitten and hospitalized. Instead, psych yourself up: You told him to wear a coat. Then you recommended it again. And then encouraged it again and shared the weather forecast with him. And then you suggested he at least carry it, just in case. He still refused? Well, this one day of him feeling cold will make him reconsider the next time you suggest a coat.
Is your child nervous about something that day? Show him you’re human, too. Tell him about the big meeting you have at work, and you can chat about how your day and his day went when you see each other again at dinnertime. Get psyched — you just gave him something to think forward about instead of dwelling in the morning nerves.
And, of course, remember those days of dropping toddlers off at daycare, when they cry and want Mommy but then they’re completely fine and happy within a minute of you leaving (even though you’re crying in the car). This morning chaos will pass, too — in a few short minutes, the kids will be at school or daycare — happy — and you will take a deep breath and drive to work to get focused on your day.
Your day is going to be OK. Triumphant, even. Everyone is safe. Everyone is where they need to be. Everyone is happy. Deep breath. Move forward to take on the next phase in your day. You rocked this morning … again.
DO IT: (I mean, honestly, Just Do It, but didn’t want to steal Nike’s long-standing and brilliant tagline).
My mom often says to me, “I don’t know how you do it all.” I just do. I have to. This is where energy and prioritization and perspective come in handy. Everything from:
- having a list (mental or written) of go-to meals: tacos, burritos, pasta w/ meat sauce, breakfast for dinner, etc.
- allowing snacks in the car, including (dry) cereal in a bag, which is often my breakfast during my commute, or second breakfast for my group of always ravenous boys!
- on-the-go solutions, like a bag full of snacks and more snacks and wet wipes and tissues that you store in the car for whenever
- making lists — so satisfying when you can cross things off! — and being clear with yourself which are the things that have to get done that day vs. the things you’d like to get done. It can relieve a lot of pressure if you at least focus on the must-do tasks.
- planning ahead . . . but also being able to think on your feet and be flexible. You have a big meeting, but your kid threw up on the way to preschool? Quick email to the team at work to let them know that you’re trying to figure out the day, quick call to a sitter or a relative who may be able to help out, hugs and love for your little one, and then your day unfolds however it is meant to.
- having fun. Laugh when your dinner is ruined and the cooking spray bopped you on your head. Everybody likes chicken nuggets.
I could go on forever on this topic of just getting it done . . .but I’ll save that for a few other blog posts.
Am I half-assing parenting with these “making it work” strategies? No, I’m supermomming it. Ya know how I know? Because out of nowhere tonight, D told me he wanted to play with me because he loves me and that I’m the best mommy ever. Truth.