The Working Parent: Keeping Your Balls in the Air

Do you sometimes hate being a parent?

This sounds like a loaded question and to be honest, just typing it makes me feel guilty. Truth is, I had a terrible few days with my kids this week. My almost 2-year-old decided she was more than ready to be a 2-year-old, and in just one day, I counted 19 tantrums! I must be the worst mother in the world for not letting her wear her swimsuit all day, for putting her hair up in a ponytail, for giving her an orange bowl instead of the pink one, for daring to suggest that she shares her Lego with her baby brother … It didn’t help matters that her 8-month-old sibling was teething and although I find his crabbiness easier to forgive, I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed having Mr Grumpy permanently attached to me, drooling a waterfall down my chest so it looks like I’m entering a wet T-shirt competition.

Modern day parents are under a lot of pressure to “have it all”, and let’s face it, we can’t all be Kate Middleton! In recent years, there have been welcome steps towards recognizing the challenges of being a good parent and sharing the not so polished reality with the world. Humorous ladies like Constance Hall and The UnMumsy Mum lead the charge, uniting mums and Queens all around the globe through photos, stories, books and most of all, support. Lifting the pressure on parents to admit that it is OK to not be OK is a big step in the right direction.

However …

This doesn’t stop us from wanting to enjoy the parenting journey and maybe even feel like we’re on top of it occasionally. Juggling full time jobs, young children, relationships and time for yourself sure as hell isn’t easy. Hubs and I started out as clueless parents, living and struggling in the chaotic imbalance of work and family life. I frequently felt unhappy with this and after doing some reading, one thing that struck a cord was the establishment of a routine for your children and becoming more organized yourself.

This sounds like common sense and easily done, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to maintain an organised routine day in day out. If you’re not naturally an organized person, it takes some time before the concept is solidly embedded enough to become second nature. I do not profess to have graduated from clueless parent in 2 short years but as a result of setting daily routines (most days) and (more or less) sticking to them, my family is much happier.

I hope my experiences will help and maybe even inspire you (a tiny bit)! I’m writing here what made the biggest improvement to our lifestyles but every family is different and you will find your own groove of what works for you.

Meal Planners

We’re a household of foodies and that’s one area where we’ve struggled to adjust when young children joined our family. We’ve now accepted that we don’t have the luxury to spend 5 hours on Sundays experimenting with the latest sous-vide techniques, but it is very important to me that everyone eats healthy, balanced diet. So the biggest part of my planning is around mealtimes – 3 meals a day, 5 days a week.

Like any well-meaning first time parent, I was adamant that I would cook every meal and watch in delight as my baby devoured spoonfuls eagerly. My reality could not have been further from this. My daughter DETESTED solids. She turned up her little button nose at everything apart from pear purees. Baby led weaning was no more than baby led mess. Food ended up everywhere except in her mouth and soon, I began to dread mealtimes. Fast forward 18 months, things are much better (so hang in there!). She eats what we eat, which is also having a positive effect on her brother, who is turning into a champion eater! As important as it is that we have home-cooked meals as often as possible, trying to put dinner on the table at a reasonable time each evening after work is a real challenge.

Initially we started to prep next day’s dinner after the kids had gone to bed. Every night, hubby and I would engage in an energetic display of vegetable chopping, parboiling, precooking and assembling – who said romance was dead?? If lasagna was on the menu, everything would be ready in a state where I can literally just take it from the fridge and pop in into the oven the next day. Homemade ready meals – Ta Da!

If you REALLY want to go the extra hog, then make a list of a whole week’s worth of meals on Sunday night and note down what prep needs to be done each day. At the end of a long day of work and toddlers, coming up with a creative, nutritious meal for the next night is probably the last thing on your mind. I like that all I need to do is follow the instructions from past (creative thinking) mummy me. A glass of wine also goes hand in hand with carrot peeling!

Having a template works a charm (I know that sounds totally geeky and OTT!) and keep it electronic (I just keep mine on my smartphone) – if you’re anything like me, you’ll change your mind a few times during the process.

Snappy morning routine

I don’t know of any parent who enjoys mornings where they need to get everyone out of the house by a certain time. If I have an early meeting or appointment the next day, I make an extra effort to keep the morning routine snappy. Do whatever you can – whether that be showering the night before, preparing breakfast doggy bags to eat on the go, or packing everything for nursery/work and not pressing that snooze button!

Another thing that I’ve found to be a huge help and actually requires next to no effort to put into place, is sorting out tomorrow’s outfits the night before. Perhaps it’s being woken by the howl of a hungry baby at 5am each morning that frazzles my brain, as I seem incapable of putting together appropriate outfits for everyone to leave the house in (slippers are not suitable work shoes!). Having neat, folded clothing laid out on the sofa each morning goes great lengths to keep the (clothing-related) tears and tantrums at bay.

Communicate …

… often with your husband and children. There were many times where things were either missed or done twice because I forgot to tell hubby that I was taking care of it (or not) and vice versa! In a world where kids weave in and out of your mind, as you rush to finish a client report, it is very easy to forget to mention that you had already picked up the kids’ passport photos (and instead, face a grumpy other half who had just returned empty handed from the photographer’s). Oops.

Similarly with the kids, giving them a heads up that dinner will be ready in 2 minutes and iPad will need to be switched off, saves a hell of a lot of trouble when it comes to iPad switching off time! Ok, they may not understand the concept of time yet and 2 minutes can be anything from 10 seconds to 3 hours in their world, but at least you’ve planted the seed in their minds that something is going to happen – Inception style. As a parent you’re going to need every trick you’ve got!

Date days and ME time

Living with young children will impact your relationship with your partner. Fact. Most people would agree that while you may love them more because they display new and previously unseen dedication to the art of Parenting, it’s hard to spend any quality time together. So date days are important and we definitely jump on those opportunities when they come along.

What about ME time? Putting yourself first hardly ever happens now. Those monthly manicures have dropped way down the priority list, especially when there’s exciting laundry to do! How will you be able to make the best decisions for your children and family if you’re not in perfect health – in mind and body? Your children don’t just need mummy, they need a happy and healthy mummy. Think about it.

Being efficient at work

It’s surprising how much you dawdle when there isn’t a set deadline. It’s very easy to get distracted by random thoughts which you must Google immediately. I’ve certainly been guilty of that and the worst thing is, I didn’t even realize. When I went back to work after my first maternity leave, I made it clear that I will leave at 5pm on the dot. This is not the norm in my office and took some guts (unfortunately), but I stuck to my guns. Sometimes this meant logging in from home after the kids are in bed or pushing meetings back, but whatever it took, it was important to me to be able to spend the evening together as family.

Work commitments will demand as much of our time as we are willing to give. Like most working parents, I was worried about how my career will be affected, whether my colleagues would view me in worse light and ultimately if I will be able to finish everything in a shorter working day. What actually happened is that I became much more efficient. My mind was focused on nothing other than getting the tasks done because I now had a hard deadline. Unexpectedly, my colleagues quickly accepted and respected my new schedule and began to work with it. There will always be hectic days when things do not go as planned, and by focusing on what is truly important, prioritizing started to win battles.

 

Living with two under two as a full time working parent is definitely a challenge and I often wondered how I would manage (to stay sane), without being fired from my job and divorced by my husband. For a long time I stressed that I was failing to keep all my “balls in the air” and ultimately failing to be the best I possibly could as a mother, employee and wife. I felt tired on most days, sometimes irritable and almost always with messy hair!

By taking a step back, you’ll see that actually, your relationship is still intact, your job is being done and your children are growing into beautiful little human beings. That was when the realization hit me: having it all might look glamorous to everybody on the outside but in fact, it feels exactly like … this.

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