#JanuaryJoy: Get Organised

So often, ‘get organised’ New Year prompts are about diary management – something I’m always keen to improve… I must double book myself at least once a week. The thought of returning to work and having to plan not only where I am but where Bea is on a daily basis, frankly terrifies me and so I will be fascinated by todays post and all your comments. I’d love to hear how all of you (working mum or not,) balance your life and various commitments and any pointers you have! Over to Esme…


Have you read Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please? In it she talks about how motherhood changed her and some of the things she finds hard, and she suggests a mantra for mothers to use that I really like: “Good for you, not for me”. She calls us all out for saying things that, at first, sound supportive, but are actually us being judgemental over someone else’s choices or working patterns. She tells us that we should support each others decisions, even if it’s not what we would do. Taking this advice into account, it’s difficult for me to offer advice for how to regain balance in your family life, because maybe you want to make very different decisions from me. If that is the case then I hope that you will respect my choices, just as I would respect yours.

At the beginning of 2014 I decided to set myself up as self-employed in order to stay at home as much as I could with Freddie, while still bringing in some money. “It’ll be a really good balance,” I thought to myself and told everyone who would listen, “Once I’ve got a good set of clients and regular work coming in, Freddie will go to nursery for a couple of slots a week and I’ll work around him. I’ll have time for everything!”

Best laid plans, and all that. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t get enough work, or that Freddie didn’t settle into nursery, it was that after doing a temporary freelance full-time post in an office I realised that I wanted the structure of an office job again. I was very lucky to find a part-time job somewhere I wanted to work very quickly, and, suddenly, we had a very different routine to work out. Since I went back to working structured hours, I’ve been trying to work out the conundrum of being part of a family with two working parents. The only thing I can conclude is that there are not enough hours in the day to be able to do everything you would want or even need to do. Being a working mother and the ‘issues’ and the guilt that entails is part of the struggle (but not the subject of this post, so I won’t dwell on this), but really it’s about trying to find a way not to let anything slide. It is about finding a balance, a balance that works for your family.

When I became a mother I kept trying to work out whether I’d changed or not. Was I the same person as I was before? Had this new person coming into my life dramatically altered me? I came to the conclusion (and still think this now) that being a mother simply became another part of me, an addition to what was a whole person before. But if I used up all of my time being an employee, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a blogger and a woman, how could I possibly fit in another incredibly time consuming role?

We haven’t got it all worked out. I don’t have it all, not even by a long way. But we do have something that resembles a balance that we’re happy with. The key for me has been realising that I had to find a new way of working things out, making the things that were a priority for me an actual priority. I also had to let go of spending all day with my son if I wanted to work. I will never be able to see every milestone Freddie reaches, just as I can’t be there to hear about every achievement my husband has at work. I can’t be at work for every meeting because I don’t work on Mondays and I have to leave by 4.15. I have to balance the emotions about missing out with the knowledge that me working part-time is what is best for me right now, and – by association – best for my family.

Making an effort in my marriage is important to me, so we ask friends to babysit and have even had our parents take Freddie for a night or two on more than one occasion. Having time to myself is important as well, so I say yes to meetings friends for drinks in the evening and book in the odd Esme-only Saturday morning to go shopping or just read in bed. I admit that my friendships have taken a back seat over the past almost two years, and I have to hope that those people who are true friends will understand and will still be there when I emerge from this period of having young children.

I work hard when I’m at work (and have been rewarded for it already in a small promotion in my current role), but I endeavour to always leave on time. This is partly because Tom’s job has long hours and quite a lot of travelling and so, between us, we balance the responsibility of dropping off and collecting Freddie from nursery and being the ones who see him in the morning and in the evening. Sometimes it’s both of us, sometimes it’s me every evening for two weeks. The balance isn’t always perfect, but we try. And when something goes wrong we just scramble together a temporary solution. There is usually an ‘exceptional’ day at least once a week.

This is our regular weekly routine:

Monday: My day at home with Freddie, Tom normally travels on Mondays and often leaves very early and returns late. I try not to do too many jobs around the house and concentrate on having a fun Freddie-focused day.

Tuesday – Thursday:
7.30 I leave the house and travel to work, arriving at 8.30
8:15 Tom takes Freddie to nursery and goes to work
4:15 I finish work, run to the station and travel home
5:15 I collect Freddie
5.45 Everyone is home.

Friday: Every other week Tom has Friday off and has a daddy and Freddie day, the other week my in-laws travel to look after him and Tom works a shorter day. If I have to work late, I make sure it’s on Fridays.

This year I’m going to work on being more relaxed about the routine, about finding the perfect balance. I want to say no to spending too many weekends away from home, but yes to sometimes pushing the boundaries of nap times, taking all my holiday from work to have adventures and the occasional ‘personal day’ or day with friends. Having reflected on the balance of work/family/relaxation we currently have by writing this post, I have to say that I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. Ultimately, we have a happy and healthy son who is developing well, and that is what matters. Isn’t it?

Because I’m nosey, I really want to know: how do you feel about your balance right now? Are you trying to readdress it?

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or on Twitter @esmewwins

15 thoughts on “#JanuaryJoy: Get Organised

  1. Great post, I’m really looking forward to hearing people’s replies. I’m not back at work yet, but will be going part time. I’m actually quite looking forward to it!
    On thing that I recommend if there is possibly room in the budget is a cleaner. We have one two hours a week, and she does a brilliant job on the bathroom, kitchen and floors once a week. For me this is the best £20 I spend every week, so as not to spend several hours each weekend doing it, esp since I have a baby who hardly naps ( unless I’m pushing him in the pram) and requires constant interaction when awake.

  2. Thank you for this. My career has always really important to me and having just found out I am pregnant, with a husband who is often away travelling, the thought of juggling everything scares me to death! Great to know it can be done.

    S

  3. This is a brilliant and balanced post Esme, really enjoyed reading it. We have two parents working full-time, and I’ve got a small business to run on the side too which makes things feel impossible at times. Some weeks I think we’re just about hanging on in there, then a little thing slips (and it only takes one thing to slip now!) and the whole lot comes crashing down. I’m not in my happy place yet, that’s for sure, and often get very tearful about not seeing my baby very often at all on some weeks. BUT, ultimately, this was my decision. I couldn’t find a part time job, so I took a full time job, and now it’s up to me to find a balance that works for us. Still searching! Will be interested to hear anybody else with tips on how to manage… (cleaner is brilliant but we’re saving to move house so not an option for us right now).

    Px

  4. Such a nice balanced and non-judgemental post. I’ve chosen to stay at home with my sons so my balance isn’t between work/life more between mum/everything else. Having just had my second it is pretty relentless right now and balancing time between my two boys whilst trying to make sure everyone is (fairly) clean, clothed and fed takes up 100% of my time. We had got to a great balance where I was able to have some time to myself, time with my husband and time with family but that is a bit on hold right now and it is feeling hard to give it all up – even when I know it is temporary.

    Glad you have found the right balance for your family – with so many things to consider there’s never a universal solution.

  5. Fab post Esme and very relevant to where I am just now. I’m in a similar place to Penny right now, I know roughly where my happy place will be but I’m nowhere near it just now. I don’t want to work full time but I can’t keep working part time in a job which is literally killing my spirit. I’m a bit stuck. It’s nice to hear that everyone else is fighting the same battles and that I’m not, as it seems at times, completely alone. Thanks for sharing xx

  6. I am a teacher and have a ten month old. I returned to work the week before he was six months old for a variety of reasons. I’d have loved more time off but it wasn’t to be. At least I plan to remain part time now.

    I work Wednesday-Friday. Husband does drop off at 7.30 am and I do pick up at 5.30 (4.30 on Fridays). Sometimes I do drop off (which makes me late!) or husband picks up (on parents evenings for example). We use a childminder and have a term time contract with her ;) this works nicely as I am free all school holidays and want to spend every moment with my little man.

    We have a cleaner, so on a Fri the house is nice and clean when we all come in and are looking forward to a weekend of fun. I do a huge online shop once a month and supplement throughout the month with little trips to Tesco express down the road. I meal plan for a fornight, then repeat the fortnight which brings us to four weeks worth of meals.

    All of our meals can be cooked by chucking them in the crockpot and slow cooking on a timer all day or by assembling items I have already prepped at the weekend (e.g. Big bowl of quinoa cooked on a Sunday evening means we can add all sorts of yummy bits to it throughout the week).

    It sounds like it requires military precision and I suppose to some extent it does, however, after a bit of organisation, we are sorted for weeks worth of good food which is tasty, healthy and little goes to waste.

    I try to do my marking at work and my planning at home on the evenings I work (not Fridays though!) and I do work through my lunches at work to get everything done.

    Sat and Sun are family time and we do take baby to monkey music on a Saturday which is lovely. We also try to give each other a bit of ‘alone’ time, at weekends so I can go to get a haircut or husband can go on a bike ride.

    Mon and Tuesday are glorious fun days for me spent with my little playmate; swimming class, play group, library visits, playing at friends houses, seeing grandparents. Of course some of the day is spent cooking and tidying, and ironing too!

    I find it hardest when both you and your child are ill-the whole family got norovirus this weekend which was difficult and has meant that we let all plans fly to the wind whilst we all focused on getting better-hence a few M and S ready meals for once we felt more like eating again, granny travelling 120 miles to care for baby so I wouldn’t miss too much work and more time than I care to remember spent lying on the living room rug!

    I often wish to be a SAHM, but my reality isn’t too bad-lots of holidays, three days a week work which makes life easier financially, and I keep a hand in on the career I worked so hard for earlier on.

  7. Two things that have stopped me from double booking myself on a regular basis: 1. my iPhone calendar is linked with my husband’s Android calendar so that I know when he’s got commitments and vice versa (rule: whoever has it in the diary first gets it!) and 2. my Busy B diary. This is an absolute God-send for a working mum as it has a week to view on a page but the same dates are repeated on the opposite side. This means I can keep my work commitments and family stuff in the same diary to make sure that there isn’t an overlap.
    I work as a teacher and, whilst appreciating that I get a lot more holiday time than other parents, I’m not enjoying the amount of work I have in the evenings when I want to be spending time with my son. I’ve also learnt that, whilst linking my work email with my iPhone makes accessing it easier, I should not allow ‘All inboxes’ to show on my days off otherwise I spend hours worrying about something or replying to various people rather than enjoying my time off!

  8. This is such a great post Esme and you’ve articulated so much of what I’ve been thinking recently. Our daughter turned 2 recently and although I went back to work when she was 1 the last 12 months have been very stressful and emotionally fraught with trying to get the work / life balance right.

    At the moment I condense full time hours (35 p/w) in to 4 days. The issue is we moved back to east Anglia to be closer to my family but I’m still working in London so on the days I commute I’m looking at 5 hours travel time. I leave the house at 6am and get back home at 7pm. At the moment I do this every tues and weds and every other thurs. When it’s 3 days a week it’s super hard. The Monday (and every thurs) I work from home. Fridays are my days with A! In terms of childcare, we moved to be closer to our parents so the trade off on my commute is that the grannies look after A on tues and weds and then she’s in nursery mon and thurs. When we lived in London she was in nursery 4 full days a week and she LOVES the time with her grannies, plus if my or my husband’s work commitments means we are running late, there is flexibility. All of this would be almost impossible if my husband didn’t work from home. But again there’s a trade off; he has to travel to Europe several times a month so there are times when I can do a week of lone parenting but when he and I are both working from home, it’s great.
    By far the biggest issue for us has been sleep. I am still breastfeeding (desperately but unsuccessfully trying to wean) and A has never been a great sleeper. There are long periods when I am up at 5.20 to leave the house at 6am for a 12 hour day and and I’ve had no more than 3 hours sleep because of the sleep issues.
    The other big issue is the demands of my team and my constant feeling that I’m being rubbish as a boss and rubbish as a mummy. Combined with some severe health issues (brought on by pregnancy) it’s been hard and to be honest I don’t know if what I’m doing is right. A is thriving, super confident, happy and settled but it breaks my heart when she says ‘mama no work’ ‘please no work mama’ or that whenever she sees a train she says ‘mama go work’.
    My long term aim is to keep this up for 2 years as I’ll then have the experience necessary to set up my own consultancy and I’ll be able to work from home part time for when she starts school! Well that’s the plan!

    I definitely need to find more balance though, particularly around seeing my own friends (and family) as although those closest have bee extremely understanding, I really miss not seeing them. But then, I miss spending time with my husband and daughter more.
    My husband is extremely supportive but we still don’t really have much quality time together and that’s definitely a priority for 2015. As is cracking the weaning!
    So I’d call our family life and both of us trying to balance it whilst still trying to maintain and develop successful careers a definite work in progress. We both lean more toward attachment style parenting and whilst family will say we’ve made a rod for own back (how I hate that phrase!) I feel that my bond with A is incredible and so strong despite me still working full time.

    I think I’ve come to realise that although work doesn’t define me, being successful does. And there the rub. What makes a successful mummy? There’s no pinnacle to reach and success can’t be measured and quantified in the ways I’m used to. But I’m slowly coming to realise that success isn’t the most important thing, imperfections and failings should be embraced and love, warmth, trust and stability are for me what’s most important.

    That and getting a cleaner! Ours comes 3 hrs per week and I think she may have actually saved out marriage!!

    So sorry for the massive ramble and brain dump. It’s been building up for a long time! Motherhood is hard but nothing at work has ever matched the highs and fulfilment that I’ve experienced over the last 2 years.

  9. Great post and so relevant to me at the moment.

    I have not long returned to work after having my second, he is 11 months old and his big sister is 33 months old. I returned to work full time and my husband does full time hours over 4 days so he has every Wednesday off. He works 8-6 four days and goes to college every Tuesday and Thursday night 6-8.30.

    Its tough but we are so lucky that both our children are watched by grandparents who both live in the same town as us, infact they are both 5 minutes drive from us. I work locally and do 8.40-4 most days, working through my lunch so I can leave sharp.

    I struggle as I enjoy my job (just not where I work) and I couldn’t find a part time position that paid enough to allow me to afford to drop hours. Hopefully if hubby gets a new job with his college course I can look again at doing part time hours.

    I am planning from the start of February to meal plan and be a lot more organised so that I don’t have to spend time after work shopping and cooking lots. My son has a dairy allergy so I am trying to incorporate that into our meals.

    I worry that I am missing out on important milestones with my children but have been lucky that I was there for first steps and first word. Plus I know the love spending time with their grandparents.

    I know where I want to get to in our lives to be in our happy place so I can handle a few tough years until we get there.

  10. Esme… You hear me probably! We are travelling in the same boat. Me too, trying my best to balance everything and of course along with taking time for myself. You are already balancing really well. Keep it up girl. Love your post!

  11. I feel very lucky to (at the moment) have struck a pretty good balance between working and being at home with my little boy who is 14 months. I returned to work in August working two 9 hour days. As I commute to London from Kent I also have nearly 3 hours of travel as well. So the days I work (Mon/Weds and Tues/Thurs alternate weeks) are tough as I leave the house at 6am and get back between 6.15-7.30 depending on where G needs to be picked up. We are very fortunate that my MIL is 15 mins away and her and my husband look after G. My husband works in TV and works shifts so some weeks he can do both days other weeks none. But it is tough when he’s working nights, G may have had a bad night and then I’m up for a long day of work.

    I love the balance though that I feel I have more time with G than I am away and for me at the moment that feels just right. I’ve also been fortunate that going part time hasn’t impacted on my career as I’ve just been promoted. However it is certainly more difficult to find those part time posts at work. On my days off its a combination of baby groups/visiting family/swimming/housework and I love spending time doing fun things with G. I also love being back at work and having adult conversation and a break from being Mummy.

    What I need to improve is preparing meals for me when I’m coming back from work and hubby is working. I tend to not bother preparing a proper meal as by the time G is settled in bed its around 8. So my New Year resolution is to get a slow cooker and meal plan more effectively.

  12. A great post Esme.

    I’m pretty pleased with the balance we have managed to strike but I do find it difficult to take time for myself. My husband looks after our daughter three days a week and is at work the other two. I’m at work full time and at the weekend I feel like I need to give him a break and I feel guilty for asking to go out with friends – this is all in my head and not something he has made me feel.

    It is all a balancing act and needs to be constantly reworked and rejiggled.

  13. I’m now at the end of my child caring days. I worked all the time my children were young not by choice but I made the best of it. Now they are older and working themselves they appreciate what I did and the fun we had when we could. My daughter intends working when she has children herself so her experience of having a working mother was positive. It wasn’t always easy but the one thing I never did was feel guilty . Maybe that’s the secret.

  14. Great post Esme!

    I have a 2 year old and a 6 month old and went back to work when my youngest was 3 months old. I’ve just reduced my hours to 29 hours a week and have every Friday with my children.

    Like someone else said when you are all ill is the hardest and everything goes out of the window then!

    I’ve got the guilt that others talk about and my children are two days with their grandma and two days at nursery during the week which they are all happy with but I miss them so much and just feel so guilty, even harder when you ring to find out how they are and one/both is not very well, which seems to have happened a lot recently making me super anxious and guilty.

    I love my job and work very hard when I’m there, not sure I’d like to give it up to be a SAHM, but like I say I’ve not got the right balance at the moment. There are just not enough hours in the day.

    Getting a cleaner every fortnight, definatly one of the best things I’ve ever done though!

  15. Great post and such a positive and important conversation. My husband and I both work full-time and we have two kids, 4 and 2.5. Also two dogs and a big old Victorian house to renovate in our spare time. Getting organised is important! Here are a couple of things we do that help:

    Organising careers for the long-term. Parenting is a long game – we knew we both wanted to have flexibility for when the girls reached school age, not just when they were babies. So we both pursued our careers equally, rather than one of us going part-time. I did go back to work four days a week after my first child, albeit I worked a compressed week, and then went back full-time after my second child. As a result, we’ve both developed our careers to a level where we are both able to work from home when needed and be in control of our own working hours, meaning we can manage school drop-offs and pick-ups quite easily – and actually have significantly more flexibility than friends who work part-time. Obviously this doesn’t work in every industry but again we’ve deliberately chosen careers where this kind of working style is an option.

    We also do very little on weekends. No regular classes and activities, minimal travel – we just chill at home with the kids and do whatever we feel like doing without any pressure to be in certain places at certain times.

    Our life feels very balanced, despite the full-time working pattern. Personally I don’t believe in working-mother guilt, I think it’s a concept invented by a largely patriarchal media to keep women in their place… funnily enough, there isn’t a constant stream of newspaper articles, blog posts, movies and novels pondering “I don’t know how he does it” about fathers who work full-time, is there? I’m spending today in jeans crawling round on my hands and knees with my kids riding on my back (and commenting on blog posts, apparently!), and I’m spending tomorrow in a suit planning a transformation programme. Both feel good to me.

    Best of luck to all the parents looking for balance – the right mix is out there for everyone x

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