For Wearers of Baby Barf
6 Life Hacks for Working Parents
Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright said there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. I doubt there’s many women there at all, and am sure there are none that I would know, as I have had the very good fortune of many women who helped me tremendously in the early days of parenting while passionately pursuing a career.
Because I’ve been so fortunate, and maybe also because I don’t want to go to hell, I’m passing along the advice that was most effective for me, with a few of my own discoveries as well. And while it’s different for women, who have the privilege/pain of internally growing a bambino, nursing and weaning it, both parents share the pride of ownership and the weight of the responsibility -- of parent life, and work life, so this is for men too.
- Respect the duality of your life. Got this one from a life coach right after having my first, and it is now my mantra. Face it: you’re not like parents who don’t work outside the home. You won’t get in as many playdates or volunteer hours, you may not be at every school event, and your photo albums will never be as good as those by people who have multiple quiet, uninterrupted hours to devote to these things. Be grateful to them, and celebrate your special gifts. Hillary Clinton would leave letters for Chelsea when she traveled. I leave scavenger hunt notes. So while you may have to buy a pie to bring to the school bake sale instead of making one yourself, don’t ignore the flipside of this coin: you’re providing a great model to your child for potential career choices (as my mother did). Oh, and kids in daycare tend to have larger vocabularies.
- Multitask correctly. Technology has made it so dangerously easy to multitask to the point of declined productivity, where our creative output suffers, and also dangerously easy to bring work into what should be kid-centred hours. You never want to be that parent shooing away a toddler just to get an email out. Get your “reading” in on your commute or morning workout via an audio book, and use your kid-free gaps of time to calendar their events, plan meals, and shop (all of which can be done during a one-hour gymnastics session). And for the kid-filled waits, like doctors’ offices, keep learning apps on your phone and set and respect a limit for time spent on them.
- Get a sitter. By far the best advice I ever received as a working mother I got from a female VP at a 70,000+ employee company, when my oldest was three and I was just coming back to work from the birth of my second, was to get help. She said nothing helped her more than getting a trusted sitter, and she was right, so I pass it along with great conviction and sincerity to anyone with partner that also works. Having a trusted, loved-by-my-children third person, who in our case became a cherished part of our family, gave us both the peace of mind and the extra time we needed to pursue our non-parenting passions. It doesn’t have to be expensive: in our case, it was just a few hours a week; it could also be a generous family member.
- Surrender things. I used to feel like every minute spent with my kids was pure gold, and while I still feel that way, I’ve accepted that my partner is better at some things than I am, and that I can even be an impediment at times to smooth sailing. I recently surrendered fully the morning rush to my partner. On days he’s not working, I’m at work an hour earlier, and while I miss that time with my children in the a.m., I still get to say goodbye, and in return I get that hour back at night, which means more time for dinner, homework, and catching up.
- Give your kids jobs. This one is a no-brainer. I got it from someone who doesn’t have kids but who was one once, of a remarkable and accomplished French woman who I wish I could have known better. This life hack helps you, it helps your partner, and it helps your children. As many I’m sure have stated before me, it’s never too early to start cultivating a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and responsibility. Give your children places to put things: toys in the bin, clothes in the hamper, shoes on the tray. Make their coathooks low enough for them to reach. Put cups in a spot they can get water themselves. Discrete tasks with a clear output, like setting the table, do end up being timesavers, once your children become old hands at them.
- Imitate your partner. If your partner typically does what you might consider less than half the domestic workload, learn from him or her: like them, make time for things outside the realm of the domestic that are important to you. Painful as it may be, if the dishes don’t get done, and there’s a question next day as to why, the answer is as easy as, “Well, you didn’t do them. And it was your night.” And if you’re too much of a neat freak to let that one slide overnight, commit to a limited number of minutes for domestic duties, say, 10, and the bits that don’t get done, well, they can wait until someone (maybe you, maybe your partner) has the time.
No one has it all figured out, nor will we, nor should we, because once we do, what’s left? I’ve tried other life hacks with less success, and these may not be the answers for you. The important thing is to keep trying (alert: adolescence ahead!) and remember, the joy is in the journey.