Since my twin boys turned a year old, I’ve been a self-employed writer and editor, except when I’m getting a “normal” paycheck for regularly playing the organ at church. And technically, I’m a single parent, albeit one surrounded by a small but supportive community who is there for me in most pinches (and often in the absence of pinches, yay). Of all the holidays, Mother’s Day is perhaps the most meaningful for me. And this, in turn, reminds me of the cards I received from my then-6-year-old twin boys a couple of Mother’s Days ago.
After sneaking around most of that weekend with their school-made cards behind their backs, Mother’s Day arrived, and Tristan and Tennyson presented me with their works of art. So exciting! Turns out, their first-grade teacher’s card-for-Mom template includes a brief section, “Facts about my Mom,” where the kids fill in the blanks something like this:
What color are your mother’s eyes?
Both of them have written green. Yep! Correct.
What is your mother’s age?
50, writes one. The other says 25. Ha, dudes. I am neither.
What is your mother’s favorite color?
On this one, I get a pink and I get a blue. So cute.
What does your mother like to do most?
And then, my smile wants very much to fade. The answer they have both given? Work.
So. In the spirit of love, which one may more freely give when one has MORE TIME to give it, I humbly offer my Mother’s Day gift to you, the reader: tips on how to handle this whole work–family balancing thing, especially if you work from home, and just in time for summer vacation.
Most of these constitute practical tips that also strive to address the emotional turmoil you face every day as you balance work and family in a space that encompasses both.
1. First off, earplugs are essential. Get a pack of at least a dozen (I like the orange memory-foamish ones made by Mack’s, and they’re cheap). Warn your children that you may unintentionally ignore them and not to take it personally. Also be sure to let them know that you can still hear any fights, whines, and thuds.
2. Actually consider inviting a (well-mannered) child over so the kid(s) can entertain themselves to some degree (and then you can hopefully get the neighbors to take your children in return). To aid in the self-entertainment part, consider becoming a Legos household, but then of course you must buy thicker slippers.
3. Yes, the television/Netflix can babysit to some degree. Limit their hours as needed, but don’t punish yourself for allowing a TV marathon to unfold here and there. Personally, in those necessary times, I urge/foist PBS upon them early and often. NOTE: We don’t have an iPad or such, but I understand they can come in handy; however, remember those hours also count as “screen time.”
4. Provide blankets and boxes for forts that may be built in your children’s bedroom(s) or another place that’s reasonably far from your workspace. On a slightly different note, I have one child who likes paint-by-numbers projects, which can keep him occupied for days. If you have one of those kids who is patient with such things, visit your local hobby store (in all your free time) and discover what wonderful new pastime will a) make her happy PLUS b) keep her occupied.
5. Regarding constantly asking for milk/other drinks: Learn to live with open cups; your refrigerator air is not full of toxins (and if it is, that’s a whole ‘nother issue). Teach your children how to pour their own milk and juice, preferably out of containers a half-gallon size or less (and over a sink). Remember that, as much as you love your kids, you do them no good by being their waitress.
6. If your deadlines are absolutely killing you, consider setting out food sources in or out of the fridge (bologna, cheese slices, fruit, crackers, bread, peanut butter, jelly). Grazing is actually good for blood sugar, and six small meals a day may be better for many than three large ones [disclaimer: I’m not a physician].
7. Answer all “I’m bored” statements with “Okay, I’ll find some work for you to do, then.” Child(ren) will run away; problem will be solved.
8. Set alarms for yourself on your cell phone or portable clock/watch thingy to ensure that you don’t concentrate so much as to forget to pick your children up from school, etc. (Thanks to our illustrious editor Sandy T. for reminding me of this one, after personal experience taught her well.)
9. Walk your dog (cat?) once every hour or two. This will provide a needed break for you (experts recommend hourly breaks for workers) and you’ll both be happier and feel more connected. BUT… this blog is about your children, isn’t it? … so see #10.
10. Of course depending on the size and nature of the dog, if you haven’t already trained your children to do so, get the kids to walk—and feed and water—the pup/cat/lizard/etc. I give my children $1.00 per week to do this, and I add a quarter tip if they don’t complain. (Yes, I know I’m cheap. But whatever.)
11. Sports or music/drama/dance/etc. practices in your schedule? Me, too. I invested in a new, light laptop with a great battery so I can open and shut the thing on the go. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done while waiting for practices to end. If you possess an older laptop, go get yourself a new battery; that $100 you spend will pay itself back within a tiny time period.
12. Ask for help, and always accept offers for help, from anyone (assuming you trust them). My parents are in their eighties, but they will sometimes spontaneously offer to drive or babysit. I say “yes,” except for the days when I scream “yes.”
13. Forget about your house looking great (yeah, well, even “good” has been out of the question here for years). They won’t be around forever, and when one day they’re out the door, they’ll likely remember the household as a combination of loving and “relaxed,” and you certainly could do worse.
14. Because it’s the right thing to do, read to your children at least 20 minutes a day. Of course, when they learn to read on their own, it will benefit you timewise (in spades) … as well as them in a thousand ways.
Always, always remember that the best thing you can offer your children is—LOVE. Most of us work because we have to, and even if we love our work, it’s tough to have to choose between paying the mortgage/rent and snuggling/laughing with the babies. Strive for balance. In the nuttiest of times, simply fling out a silly joke on the way to filling up your coffee cup, or locate them quickly for a big hug on one of your many coffee-driven trips to the bathroom.
Tell them you love them, and blow them kiss after kiss … even if across the room.