Some people think the dilemma of balancing family and work disappears when you work from home. It doesn’t. I work very parttime as a freelancer, but I still struggle. Here are some tips that help me do what I need to do and escape the chasing guilt that I’m not doing enough or not doing it well enough.
I can’t do it all and, after years of trying, have learned that the more I try to do it all, the less I actually accomplish. Furthermore, what I do accomplish usually falls short of my best. It’s shoddy because I’ve done it with a divided heart and mind. My work — be that actual work (like writing or helping a client) or family work (like household chores or playing with the kids) — shines when I focus. My kids notice when I’m not “all there.” They know when my mind is a thousand miles away. My work notices too. I can’t write and play with the kids at the same time. Articles lose their cohesiveness and they take exponentially longer to write. It’s just not time-efficient. In a world that demands multi-tasking, how do I learn to single-task?
Schedule. Those who work outside the home often suggest scheduling family time. Their calendars boast play dates with their kids, date-dates with their spouses and lunch-dates with siblings or parents. I am with my children all the time. (I’m actually writing this at 3am because it’s the only time my two “jobs” don’t conflict.) I don’t need to schedule playtime, but I do need to schedule work time. I drop the kids off with a friend so I can write at Starbucks for an hour. Or I invite Grandma up for the afternoon. Or I sacrifice sleep. Whatever works.
See, I’m not just balancing work with my kids; I’m also balancing a marriage. Many have suggested I drop TV. Left to myself, I don’t watch a ton of TV, however, the tube is one way my husband and I connect. After a long day, that’s how we relax. And it’s something we do together. Togetherness is vitally important. As Marcus wrote recently, it’s not about quality vs. quantity. It’s just about time together. (His actual word was “hogwash,” but you get the idea.) TV sounds like an easy sacrifice; it’s certainly not “quality” time, but it’s time together with my favorite person. I’d rather sacrifice sleep.
So I schedule my work around my life, not the other way around.
My Tricks. I say “I schedule” but truly it’s a family effort. I involve the kids and my husband in my planning. On days I have a deadline, but can’t get away, I use time tricks to help me focus.
- Set a timer for me. I don’t know why this works, but it does. I may be in the middle of an article query and laundry when Zach needs me to play trains. I can tell he won’t be deferred; he just needs his mama for a few minutes. I set a timer, then let my mind forget all my “have to”s and just play. He gets my full attention because I know I’ll get back to the other stuff in twenty minutes or so when I hear the bell. Best of all: I don’t feel guilty either way. I know I’m placing my family first without neglecting my other job.
- Set a timer for the kids.Sometimes the deadline needs to come first. When this is the case, I set a timer for the kids. Since they can’t tell time yet, this usually involves the TV. “When WordWorld ends, we’ll play a game, but you need to let Mama work until then.”
- Lose the watch. I never wear a watch when playing with the kids. I’ve found that when I wear a watch, I look at it constantly. I am consumed with the thought of time, even when I have no where to be and nothing else to do. When I leave my watch at home (or in my room), I enjoy our time together more.
Get outside and explore your backyard. Or your neighborhood or the next neighborhood over. Explore being a kid again. Try a new activity or a new place. We love visiting parks, but doing something vastly different from our usual activities makes a huge impact on our time together. True: quality and quantity are not opposing ideas. But zombies have neither. Brain-dead time doesn’t count (as much) because you’re not really there. When parents are engaged, kids are engaged. This can be the foundation for family memories that will last a lifetime.
Last month we went to the circus. We don’t usually do things like that. Nothing against the circus (We loved it!), but we’re a family of homebodies. We tend to just hang out here together or visit a local park. We don’t do big planned events where you have to buy tickets or travel or spend the whole day away from our usual routine. Going out on a limb made for a wonderful day! It took courage. It was a risk. But the rewards were amazing, something none of us will likely forget.
If you can’t get out, bring the exploration in. Create a scavenger hunt for the kids. Take a trip around the world by trying foods, games or customs from other countries. Learn about animals or cultures through books, online or friends who have traveled. Make family time an adventure.
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