Some days, I feel like I do a pretty good job of balancing my career, my family, and myself. Other days, it feels like I'm falling desperately behind and failing on all three counts.
Why do I feel so unbalanced? Why do I feel like I'm not doing enough with my kids or at work or for myself?
I think part of it is the expectation in our society that we need to achieve balance, that we need to spend time with our kids, that we need to get recognized and promoted at work, that we need to be perfect wives, that we need to carve out time for ourselves. If we fail on any of those fronts, the guilt starts again.
I haven't found a perfect solution, but I feel like I'm progressing in finding that balance, particularly in being more present for my kids, which is the most important element of balance for me. These are some of the adjustments that I've made that have helped me create more time with my kids:
Strive For Balance Over Time, Not Necessarily Every Day
If I try to achieve perfect balance each day, I will fail. If I stay flexible, I may have a fighting chance.
When my son was born, I decided to start my own business where I get to decide how to balance my family and my clients. I decide how much work to take on, and I decide when enough is enough.
I work more hours during certain times of the year, often working several hours at night after the kids are in bed. I also take almost two months of vacation each year to spend exclusively with my kids. Sometimes I take a night to go with friends, but if my kids need me, I may have to put my social activities on hold. I need to work some weekends; other weekends, I take an extra day off to focus on family.
Take Advantage of the Time We Do Have
Whenever possible, I try to bring my kids into my daily routine. My son likes to help me bake and cook, so I involve him in meal preparation. It helps him learn how to get around in a kitchen and also gives us special time together.
I drive my son to school each day and pick him up, a total of about an hour in the car together each day. We have developed a repertoire of games and conversations, and I really cherish this time.
Instead of leaving my daughter at home with my husband while I go grocery shopping, I take her with me and talk to her as we go through the aisles. Sometimes having her along makes these tasks a little longer or more hectic, but I think it is worth it in the end.
I have heard so many working parents complain about how little time they have with their kids during the week. Some parents arrive home from work at 6 p.m. and have their little ones in bed by 7 p.m. We do manage to sneak in more than an hour of time together in the evenings; usually I end up having close to three hours with my kids at home before bedtime.
Being together doesn't end there. I find that sharing sleep time to be an essential way of staying close, even when we can't spend as much waking time together as we would like. (For babies younger than 6 months old, reference Infant Sleep Safety Guidelines from Nurturings.)
Plan Dates With My Kids
I try to set aside special dates with my kids. When we stay home, we do get some time together but that is often combined with doing the laundry, checking email, cooking meals, cleaning up, and all the other things that get in the way of focusing on each other.
On weekends, I try to carve off half days to go out and do special activities like a walk or a visit to a museum with one or both of the kids. In the summer, I take Mondays off and often spend the day out and about with one kid or the other, going to the park, stopping at a cafe for a snack, visiting the bookstore, or eating ice cream. Sometimes my husband brings my daughter to meet me for lunch. Every once in a while, my son and I go out for an early dinner after school before going home.
Editor's note: Another idea is to plan playdates for the kids with another parent or two in your friendship circle! Even just meeting at the city park for an hour or so can be replenishing. If you're feeling stretched thin or unbalanced, don't hesitate to reach out to your parenting support network. We need one another through this parenting journey!
Reading is a way of sharing stories and ideas, gives me and my children another way to bond, provides a stepping-off point to discuss feelings and topics of importance, to develop hobbies, and to laugh together.
I read to my kids every day. Even when everything else is falling apart, I try to keep this as a constant.
We have books everywhere in the house. We have books in the car. We have books in the diaper bag. Anywhere we go, I bring books.
Accept "Less Than Perfect"
My husband helps out a lot around the house. Among the chores that we share or that I do, I've accepted that I don't need to be perfect all of the time.
Some weeks, I get my daughter and myself dressed out of an unfolded and unsorted hamper of clean clothes. Often I pay the bills once a month, rather than paying them as they arrive. I started out making my own baby food but then gave up and went for store-bought baby food instead. My hair looks better when blow-dried, but except on the coldest winter days or at the most special events, I leave the house with wet hair.
Balance is not one-size-fits-all. In what ways have you discovered how to spend more time with your kids?