First off, this is not a post about doing or having it all. This is a post about ruthlessly prioritizing the things that actually matter (ie. mental health, connecting with your partner, quality time talking with your kid) and making sure they are a scheduled part of your week. This means showing up for yourself in the same way you show up for work meetings and doctor appointments. We have limited emotional bandwidth, so it’s important to get comfortable saying ‘no’ and realizing this enables you to emphatically say ‘yes’ to what matters.
This is how I currently think about where I spend my emotional bandwidth (in this particular order):
- Me time – Currently I set aside around 4-5 hours a week to meditate, work out, go to the chiropractor, connect with friends (in person or more often, over the phone), and write. I keep a habit tracker in which I write down 4 specific goals each week (ie. meditate for 15 min a day), and then I mark down whether or not I did it each day.
- Us time – Andy and I began doing Friday day dates a couple years ago. We get time away while Amaya’s in daycare (read: no need for babysitter), and there’s no hassle for long waits/reservations or trying to gear up for a night out when we’re exhausted at the end of the day/week.
- We time – We’ve redefined family time to “quality time with Amaya;” sometimes this means we take turns with her solo (so she gets our undivided attention, and we can embrace our common interests with her), and sometimes we do things as a family
There’s actually a lot more that goes in to how our family is able to not only function but thrive on a day-to-day basis. I partly think our decision to not have another kid at the moment enables us to focus on the areas of our lives that have gone a bit untended for some time – self care and career. I’m able to make these things a priority now, but this wasn’t the norm over the last two years. I was a highly anxious new mom who constantly felt mom guilt and the need to do it all. Last week, I was at the chiropractor (lying on that table feels like talk therapy too), and she acknowledged something I hadn’t really thought about – for the first time since I had Amaya two and a half years ago, I am finally focusing on myself and what I want in a meaningful way. This mindset has impacted my confidence and self esteem, my marriage and ability to connect with Andy, and my presence around Amaya. I’m proud to be a working mom! But it’s hard. Here’s how I say yes (and no) to make this whole thing work.
Saying Yes. Me time used to be something I was forced to take, often after reaching a boiling point of stress or overwhelm. Now it’s something I do proactively, but it’s still a work in progress for me. There are often days where Andy pushes me out the door to go for a walk or run an errand just so I get some alone time. I’m an extrovert by nature, but over the years I’ve noticed I can only truly recharge by being alone. This is time for me to breathe, decompress, and check in with myself. We both take turns pursuing individual interests each week. I will often go to the yoga studio (which is a rare treat these days since I mostly do a home practice now), write at a coffee shop, grab coffee/dinner with a friend, or walk around Target (danger!). Last week I just went to get ice cream by myself; I sat outside at 9pm people watching and enjoying a coconut ice cream cone. It was heaven. Andy will often grab happy hour with his colleagues or friends, and he used to play on a kickball league. We check in each week, remind each other, and most importantly, put these events on the calendar to prioritize them. In order to make this feel less burdensome, we also try to prep the other person to make single parenting time go smoothly (ie. pack Amaya’s lunch ahead of time or prep dinner). Here’s a big piece: since the beginning of the year, I’ve gotten off social media. I still post a blog link on FB and take a few snaps for my mom to see Amaya, but overall, I’ve completely eliminated the anxiety of scrolling and FOMO from my life. And I don’t miss it one bit. When I feel the urge, I pick up a book or call a friend instead. I’ve already read 20 books this year! And I feel like I actually know what’s going on in my friends’ lives at a deeper level.
Letting go. My time leads me to some big topics we’ve been working on – trust, letting go of expectations, and equality in family tasks. Real talk for a minute – moms, by nature, are probably always going to carry more emotional labor. It’s part of what makes us women and moms. But there are definitely aspects of emotional labor we can share with our partners if we’re willing to let go of how and when things get done. I pick my battles, and if anything becomes a battle, I try to check myself (let it go) or do it myself and mitigate any impending blow-ups. In our household, Andy is responsible for groceries and cooking. This change happened slowly when I became pregnant and couldn’t even shop for meat, and it became a full-time norm when we had Amaya. I do all the laundry, which is a constant task. We share dishwasher duty, but since I can’t stand a full sink for our hand-wash items, I often do those. We take turns packing Amaya’s lunch each day. I pick up clutter because it bothers me to no end. When I’m tired, I accept the mess. I drop off Amaya in the mornings, and Andy picks up every afternoon. I also do all of Amaya’s doctor’s appointments, but I delegated the dentist to Andy. Note: he still hasn’t taken her, and it’s been 6 months. I mention it here because I am not going to take this back, which means I have let it go. He knows it’s on his list when he can get to it. Most importantly, when he’s spending time with her, I trust him to do it the way he wants. Sometimes this includes screen time or playing Spiderman. But he and Amaya have their thing, and it’s uniquely theirs. I’m all about it.
Sharing income (and other things) 50/50. On a last and important note about equality as a larger topic, this is an active conversation between Andy and I, especially in my recent job search. Andy and I equally contribute income. This means both our careers need attention, and as I’ve already mentioned, we try to enable this by delegating more. We’ve discussed how if/when we decide to have a second child, he will get a full paternity leave (I can’t remember how long, 6 weeks ish?), partially overlapping with me and partially on his own. When we had Amaya, Andy co-founded a company, and he took less than two weeks off. It didn’t seem to be an issue at the time, but I realize now how it immediately made me the full time default caregiver, and it took awhile for us to share duties after I went back to work. Knowing this, I want to make some changes next time around. I also love that Andy talks about family time at work. He has to leave everyday before 5 to pick up Amaya, and his colleagues and wonderful manager understand. If he needs to log back on to finish something, he waits until after Amaya goes to bed. This type of openness in the work place, especially coming from men, helps broaden the conversation around needs for working parents vs. working moms. Go Andy, my forever advocate and feminist husband.
I already spilled our secret sauce: Friday day dates. We’re both lucky to get time to work from home, and we make use of this flexibility for dates! Amaya’s happily engaged at daycare, and we get to have a leisurely lunch at some awesome place with no wait or reservation. I cherish these times. Since we don’t have any family in town, we never got around to hiring a babysitter. But since we make a trip to Houston every month, we do actual date nights then. On another note, I won’t go into specifics here, but intimacy is a regular and consistent part of our marriage. Nothing is more important than meaningful connection and being vulnerable with each other.
I used to argue with Andy about family time. I had a picture perfect idea in my head of what family time looks like. But in reality, Andy is a night owl and is useless early in the morning. After some back and forth and failed weekend morning attempts, we have found what works for us. Amaya and I have our 1:1 time Saturday and Sunday mornings. We walk to the coffee shop for breakfast or go to the gym or just play. Andy sleeps in until 10ish. We do lunch together, and often do family naps. The afternoon is my free time to write or work out while Andy and Amaya do their thing. Then we come back together for dinner. This plan helps me carve out me time on the weekends, which has been helpful to mitigate burn out from work and enables me to return on Monday feeling refreshed.
I don’t have it all figured out. But there are definitely some things that work for us that I hope can inspire you to redefine how you choose to spend your time, give to yourself, and be present for your family. I’d love to hear additional tips on how other working moms and dads spend “me” time and how you delegate tasks at home!