Full disclosure: it did not happen overnight. But it did get better day by day, week by week, and month by month until I got to where I am today. My husband and I both own and operate our businesses from home now, and people are often surprised when they discover that we also take care of our baby and toddler fulltime as well. Speaking for myself, I knew I wanted to continue working after having kids, but that it would require some changes in order to balance it all. We were never really keen on the daycare idea, and though we do have family nearby, didn't have a consistent and reliable childcare resource early on. What seemed like it was impossible at the beginning with my first daughter, became a well-oiled machine with my now 1 and 2-year-olds, and has allowed me to continue seamlessly running my company of almost 15 years simultaneously. Also, it is worth mentioning, that I do not feel crazed or overwhelmed every day, and still make plenty of time to care for myself. I always have time to finish my coffee in the morning (while it's still hot), exercise, enjoy my meals, take a hot shower or bath, read, go get a mani/pedi, spend quality time with my husband, and wind down with my favorite shows every night without interruption. No BS - this is truly a work/life/family balance that is 100% achievable if you are willing to adapt, shift, and be flexible with your time and mindset.
Here is how I am able to work, care for my kids all day, and still have time for me:
I keep a very regimented schedule.
Some people that know me well like to poke fun at this fact, but I have zero regrets about it, and think I am truly the last one laughing! My schedule is pretty militant. Yes, I have flexibilities for things that come up here and there or extraordinary circumstances, but 90% of the time, our days are laid out in the exact same way. This helps me and the other members of my family know what's happening when, how much time they have for each part of our days, and allows us all to be the most efficient with that time. A regimented schedule also gives much more free time than you'd expect, because it forces you to be honest about how much time is really required for tasks. Currently, our days are organized around nap/sleep schedules primarily with two small kids, and we make it work. Here's what our daily schedule typically looks like right now:
6am - wake up, focused work time
7:30am - kids wake up
8am - breakfast, playtime/nonfocused work
9am - baby naptime, toddler goes outside with Dad while I get ready for the day and tidy up the house, follow up work calls/emails as needed
10:30am - get baby from her nap and let her play, quick chores, prep lunch
11am - feed kids lunch
11:30am - kids play, workout
12pm - both kids nap, lunch, focused work time/remote client meetings (or some"me time" if nothing pressing is on the docket)
3pm - get kids up and dressed, leave house for family outing (park, playground, children's museum, grocery store, visit with friends/family, etc.)
5pm - back home and bath time
5:30pm - kids' dinner time and plan/prep our dinner
6pm - kids' bedtime routine
6:30pm - kids go to sleep for the night, we finish up any leftover tasks/work from the day, shower
7pm - dinner and freetime/winddown for the night
9:30pm - get ready for bed
10pm - counting a full 8 hours of sleepy sheep every night so we're rested and ready to conquer the next day!
Keeping to this schedule is what allows me to balance everything - it is literally the reason why I have enough time for it all. I remember early on with my first baby, I never kept a firm nap schedule, and I was literally a crazy person because of it. Learning about how my children thrive with a consistent schedule helped me keep that commitment for myself, too - and we're all better for it! Those sleeping hours are everything... for all of us. My kids are at their best when they're rested, and so am I. Plus, it's helped me learn to be super efficient with my work, since I know I only have a set amount of time to get things done. It's actually been incredibly valuable with setting realistic goals for myself that I can actually attain every day, while also being the reason why I can maintain a clean and organized home, tend to the needs of everyone else, and always fit in some time for myself too.
I am consistent with the expectations of my children.
My kids know the deal. And they know the deal because I am consistent. I empower them to be independent and do what they safely and reasonably can for themselves, while also establishing healthy guidelines for how things are done in our family. For example, my kids know that everything has its place. My oldest daughter, now 26 months, puts every single thing back every day without being told or looking for reinforcement of any kind. To her, "this is just what we do." This goes for toys, dirty dishes, clothes, food, shoes, you name it. I also make sure to set a good example, and because she sees me taking pride in keeping our home clean and organized, she does too. I save a ton of time enabling my kids to do things on their own, which little by little, "buys me back" time throughout the day. It sounds a little crazy, but seriously, for every 5 minutes I spend not cleaning up after them or putting things away that they could put away themselves, it adds up a lot on the back end! Plus, they genuinely enjoy helping. Kids just want to be a part of things! So teaching them to be involved in ways that keep the family unit thriving is the best thing you can do for them, and you!
I only take on a work schedule I know I can handle.
I used to be the kind of person that stretched myself too thin with work obligations all the time. I was constantly burnt out. Now, I only take on what I know I can fit into my work windows, and only accept work that is most conducive to my lifestyle. What did that mean for a small business owner? Well, a lot of "trimming of that fat," shall we say. I try to live by the 80/20 rule, which effectively means that I now prioritize the most important 20% of my business efforts to yield the most productive (and lucrative) 80% results. For example, the clients that were always a problem, constantly rescheduling or requesting change orders, giving trouble with timely payments, and just an overall energy sucks to work with... I stopped providing services to. Instead, I shifted my focus to the projects and people that made the most sense for me within the limited timeframes I have given myself each day, and that is what I've committed to. This shift has changed my life and is yielding better results that I ever imagined possible, both financially and emotionally.
I don't waste any time, ever.
As a super "Type A" person, I have always had a self-starter type of personality and never really need any motivation to get things done. I really like how it feels to "check the boxes" and be high-functioning every day, so this point isn't really tough for me, but I understand that not everyone is built the same way. But regardless of how you're wired, not wasting time is a big part of why I don't fall behind on my responsibilties in my life, home, work, and family. If the baby is sleeping 10 minutes longer than normal, I find something else I can do in that window. Whether it's responding to an email, planning something for later, folding laundry, or getting ahead on another task I planned to do at another time, the idea of getting done what I can when I can allows me to have more time enjoying something for myself at the end of the day.
I write everything down.
I like to use my smartphone, since it's always accessible to me and provides push notification reminders in case something slips my mind. I utilize the calendar for personal and professional obligations, and keep a running list of reminders (usually with date/time nudges) so I don't lose sight of what needs to get done throughout each day. This is a "know thyself" choice. As is relatable with most parents and entrepreneurs alike, my brain is going at a million miles an hour all day long, and it's really easy for something to go in one ear and out the other, especially when it's not a "top priority" line item. It's easy to overlook a friend's birthday or a call back to your grandma when you're caught up with juggling all the issues of the day, but getting in the habit of writing everything down (big and small) will keep you in control of all the things in your life.
I say "no" to anything that unneccessarily complicates our life, and I do not feel bad about it.
Having kids makes you really good at this one, because it always helps keep what's actually important in perspective. I used to instinctively say "yes" to everything, it was almost like a knee-jerk reaction to want to people please. But after a few experiences that created more difficulty for ultimately no good enough reason, I stopped doing that. If it doesn't serve our life well, the answer is no. If someone wants to stop by our house during bedtime routine, that's a no from me, dog. If someone wants to book a business meeting with me outside of my scheduled work time, I can't do it. If someone invites us to a party during the kids' nap window, we will be there once they wake up. And if someone wants to meet for a late dinner date that screws with my "downtime," that might have to be a no too depending on the day, because I understand how important that is in order for me to be at my best. And that's okay.
My husband and I work as a team.
This is a two-fold point, and I don't believe it will be helpful to anyone if both parts are not being done consistently. #1. I express my needs/goals. And #2, I effectively communicate if there's an issue/confusion. That's literally it. And if my husband has needs/goals of his own, he does the same, and I am committed to being receptive and cooperative with him, too. Our goals are aligned. We are married. We also both work from home and manage our kids and household together. We delegate tasks throughout the day for whomever would be best suited to get things done, and no one is above doing anything. If the fireplace needs to be cleaned out and I'm nearby, I do it. If the laundry needs to be folded and he is the one who took it out, he does it. This collaborative way of working and thinking makes us strong in our marriage and provides a good example for our children. It says, we are a unit. We love each other, so we help each other. Sometimes one of us is having a tough day, and the other picks up the slack. A thank you is not needed, though it's always given. It creates a culture of appreciation and open dialogue to ensure everyone's needs are being met and no one feels they are carrying too heavy of a burden.
I outsource for chores that don't make the best use of my time.
There are only so many hours in a day. I don't feel bad spending it doing the things that are most efficient and productive for my time. In this season of my life, that means having a cleaning service come to my home every few weeks to help with the deep-cleaning work that would otherwise eat up my afternoons, and ordering healthy lunches and dinners from a meal-prep company that delivers right to our door every week, so I can save the time and trouble of big rounds of grocery shopping, food prepping, and dishes. And honestly, the time saved from cleaning allows me to do the work to earn the family more money on the hour (exceeding the cost of the service), and the budget on food actually stayed the same, with more time saved... talk about an ROI someone can get excited about!
I never compromise when it comes to the things that I need to feel at peace.
It's wonderful to be generous with your time, space, and energy, but everyone has a breaking point and a threshhold that gets reached. For me, I have figured out where that is, and I treat the things I consider to be self-care as sacred. It could be as simple as the choice to do more work or exercise, I now choose to exercise. Because your health is paramount, and I'm no good to anyone if I am not taking care of myself. So if I've done what is required for business in the day, I make the choice not to be overly ambitious (because also, when does it end then?), and know when to do something else. Even when planning our weeks, I always take a look at the more stressful line items in our calendar. Coupling busy afternoons with calm mornings and nights allows me to not feel drained or get short-tempered. Scheduling downtime helps me be at peace, no matter if it means a walk with my family or a bubble bath at the end of the day. It's of utmost importance to make sure to prioritize your needs as much as you do everyone's elses.
It can be done!
Being intentional with your time is the key to a life balance that allows you to do all the things you want to do, and thrive. Not every day will be perfect, but small changes over time, with consistency and a positive mindset, will help get you where you want to be. I am living proof that it can be done! And remember, this is just my story and my experience. Everyone is different. I hope this post inspires you to organize your days in a way that's conducive to your goals, helps you feel empowered to prioritize yourself and the things that matter most to you, and take pride in what you accomplish every day. Life is short - be happy and make every moment count!