How moms can find work-life balance (and be happy)

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2020 was a blur.

It was hard enough being a mom of three young kids and juggling a full-time job while being married to a husband who is out of town half of the month. Then the pandemic hit.

I went on survival mode as I finished up the rest of the spring semester (I was an educator). I regularly slept less than 6 hours each day. I spent hours answering student emails. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Though I had considered myself a master at multitasking, it was just too much. The New Yorker magazines (which I used to obsessively read) started to pile all over the house and I couldn’t find the 20 minutes to read the latest stories.

This past summer provided an opportunity for me to reflect and figure out how I can find work-life balance moving forward. Ever since I recognized that COVID wasn’t going to be gone any time soon, it became apparent that I need to manage my life BETTER.

The first decision I made is to work half-time remotely with a flexible schedule. There are definitely some days when I’m envious of my friends who are toughing it out during the pandemic as full-time working moms, but I found it impossible to have reliable childcare during the pandemic. I lost several babysitters when NAU decided to roll out NAUFlex approach for 2020-21 (rightfully so) and many students decided to not move back to Flagstaff. Since we don’t have any family nearby who can provide childcare and it is impossible to coordinate my schedule with my husband’s (his work schedule varies from week to week), it became too difficult to set up consistent childcare.

I am extremely fortunate in that my family does not rely on my income and therefore working half-time is a possibility. I am also thankful that my new job allows me to work at times that work for me (i.e. when my kids are sleeping and on weekends). While I still do have to get help from a couple of babysitters, it is no longer the end of the world if childcare falls through because I can easily reschedule my meetings. This significantly reduced my stress level.

The second decision I made is to be fully present with my kids when I’m not working. I love cooking and baking with my kids even though it takes twice as long and makes double the mess. I let them choose what we should make for dessert and I don’t freak out when my not-quite-2-year-old insists on feeding himself (translate: drop half of the food on the ground). I relish my time with each child and aim to do something special with them individually. Most recently, I took my eldest on a biking date while his two younger siblings were napping. On our ride back, he – without being prompted – said to me, “thank you for biking to the playground with me.” Moments like this remind me to enjoy every moment at home.

The third decision I made is to be kind to myself. I decided to not shame myself for sending my children to school without brushing their hair. I decided to let go of the mom guilt for having a laundry room full of clean but unfolded, clothes. I decided that it is okay to turn on a podcast for myself instead of a nursery rhyme CD in the car. I know that other working moms have the same issue so there is no point in holding myself to an unrealistic expectation.

In an effort to finally prioritize myself, I asked myself what I want to do FOR MYSELF. I had neglected myself for so long that I didn’t even know what I wanted to do for fun. After contemplating for a while, I decided to go back to school!

It may seem crazy to some that this is my definition of fun, but I truly love learning and I believe in being a life-long learner. Unlike the three degrees I already have in science and education, I chose to head to a local community college to learn useful trades, like residential wiring and basic construction. I don’t plan to apprentice my way into a professional trade job, but I want to learn practical skills in my day-to-day life as a homeowner. Wouldn’t it be cool to safely wire your own house? I think so 🙂

I have to admit that it felt rather odd to get a student ID printed instead of flashing my faculty ID. It felt even more out of place to sit in a classroom full of young men in their 20’s in their baseball caps and hoodies (turns out that there aren’t too many women who take construction technology classes). But I was intellectually stimulated and appropriately challenged. Before class last week, I didn’t even know how to strip a wire. But now, I can make a Western Union splice and solder my own wires.

By going back to school, I hope that I am setting a great example for my children. I love that they get to ask ME what I learned at school. I am grateful that I get to continue doing something meaningful in my professional life while developing new passion in my personal life. I am happy to have found some balance.

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