On any given Wednesday morning, you’ll find me rushing around the kitchen like a madwoman…packing two healthy lunches, signing kindergarten permission slips, filling up water bottles and snack packs, and pleading with my kiddos to eat a little more breakfast. My husband Josh is filling bowls with oatmeal or cheerios and making sure the kids are dressed. Now, if this mental picture makes you believe that we’ve got our act together and we have it all figured out, well, maybe I should tell you the rest of the story.
Maybe I should tell you about the THREE library books that we have lost in the last month. Well, I did find one. I took it back to the WRONG library. And I bet you’d LOVE to hear how our second grader Max went to school without shoes one day a couple weeks ago. Josh had to drop off Ava and come home to get shoes for him. And the best part of the story is that HE didn’t have shoes on either, so he didn’t walk him in to the office to sign him in. And on that random Wednesday morning, more likely than not, there’s a sink full of dirty dishes, laundry in the washer AND the dryer from two days ago, and you’ll find us tearing through the house rounding up recycling because we forgot it was trash day AGAIN.
Now, I know this seems like a crazy way to start an article about finding balance in your life. But the truth is, I don’t have all the answers. Balance is something we struggle with every day. And I don’t want this to be another article that makes you shake your head and feel like a failure. Because you know what? You’re not a failure. Even when you forget to send lunch money and you show up thirty minutes late to soccer practice with only one cleat and you forget to buy milk AGAIN. It’s those very struggles that push us to be better and also help us remember that we’re not perfect. But our kids (and our spouses!) love us anyway.
Because of the struggles we’ve been through, trying to balance this crazy, chaotic, awesome thing we call ‘life with a business and kids’, we’ve stumbled across some things that have really made a difference. Yes, we still struggle with this balancing act, but thanks to a few key strategies, we’re hanging in there. I firmly believe that there are five things you can do to help keep your family/work life in balance. In this first section of this two-part series on finding balance, I’ll discuss how to put these strategies in place in your family/personal life. In part two, I’ll discuss how to put these to use in your work life.
The five strategies I want to share are set lower expectations, get organized (and stay that way!), have clearly defined roles, get help, and take care of yourself.
Set lower expectations.
Let’s be honest here, before we had kids our house was clean, the laundry was usually put away and making dinner was no big deal. But if there is anything that having kids has taught me it’s that I need to lower my standards a bit. Cleaning up after three kids is a full time job but I don’t have to tell you that! And to be honest, even though having a messy house drives me crazy, I’d much rather be playing with my kids than cleaning. So we’ve lowered our standards some. We don’t keep our house super neat and tidy all the time. It’s not a total disaster, but we opt for a messy house and a happy family. Sometimes dinner means rotini noodles and frozen peas because we spent the afternoon at the pool. We don’t match socks, we don’t make beds, and we can’t always find matching shoes. And I’ve learned to be okay with that. When you lower your expectations, you can spend less time worrying and cleaning (and searching for that other sequined flip flop) and more time for snuggling and tickling (and sharing the last chocolate oreo).
Get organized – and stay that way!
I’m not going to lie, I LOVE organizing stuff. But even if the thought of lining up snacks according to height and color coding lunch boxes makes you cringe, the fact is, organizing saves serious time. And in the big scheme of a balanced life, TIME is exactly what we never have enough of and the reason we yearn for balance in the first place. Want to know the quickest way to get your family organized? Make a list of all the things that you do every day that take up WAY too much time. And then start checking them off one by one. Find the problem, create a solution, and (this is important!) stick with it.
Need some inspiration? I got tired of running late to soccer because we couldn’t find the pink jersey or a bottle of sunscreen. So I went to Dick’s and bought three soccer bags in three different colors, and then I went to Target and bought a six-compartment shelf. We put the shelf inside the garage and gave each kid a soccer bag and a cubby. We keep ALL the soccer goods in the bags, along with sunscreen and an extra pair of shorts. Now, when we’re running out the door to soccer, we just grab their bags and out we go! We’re usually still five minutes late, but at least everybody has their cleats.
With two kids in elementary school, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of who has gym class and therefore needs to wear tennis shoes to school, who needs to bring back their library book (which we hopefully haven’t lost), and not lose permission slips, homework, and t-shirt order forms. To beat the system, we got crazy organized. I bought a giant weekly calendar dry erase board and it hangs in our kitchen. We keep track of our week and ALL of the kids school stuff, sports, activities, and even our menu plan. It takes me about 10 minutes every Sunday to get it prepped for the week, but it saves me SO much time and sanity. Underneath it, we hung a letter organizer and each kid has one section. We keep all of their school papers, folders, and school library books there (well, when we’re not accidentally returning them to the public library that is). I also organized the lunch boxes and lunch containers for optimum efficiency and our snack cabinet is full of quick and healthy grab-n-go snacks, sorted and color-coded by who likes what, of course.
The thing about getting organized and staying that way is that is does take effort. And sometimes, I just don’t have that extra energy to put into staying organized. And those weeks when I don’t make the effort, I definitely feel it. For every ten minutes that I spend packing snack packs for the week, I probably save 30 minutes trying to throw something together at the last minute every day. Trust me on this one, whatever makes you crazy, find a way to make it organized and efficient, and you’ll love all the time you get back!
Have clearly defined roles.
Raising a family takes a lot of effort. And we all know, the mom can’t be the ONLY one putting in the time or we’ll never get everything done. But, the fact of the matter is, women tend to be more efficient and if you’re anything like me you like things done a certain way. My hubby has told me many times that he feels like he’s in my way or he isn’t sure exactly what he should do to help me. That’s where the separation of duties (for lack of a better term) comes into play. Now, every family is different, so what works specifically for us might not work for you. We’re in a unique situation in that we work together and our work is flexible so we share a lot of household responsibilities. Figure out what works for your family so that you can stay sane. As much as I would like to tell you that you can do it all, we all know that we FEEL so much better when we share the workload.
On school mornings, Josh gets the kids dressed, makes them breakfast, and drives them to school. I pack lunches and snack packs, water bottles and folders. I braid hair and do tooth brushing duty. And by 8:30 am every morning, we’ve gotten everything done and the kids are off to school. And we approach a lot of tasks that way. We get the kids involved too. I cook dinner. The kids set the table. The kids clear the table. Josh loads the dishwasher. The kids unload the dishwasher. For many things, we’ve got an established routine and it really helps us get it all done and find the balance of SHARED responsibility. For the days and tasks that don’t already have clearly established roles in place, I have a dry erase board on my fridge. And in the morning, I write down ALL the things we need to get done that day. When the plan is clearly communicated, everyone can pitch in and help. Sit down as a family and figure out how this fits into your routine and then implement your plan and see how much quicker and more efficiently all the day-to-day tasks get done!
This one is important but it’s hard. If you’re like me, it’s hard to admit that we can’t do it all. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment that comes with not needing help but we all know that if we did it ALL by ourselves then we’d never have any time left for our family and that’s the whole point. So get help where you can. Sometimes this means getting a babysitter so you can have a date night with your husband. I often schedule client meetings for 5 pm on a Friday night, just so we’ll have childcare already arranged. That makes it even easier to squeeze in a date night. Getting help might mean hiring a lawn service or a housekeeper. We have both services and I can’t tell you how awesome it is to pay someone to do the things that I don’t have time for and don’t like to do. When money is tight, we go without maid service but the rest of the time, I’m happy to trade cable and a new pair of shoes for a spotless house! And let’s face it, if your kids are 3 years old or older, getting help means giving them some chores. My kids are like a natural disaster – five minutes in the house and it’s destroyed. To earn their allowance, they have to help pick up after themselves, feed the dog, put away laundry, and unload the dishwasher. When you ask for the help you need instead of trying to do it all yourself you can get rid of some of the stress and pressure of doing everything. And stress is the very thing that so often makes us feel out of balance.
Take care of yourself.
I’m just going to be honest here and say that I fail miserably at this one. I KNOW that I need to focus on myself. We all know it – it’s like a universal truth or something. That whole “put your own oxygen mask on first” kinda thing. But, it’s also really easy to put this at the bottom of the list. You know, the list that’s so long, you never get to the bottom. And even though I wake up every day and tell myself that I’m going to work out, I just don’t do it. Well, I don’t do it consistently. And I never get enough sleep. And I don’t always make the best choices about what to eat.
So, let’s make a pact. For the next four weeks, let’s all work on these five habits together. But instead of putting ‘take care of yourself’ at the bottom of the list, we’re going to put it at the top, in capital letters with a double underline. And let’s see if after four weeks, we feel more balanced… less stressed… and maybe even happier. Will you join me? Leave a comment and let me know you’re on board. And while you’re at it, if you have anything we can add to this list to help us all keep it together, we’d love to hear about it! I’ll be back soon with the second part in this series, keeping work balanced.
Josh and Jenny Solar, Missouri
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Josh and Jenny Solar are parents to three kids, Max, Ava, and Lia (and a basset hound named Banana). In addition to being full time photographers, they created The Happy Family Movement in the spring of 2011 to encourage and inspire family togetherness through memorable family experiences and simple ideas for happy family living. The overarching goal of The Happy Family Movement is to rewrite the way our generation views raising kids… to seek out a happy family and find the JOY in parenting all over again.
Congratulations to the random lucky winner Rachael who said, “Tweeted this! Man, some days I feel like it is harder to be a WAHM than the others because you have the business/work duties and the SAHM duties that come along with the kids messing everything up constantly since they’re home all day too. The organization goes sooooo far! I appreciate the honesty!!!”! I will be in contact soon with information on how to claim your prize!
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