All my dreams are finally coming true. After years of struggle and longing and frustration and self doubt, at long last, I’m at a place in my career where I feel like I’m using my talents and I’m making a difference AND I have a beautiful family — a wonderful and supportive husband and a precious son whom I love more than words can express. I feel like I’m in the flow of life, I’m living my purpose, and I am genuinely happy. So what’s the problem, you might ask?
The “problem” is that all of this is happening all at once, and sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed and wonder if I’m trying to do too much and therefore failing at everything.
I’m a middle-aged mom, and being 39 with a two-year-old is not easy by itself. Add to that a demanding full-time career, and a husband who works long hours, and you’ve got yourself a handful. Sometimes it makes me angry to think about how many years I spent longing for a child and longing for more purpose and satisfaction from my career, and then they both seemed to fall into my lap at the exact same time. Why couldn’t I have had a child sooner? Why am I suddenly able to find the sense of purpose from my work that I could never quite grasp before? These questions haunt me, but instead of feeling overwhelmed by my current situation, I’m choosing to embrace the challenge and the chaos, and feel my way through this incredible season of life.
I’ve stumbled upon a few tips that have made being a full-time professional working mom work for my family and me, and I’m sharing them here in the hopes they might do the same for you if you’re in a similar stage of life.
1. Set boundaries at work.
I’m fully committed to my career, but my family definitely comes first, so I have had to set some firm boundaries around when and how much I am willing to work. Working as an architect can be incredibly demanding and time consuming. There is often the expectation that we work long hours, late nights, weekends, and lots of overtime, especially when we have a deadline looming. This culture is instilled even in architecture school where it’s not at all uncommon for students to camp out overnight in tents at the architecture building as they work toward a deadline or a studio critique. And while it’s not as extreme in a professional architecture office, it is still expected and rewarded. But now that I have a child, I simply cannot work the same long hours that I worked when I was a single twenty-something. So I have created the boundary for myself that I leave the office every day at 5:30pm so I can pick my son up from daycare. And I know that, because of this boundary, I need to make the most of every minute at the office. I don’t have time to hang around the water cooler chit-chatting when there is a mound of work to do and a specific amount of time to do it in. I can’t always take long lunches with friends because, even though sometimes I’d love to, in the greater scheme of things, I’d rather spend that time with my family. My work boundary of leaving every day at 5:30pm also sometimes means I have to work over the weekend to get caught up. And I’m ok with that. I’d rather work a few hours on Sunday while my son naps than miss out on time with him each day. What it boils down to is that I love what I do and I want to do it well, but I have to set limits for myself so that my life and my true priorities don’t get out of balance. I believe it’s possible to be a great architect (or a great anything) while also having a full and rich family and home life. And I’m determined to have both.
2. Do what you feel in your heart is important for your family and let the rest go.
It is important to me to feed my family healthy food. It’s important to play and spend time with my son every day. It’s important to spend quality time with my husband. It’s important for me to engage in personal hobbies and self care on a regular basis. So I prioritize those things. All the rest? Sometimes I have to let those things slide. There are only a set amount of hours in the day, and I simply cannot do it all. I actually can’t do any of it unless I am strategic about it, and I plan ahead like crazy (see tip #4). So I prep food for us on Sundays and I keep healthy snacks in the house. I make a point to make a decent dinner, then sit down with my son while he eats it. I make a point to spend time playing with my son each evening. I do this instead of vegging on the sofa like I’d sometimes rather do. I prioritize this time and these activities with my son because this is OUR time. It’s all I’ve got, and I know it is my job and I am honored to do it. I have also learned to ask for and accept help as often as possible. We are incredibly blessed to have many family members who love spending time with our son, and they are usually more than willing to watch him for a few hours so my husband and I can get away for a date. We also have someone who mows our lawn, we have a housekeeper who cleans our house, and we pay a landscaper to tend to our flowerbeds when necessary. I do not feel guilty about these things, not even for a second. In fact, I am happy that we’re able to help support these people and their small businesses. I’d totally rather pay them for the great work they do than let those things slide or stress over doing them myself.
3. Be present wherever you are.
I try very hard to be present at work and at home. I try to avoid downward spirals of guilt during work hours over the daycare party that I missed, and I try to stay off my work email when I’m home with my family in the evenings. Of course I don’t always succeed, but I do make a conscious effort to be all-in as much as possible.
4. Plan and organize like a crazy person.
My boss (who has four children of her own) often says that she likes to “Plan like crazy now so I can wing it later.” I find this advice incredibly helpful in trying to balance work and motherhood. More than anything else, I think what it ultimately boils down to being a full-time working mom, is you have to be organized and forward-thinking enough to be intentional about how you want to live. In fact, this is the common thread I see among all of my professional working mom friends — they are scheduling and planning freaks because they have to be. You cannot putter along and expect to get things accomplished. You have to structure your life and your time to make them happen. It is an up-front, intentional effort and an every-day way of life. Of course, sometimes life gets crazy, unexpected things happen that throw our schedule off, but for the most part during the week we have a plan and we work the plan and that’s what works for us.
5. Allow yourself and your family some time to do “nothing” every now and then.
With all of the planning and structure that goes into managing a family and a career, it is critical to let loose once in a while. I’m not interested in being a martyr. If there is no fun and no play and no enjoyment in life, then what is the point of it all? If your whole life is structured down to the millisecond, then it will not be sustainable for the long term. I’ve found that the harder I work, the more I need to play. That’s why I don’t feel one bit guilty when we watch cartoons for half the day on the weekend, and why I keep up to date on all my guilty indulgence tv shows and follow my IG hashtags religiously. I need some down time! We all do, and after a week of schedules and running here and there we try to keep some days as free and unstructured as possible.