The Critical Path of My Motherhood

Today, I had a revelation about my own experience with motherhood. My husband is out of town on business for four days and I have all four of my kids with me and a business to run. In addition to client meetings, deliverables to complete, and a new employee to train (she started today!), I had school pick-ups and drop-offs, one child who had a tutoring session a half hour away, and a grocery run thrown in there for good measure.

As I reviewed the day in my head, I realized that I do a pretty good job of running a tight family ship despite our crazy schedule. My kids even commented on how smoothly things went today – they got to school a bit early, a home-cooked dinner was on the table at a reasonable hour, the laundry (three loads!) all got done, homework is finished, and the house is clean. After I finished giving myself a mental pat on the back, I started thinking about why I was able to pull it together so easily when on many nights, the situation is much more chaotic.

The answer? Motherhood is like project management and I work better under pressure.

I come from a management consulting background and in any consulting field, project management is a critical skill to master. To carry a project successfully from start to finish, you’ve got multiple balls to juggle:

  • A clear set of expectations for what will be accomplished;
  • A good plan with all the major tasks identified, responsibility for their completion assigned, and clear deadlines and accountability;
  • The ability to manage your client (ie. Keeping them happy while making sure they are giving you what you need, when you need it);
  • Consistent communication with your client and team members;
  • Strong leadership skills and the ability to work well with a team;
  • A solid work ethic; and
  • The ability to work well under pressure and manage people and tasks during a crisis.

Motherhood is no different. It’s all about balancing the mundane (checking things off the “to do” list) with the sublime (giving each child some individual attention and love) while not losing sight of the master plan. To do this successfully, you’ve got to apply the same concepts employed by the Critical Path Method, namely:

  • Compile a list of all activities required to complete the project (day);
  • Determine the time that each activity will take to complete; and
  • Understand the interdependency of the various activities.

In my case, this plays out something like the following. The tasks included me getting a shower and looking presentable for work, everyone getting breakfast and taking their various vitamins/medicines, packing lunches for school, dropping kids off at school, conducting an orientation for a new employee, taking said new employee to a weekly marketing meeting with a client, completing a deliverable, checking and answering emails, preparing dinner for the kids, picking the kids up from school, getting my stepson to and from math tutoring, buying groceries, picking my other son up from daycare, feeding all children dinner, washing and folding several loads of laundry, taking the garbage out, cleaning the house, and touching base with my husband (on the business trip) and my parents. Whew!

In order to get all of the above done, several important things needed to happen. These included getting the coffee pot ready to brew the night before, having my breakfast made the night before, waking up 45 minutes before my kids to shower and get dressed, laying out everyone’s vitamins and medicines and lunchboxes so nothing would be forgotten in the morning rush, preparing dinner the day before, and combining the grocery run with the tutoring pick-up/drop-offs.

In addition to these tasks, I needed the cooperation of the kids. This means having plenty of patience while I ask my stepson for the 5th time to clean up his dinner dishes, not getting too upset when I return home to find popcorn kernels all over the kitchen floor (the result of an ambitious afternoon snack project), and having to delay by one day seeing my stepdaughter clean her room. But while I take some credit for keeping the kids on track by picking my battles, I also recognize that they were fantastic today all on their own. They seem to sense when I need them to pull it together and help out – like when my stepdaughter offered to clean up the dinner dishes and my stepson helped me to take the garbage out. Have I mentioned how great my kids are??

The point is, there was a lot to get done and plenty of interdependency. In order to get started with work on time, I had to take care of a lot of the morning activities (coffee making, breakfast prep, etc.) the night before. To get the kids fed on time at dinner, the meal needed to be made ahead of time so we could simply “heat and eat” after tutoring. To find any time to buy groceries, I needed to take advantage of the half hour window while my stepson was at tutoring.

Our busy schedule really plays to my strengths. I work well under pressure and love it when I figure out ways to meet seemingly impossible deadlines. Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way saying I want every day to be like today, but I have learned to appreciate the times I’m able to rise to the challenges of motherhood. After all, let’s face it – there are so many times when we don’t live up to our own expectations as mothers and the guilt can be crushing!

I think what I love so much about today is it underscored why, for me, being a working mother is making me a better mother. I’m a big believer that everyone has to choose the best path for themselves and that there is no one “right” way to be a mother, but I still fall victim to the occasional bout of self-doubt on days that my stay-at-home mom friends are taking their children on field trips to museums or spending the day at the pumpkin patch. Getting back into the professional world has awoken my inner project manager and on days like today, she is ready to take charge! Knowing that my time at work is in some ways making me a better mother makes me feel better about the things I’m sacrificing and – I hope – teaching my kids about the importance of good planning, hard work, and patience. Yay me!

Now it’s time to do it all again tomorrow…. Sigh.

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