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January is almost over and the talk of New Years resolutions seems to have died down. Nonetheless, that is just what this blog is about … New Years resolutions. I’ve been meaning to write it for several weeks but haven’t found the time. Better late than never, right?

My resolution for 2012 came to me when I was writing the annual family letter that we insert with our Christmas cards. Each year, I write a paragraph on each one of our four kids, one on the pets, a paragraph on my husband and myself, one on our family business, and another on any vacations we took or other special events. The whole letter usually totals one double-sided page. It’s a great way to keep in touch with a long list of people with whom we otherwise would have lost contact.

This year, there was a lot to write about, from kids getting  drivers licenses and going off to boarding school, to my husband adding four chickens to our menagerie of pets and a great camping trip we took over the summer. The only problem was the paragraph about me. It read “Kathleen is running a lot less this year. To stay in touch with her, read her blog at www.workmommywork.com.” That’s it. Pretty sad, huh?

Last year, my paragraph described how I had run my first marathon at age 40 and that I was doing volunteer work in our community. This year, I’m “running less.” I have no hobbies or special projects, and I had stopped spending my free time running with a friend. What do I do all day? Take care of my family, clean the house, and work – a lot.  It’s no wonder my blood pressure is, for the first time ever, showing signs of being high!

New Years ResolutionsAs soon as I wrote the letter, I knew that a big change was needed. I spend so much time working and taking care of others that I was not taking care of myself. I was exhausted, stressed out, and overweight. And when I realized it, I got kind of depressed.

So this year’s resolution is to take more time for myself. It’s not as easy as it sounds (New Year’s resolutions never are, are they?!). I quickly realized that in order to make the time, I would need to ask for it. My husband is a pretty great guy and he usually bends over backwards to accommodate me when I need something, but for whatever reason, I rarely ask. That was the first thing that needed to change.

The second thing I needed to change was my tendency to be everyone’s caretaker.  A typical morning in our house involves me getting up, feeding the doges, and unloading the dishwasher or making coffee while my husband takes a shower. Then, while he’s getting dressed, I’m making kids’ school lunches, getting their breakfast, and generally keeping them on track to get out the door by 8:00 am. As they are packing up their backpacks and putting their shoes and coats on, my husband throws together something to eat and they all leave together for school. At this point, I am still in my pajamas, the house is a mess, and I haven’t eaten a thing. The funny thing is that when I’m travelling or otherwise occupied, they all manage to bathe, feed, and dress themselves, and everyone seems to get off to school on time.

All of this just goes to show that I am a victim of my own choices. It is no one’s fault – except my own – that I haven’t pursued a hobby or made time for myself. Heck, I haven’t even written a blog in 2 months! So the change needed to begin within me.

Fast forward a few weeks and the resolution is going pretty well. I just finished a two week boot camp at my gym. From January 1 through 15, I got up at 5:15 every morning and went to work out. I spent two hours there doing the requisite 45 minutes of cardio and taking my boot camp class. I got home at around 7:45 am every morning – just in time to say good morning to the kids before they left for school. In addition to the exercise, I followed the boot camp’s strict diet. It wasn’t easy, but the payoff was more than worth it. In two weeks, I lost 7 pounds (actually I lost 14 pounds of body fat and gained 7 pounds of muscle), several inches, and got back into my jeans! Goodbye, muffin top!

The best part of doing the boot camp wasn’t so much what I lost, but rather what I gained. At the end of those two weeks I felt energized, healthy, confident and much, much happier. And it wasn’t just because I lost weight – it was that wonderful feeling that comes when you do something just for yourself. I worked hard and accomplished a lot and it was all for me. Oh by the way, my husband and kids did just fine without me in the mornings too!

Boot camp was a great kick start for the New Year, but it is just the beginning. My challenge now is to continue doing things that make me feel good, whether it be exercising, carving out more time to spend with friends, getting back into volunteer work, or finding and pursuing that elusive hobby. I know myself well enough to realize that I’m going to have to treat this like work and schedule “me time” into the calendar just as if it were a meeting. If I don’t, it will be too easy to let work and my home life take precedence. If that happens, another year will go by and I’ll have nothing to say in the Christmas letter!

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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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Sometime this morning, my husband and I will sit down at our kitchen table with two copies of our Microsoft Outlook calendars and hold a strategic planning session. Although we work together in our business, we will not be talking about client meetings, project reviews, or our business plan – we’ll be planning out who will do what (and when and where we’ll do it) over the weekend.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve developed a very business-like approach to our personal lives. I print out the calendars for Saturday and Sunday, we each make a list of all the things we want to get done over the weekend, and we make sure that any obligations (kids’ sports practices, lessons, birthday parties, etc.) are recorded. Then, we begin the process of filling in all the empty time. My husband swims as part of a masters team every Saturday morning, so that usually gets added first. I run with a friend on Sunday mornings, so that is next. There are usually a variety of projects around the house, like repairing a broken closet door or weeding in the garden, that inevitably need to be included. Last come our personal lists – the things we each want to do for ourselves, but are not necessities. For me, it might be a trip to the outlet mall to look for new jeans, whereas my husband usually wants to spend time with our neighbor selecting the seeds they are going to order for their gardens this summer. Everything that we add to the calendar gets color-coded so that it is very clear who is responsible for each activity.

What we are left with at the end of this process is a pretty full line-up of events, activities, tasks, and obligations – and very little white space. It is typically at this point that we try and figure out a way for the two of us to spend time together. I’ll admit – there are many weekends when we don’t actually do that. Sunday night will roll around and we’ll climb into bed and my first reaction is to turn to my husband and say something along the lines of “Hello stranger! Nice to see you. What have you been doing all weekend?” I know that he often feels the same way.

With four children (three of whom are with us only part of the time), our own business, and a tight budget, we have found that at this point in our lives, there is very little free time for us to spend together and not a lot of money to spend on babysitters, date nights, or weekend getaways. We are both big believers that it’s important to invest in your marriage, but we are not always so great at following through on that when the days get busy. This being said, the important thing is that we’re working on it. We talk often about the need to spend more time together and we’re always looking for ways to do it that are both practical and affordable. And one of these days, I’m pretty sure we’ll figure it out!

So my question to you is – how do YOU make time for each other in your marriage? I’m sure we’re not the only couple facing this challenge and I’d love to know how other people manage to juggle family, work and time with their significant other.

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Here I am at 7 am on a Saturday morning … working. This past Thursday, I was up until midnight … working. Sunday afternoon … working! In my 20’s, I used to get dressed up, go to an office and put in a solid day of work. It might not have been from 9 am to 5 pm, but it was at least something close like 8:30 to 6:30. Sprinkled in with those 8 to 10 hour days were the occasional late nights at the office. I never minded the long hours – I just assumed that by working hard when I was young I would be able to enjoy the fruits of my labors in my 40s and 50s.

Boy was I wrong! Now that I own my own business and have four children, I find myself working harder than ever. The hours are longer (technically, the work never ends when you are a small business owner!), the stress is greater, and there are more demands on my free time than ever before. It’s ironic, really. When I had the time to work long hours, I didn’t need to. Now that I have no time, I need to work more than ever!

So what’s a hard working mom to do in this situation? Well, luckily I work out of my house and my office is in my kitchen. There is a lot of running back and forth between the stove (as I cook dinner) and the computer (as I shoot off a quick response to an email). But I don’t want to be one of those moms whose kids feel like she is on her computer or Blackberry every chance she gets – I want to spend time with  my kids and play with them. So on most weeknights, I put down my work at 5:00 and don’t pick it up again until 9:00, after my 4 year old goes to bed. The hours in between are sacrosanct. We sit down to the table to eat dinner together as a family, we talk about our day, we play a little, do some homework, and go through the whole bath, books and bedtime ritual.

Those evening hours form the heart of our day as a family. The morning is too rushed – getting 4 children off to school on time with all of their gear, lunches, etc. is no easy feet! Its incredible how quickly the week goes by when you only have a few hours each day to spend together.

At the end of the day, the late nights, early mornings and weekend hours seem worth it if it means taking the time every evening to just “be” with my family. And much like my 20s, when I worked hard in the belief that the payoff was coming later, I now feel that the long hours and late nights are an investment that will pay dividends in the form of happy kids and financial security. So with that, I guess its back to work!

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Back in my twenties, when I was single and pulling in a great salary, I had a financial planner who told me, “you are at once the most promising client I have and the most frightening.” He went on to explain that I was promising because I was earning a great income from my consulting work, but frightening because I was blowing most of it on clothes and shoes. I confess … I was a shopaholic!

During my shopping heyday, I was known to spend up to $600 a month on a couple pairs of pants and a great pair of heels. Why not? After all, I had no husband and no children on whom to spend my hard earned money, and saving just seemed so, well, practical!

The irony is that these days, I’m still spending $600 a month shopping – only now, I’m spending it at Sam’s Club. It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m getting far less satisfaction from my current purchases than I did from the ones I made in my twenties. Don’t get me wrong – I love Sam’s. The prices are great, the product selection fantastic, and the quantities are actually perfect for my family of six. What I don’t love are the inevitable $400+ price tag and the way a trip to Sam’s (driving there, doing the shopping, packing up the car, unpacking the car, and putting all that stuff away) can eat into my day.

Let’s take today as an example. It was a Wednesday, so I would normally be working, but my kids are starting school again so I went to Sams to load up on school snacks, brown bag lunch staples, and easy weeknight dinners. I was a good girl and made a list before I left the house, but somehow my short list turned into a frenzy of bulk purchasing.

I’m not sure about you, but when I shop at Sams Club, I have a strategy. On a typical visit, I skip the electronics and jewelry (don’t need either and WAY too easy to get sucked into impractical impulse buying) and typically head straight back to the laundry detergent and paper towels. Then, I make my way up and down the shorter aisles that form the perimeter of the store, avoiding the dangerous middle section which is home to books, toys, clothing, seasonal items, household good, and “big ticket” stuff.

That’s a typical day. Today was not typical. The problems began when I went down the clothing aisle. I do this every year around the time the kids go back to school. Usually, I’m able to score great bargains on a few pairs of jeans or khakis for my 15 year old stepson, socks for everyone, and tank tops for my 13 year old stepdaughter. Today, I got all of these things along with a bonus – a pair of men’s Avia running shoes for $24 (perfect for the 15 year old and much less expensive than the $140 pair he wanted!).

After loading up on my bargain clothing finds, I then went back to my usual route around the store feeling very happy with myself for “saving” so much on the clothes I had never intended to buy in the first place. I did manage to get most of the things on my list, but I also went a bit crazy on novelty items such as “sugar pears” (not sure what they are, but they’re darn cute!) and maraschino cherries (we’ll be swimming in Shirley Temples for the next 20 years with the giant sized bottle I got). It didn’t look so bad when I pushed my load up to the checkout counter. I had filled up one cart (a regular cart, not a flatbed – flatbeds are for the real pros!) and it was far from overflowing. I’m great at packing things into those carts. As a coworker of mine said, its like a game of Tetris – each piece must fit perfectly as part of the whole or the entire system fails.

All was well until the friendly checkout lady totalled my bill and it came to almost $500! I swallowed the lump in my throat, swiped my debit card, and resolved to stick to the list next time. I then pushed my purchases to my car and spent about a half an hour packing the contents of my cart into 10 reusable grocery totes and the backseat of my car.

Back at home, the saga continued. It took five trips between house and car to get everything inside and another hour to put it all away. Some stuff went into my kitchen and some went into my basement, where I store the non-perishables and extra frozen items in a second refridgerator we keep down there. As part of this process, I had to clean out the snack cabinet to make room for all the new stuff, and I broke down all the boxes that my bulk purchases came in and brought them out to our recycling container.

Four hours and $400+ dollars later I was done – and by done, I mean exhausted! I can’t believe how much money and time I spent, and the truly scary thing is that my pack of hungry teenagers will probably devour most of the food in a week. This happens every time I go to Sams Club, and yet I keep going back. Go figure – this was the same problem I had in my twenties, when a quick visit to a boutique would find me $600 poorer, but the proud owner of some very trendy pieces that would be out of style in the blink of an eye. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

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