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Last weekend, I had a parenting revelation.

I’ve written quite a few times on this blog about the difficult balancing act that working mothers are faced with every day. We are often forced to choose between working and parenting, and while this choice (on paper, at least) seems like it should be easy, it’s not. Many of us work out of necessity. We have to provide for our kids and working gives us the resources to afford the necessities (like a roof over their heads and groceries) as well as many of the luxuries (including private school, camps, tutors, and vacations). In short, our quality of life, as well as that of our children, would suffer if we didn’t work. Given these facts, it’s easy to convince yourself that work should take priority.

Having said this, I’ve also written about my belief that we should work to live and NOT live to work – and I really do believe this. Work is simply NOT worth it if it prevents us from enjoying our lives. When that is the case, you should change your work or at least reevaluate why you are doing it.

Why am I rehashing all of this?

Well, one would think that given the amount of blog real estate I’ve dedicated to this topic, I’d be leading the charge of mothers who know that when the workday is over, you should put down the laptop, turn off the Blackberry, close the iPad, and stop taking calls. After all, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to simply be PRESENT with your children – to truly live in the moment and learn to revel in the smallest, most precious details like the look on your child’s face when they discover something new, their laugh when they hear a funny joke, the face they make when they taste a new food, or the incredible imagination they bring to playtime.

I confess – I stink at this!

I absolutely love and adore my children, but shutting off my work self is like trying to kick an addiction. I can be sitting with my kids reading books or building leggos, and I find myself checking my Blackberry for emails. I might be baking cookies with the older kids and taking cell phone calls. Other times, when the rest of my family is heading out for snowball fights or a game of soccer in the backyard, I’m inexplicably drawn to Facebook or Twitter on my iPad.

The worst part? The whole time I’m doing this, I’m thinking “Stop! Show your kids that they are your only focus. Make your time with them the priority.”

All of which brings me back to my parenting revelation.

Last weekend, my husband was out of town with friends, my stepkids were with their mother, and I found myself alone with my four year old son. I should preface this with the explanation that he is ALL boy – high energy, doesn’t sit still, has no interest in playing quietly alone while I do things like work, fold laundry, read a book, etc. With two full days of one-on-one time looming in front of us, my thoughts turned to how I was going to keep him entertained – and thus, “Mommy-Wyatt Day” was born.

The first every “Mommy-Wyatt Day” occurred last Saturday when I made the commitment to my son and myself that I would do no work – and by no work, I mean nothing related to my job, but also no house work, no grocery shopping, etc. The day was about one thing and one thing only – having fun with my son.

Not suprisingly, Mommy-Wyatt Day was a big hit. It started with a lazy morning at home. We slept in and stayed in our pyjamas until 11 am. After a leisurely breakfast, we fulfilled our one obligation for the day by attending Wyatt’s ice skating lesson at noon. With that out of the way, we headed out to McDonald’s (or “Old McDonald’s” as he calls it) where my son had a Cheeseburger Happy Meal (the giveaway, which prompted our visit, was a Tonka Truck – whoever says the toys don’t sway us is just plain full of it!). We then went to the Mall for our first-ever visit to the Build-A-Bear Workshop, where Wyatt built an Owl and dressed him as a firefighter (did I mention he’s all boy?). This was followed by a ride on the mall train (literally, a train that rides through the middle of our local mall), an ice cream in the food court, and a showing of the movie Tangled. All in all, it was a pretty action packed day, and I’m proud to say that throughout it, I checked no emails, took no calls, and did no “work” (I did, however, post photos of him on the train to my Facebook page for the grandparents to see – is that cheating?).

The best part of Mommy-Wyatt Day, other than the joy on my son’s face, was gaining a real appreciation for how much fun it can be for ME to unplug and spend time with my kids and how little impact it had on my life to do so. The house didn’t burn down, the business didn’t fall apart, and viral riots didn’t erupt on Facebook in my absence.

In short, life went on. And while it did, I gave my son some of the most fantastic memories of his 4 year old life and had a pretty good time myself while doing it.

My newfound commitment to unplugged parenting will soon be put to the real test. In less than two weeks, Wyatt and I leave for a week’s vacation on the beach in Florida with my parents. It’s one thing to stop working for one Saturday, but another entirely to step away for a week.

My husband thinks I should start a betting pool regarding how long I’ll last. What do YOU think the over-under is?

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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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I’m not sure how it happened, but in the last few years motherhood and work have taken over to the point that showering has fallen low on the list of priorities. As I sit here and write this, my hair is starting to look stringy and I’m growing a remarkably scratchy layer of leg stubble. This is not an unusual occurance – the stringy hair syndrome is common enough that I’ve developed a very effective hairstyle for masking it (it involves lots of upside down brushing of the hair and a barrette).

How did I get to this point? When did showering become a luxury like pedicures once were? I’m not sure there was one particular moment when I stopped bathing regularly. If I’m honest, it was probably a slippery slope that began when I had my son and got worse over the course of that first summer of motherhood when I was able to convince myself that a dip in the pool could double for a shower and shampoo. Now when I consider showering, I weigh the time it will take to actually bath, plus dry my hair and apply makeup, against all the things I could accomplish in the meantime (empty dishwasher, throw a load of laundry in, write a blog post for a client, knock out a conference call, etc.). Put simply, its all about opportunity cost, and apparently these days the opportunity cost of a shower is too great (until I get so scuzzy I can’t stand it any longer!).  

Summer is over, my son is almost four, and I’ve got to face the honest truth – its time to reacquaint myself with my shower, shampoo, razor, and shave cream and reclaim my freshly bathed, coiffed and smooth-legged self. The objective is not to look like the “yummy mummy” that my friends love to joke about (although I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t enjoy being referred to in those terms); it is to take back some time for myself and enjoy the knowledge that I look my best – even if I’m taking my best to the grocery store for a gallon of milk.

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Yesterday, I returned from a week away with my husband and four children. We drove from our home in Maryland to Cape Cod, spent a day on Nantucket, and then drove to New Hampshire for four days with my parents. We packed a lot into one week … boogie boarding at the beach, movies, back-to-school shopping, skydiving (in a simulator!), mini golf, swimming at the pool, games of ping pong, and riding around on grandpa’s tractor. It was a ton of fun and I think everyone – from our 3 year old to our 15 year old – was suprised by what a good time they had.

While the last week was a great getaway, it was not by any means a vacation. My husband is famous for making this distinction. In his words, “there are vacations, and there are family trips.” The difference between the two? Kids!

We love travelling with our kids and cherish the experiences we have with them when we do, but travel with kids is not relaxing. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, right? Everyone is different, but when I think vacation, I think about lying on the beach immersed for hours in a good book, romantic dinners with my husband, spa treatments, and leisurely walks around quaint towns with stops along the way to explore the local shops. For the life of me, I can’t imagine doing any of this with my kids!

Yes, its possible to do some or all of the above on a trip with children, but it requires leaving them in the care of a babysitter and venturing out on your own. And while we always manage to squeeze in one or two adults-only outings on our family trips, I actually like spending time with my children and wouldn’t want to lose too much of it on our family trips.

So we travel with our kids and spend car rides listening to Bob the Builder on the car’s DVD system, we eat hot dogs and mac n cheese on paper plates, we pile everyone in the car for a game of mini golf in the blazing 90 degree heat, and we referee the arguments that inevitably ensue when you squeeze four children in a minivan for anything longer than 30 seconds. But along the way, we get to see the wonder in our kids’ eyes when they ride a huge wave on their boogie boards, get to lift rocks using my dad’s tractor, are lifted magically into the air in the skydiving simulator, and – in the case of our 3 year old – sit through a full length movie (in a movie theater) for the first time. So worth it!

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Its a Start!

I blog for a living. I also tweet, post to Facebook, and surf YouTube – all on someone else’s dime. Let me explain. My husband and I own a boutique marketing consultancy, and I run the social marketing practice. So most days during the hours of 8:30 to 5:30 pm I can be found in front of my computer doing what most 15 year olds do when they have time to kill. Only I’m getting paid to do it! I love my job…

When I’m not working, I’m “mommy-ing” my three year old son and my three teenaged stepchildren. Mommy time is comprised of cooking dinners, grocery shopping, shuttling children around, helping with homework, doing laundry, and trying (but not always succeeding) to keep the house clean.

It was only recently that I realized that while I’m spending so much time on social networks on the behalf of others, I’m not really investing in my own piece of the online universe. I like blogging and enjoy writing and editing others’ work, but ultimately, its much more fun (and easy!) to write in your own voice about your own interests and thoughts. So I’ve decided to blog…

The biggest challenge for me was trying to figure out what to blog about. Nobody really wants to know about the minutiae of my day (put another load of laundry in … but just realized that I’ve run out of detergent – darn it!) – its not edge-of-your-seat excitement, after all. Having said this, its hard work this “working mother” life. Trying to balance a demanding job, business ownership, and the needs of four children (not to mention a husband who I hope won’t get lost in the shuffle!) is often stressful but frequently rewarding. And here’s the thing … I’ve got to believe I’m not alone in the stress and the joy of it all.

So there you have it. I’ve decided to write about working, being a mother, and balancing work and motherhood. I figure its kind of like being pregnant – nobody wants to hear you talk all the time about your constipation and swollen ankles unless they too are pregnant, in which case, bring it on!

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