motherhood

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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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My 14 year old stepdaughter started her first year of boarding school earlier this fall and I have a feeling our home life will never be the same again. You see, our family is comprised of my husband and myself, our four children (my three stepkids – 17 year old Jake, 14 year old Grace, and 12 year old Grady – and our son Wyatt who is 5), and two dogs. When we’re all home, it feels a bit like the Brady Bunch with kids coming and going all over the place. Now that Grace is gone, the dynamic is decidedly different.

Grace’s absence is notable for more than just the smaller number of family members at home. Without her, there is a distinct lack of “femaleness” in the house. I miss having another girl to commiserate with when the boys get in an argument and begin wrestling on the couch, or when one of them burps or farts to the delight of the other two. There is no one here with whom to share my excitement over the purchase of a new pair of shoes, or to watch the fashions on the Oscars red carpet. And when I cook a beautiful French stew for Sunday dinner, the boys tend to look at me with a glare that says “why couldn’t this be spaghetti and meatballs?”, whereas Grace would have been thrilled at the effort and the opportunity to try something new.

When it comes right down to it, the house seems incomplete without Grace. I miss her. I even miss having her raid my closet for a cute shirt to wear, and having to go digging through her things to find my favorite necklace. I miss seeing her knit while watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and helping her straighten her hair or put it in a French braid.

Grace’s absence is incredibly bittersweet. While I miss her terribly, I am also unbelievably proud of the woman she is becoming. It was a big leap for her to choose to make the move to boarding school for 9th grade. Having gone to the same small private school since Kindergarten, she would not just be starting a new school – she would be travelling into the unknown to a place where she would have to start from scratch and make new friends. At the same time, she would be learning to live on her own and master the self-discipline required to keep her room clean, get her homework done, and eat right – all life skills that took me until well into my 20’s to master!

When she left for boarding school, Grace was unsure that it was the right path for her. She told us, “I’ll try it for a year and see how it goes.” I knew all along that as soon as she walked out our door for her new school, she would never be back. It came as absolutely no surprise that she made the transition to boarding school life flawlessly and is on the Honor Roll in her first semester. She is smart, mature, and wise beyond her years, and while we might not be ready for her to go out into the world, she definitely is!

Still, I get teary even as I write this. Grace did not come into my life until she was 6 years old, and now – just 8 short years later – she is already gone. I wasn’t ready for it. I’m not sure I ever would be. But, as the saying goes, “the train has left the station.” A new chapter has begun in her life and in ours, and I cannot wait to see where her life will take her. I’m sure she will read this (she is the only one in our family who regularly reads my blogs), and when she does, she’ll probably be embarrassed by it. But I hope she knows how much I love her and how profoundly proud I am to be a part of her life.

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Hurricane IreneHurricane Irene is heading up the East Coast and is expected to make landfall 50 miles East of us in Ocean City sometime late tonight. It has been interesting to see how differently people respond to the prospect of a hurricane. Some panic and stockpile food and water as though the end of days were coming, while others get a cold six pack of beer and sit back to await the fun.

Here in our house my husband John and I fall in different camps. I’m a big believer that it doesn’t cost much to be prepared, but the price you pay for doing nothing can be enormous if the worst occurs. John thinks the press and forecasters have blown the storm out of proportion and we’ll be fine. I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t caused the teensiest bit of tension in our house the last few days.

I started getting ready on Thursday by reviewing NOAA’s hurricane preparedness guides and buying groceries and bottled water at Sam’s Club. Yesterday, I filled up the gas tank of my car and took about $200 cash out of the ATM. Last night, I mowed the lawn (that has nothing to do with the hurricane – I just can’t stand when the lawn looks bad and with all the rain we have coming, if it doesn’t get done now, it’ll be at least a week before we cut it) and turned the refrigerator temperature to its coldest setting. After work, I asked him to help me secure our outdoor furniture and put away some random objects in our yard (lanterns, buckets, patio furniture cushions) that might blow around if we get high winds. He did, but we wound up having a little argument over whether he had done enough. In the end, everything got done and we’ll be prepared (at least to my standards), but it did reveal a real difference in how the two of us approach these situations.

Here’s the deal. Neither one of us is right or wrong. If the storm turns out to be a non-event, I’ll admit that I’ll feel a little silly for having spent so much time getting us ready. If it’s a big deal, I’m pretty sure he’ll thank me for taking care of everything.

I have a theory about why we react so differently. I think my reaction has to do with my natural instinct, as a mother, to nurture and protect. If big, bad Irene comes knocking on our door, I want my family to be warm, dry, well fed, and safe here in our house. I want to wake up the next day and see that there has been no damage to our belongings. Most of all, I want to be sure that my husband and kids come through unscathed.

It’s not that I don’t think my husband cares about all of this. Instead, I think he knows deep down that I’ve got all that covered and that we’ll be relying on him to jump in if and when things get ugly. He’s the guy that will have to go outside in the pouring rain and high winds and climb a ladder to clean our gutters if there is a problem. He’ll also be the one to figure out how to hook our submergible pump up to a marine battery so we can pump water out of our basement if the power goes out. In short, he gets the dirty jobs and he knows that I’m his “advance team.”

I realize that our division of responsibilities puts us squarely within our gender stereotypes, and I’m okay with that. I really don’t want to do the stuff he does, and he doesn’t want to do what I do, so it all works out in the end.

That explains the differing reactions in our house, but I wonder about everyone else. Why do some people go into emergency mode at the threat of a storm while others look at it as a reason to party? How do YOU react?

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I am fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive group of female friends in my life. They are a diverse bunch including lifelong pals that I grew up with in New Hampshire, neighbors here in Annapolis, college and grad school friends who now live far and wide, colleagues from my professional life, and fellow members of my moms and dads group. This network has grown and expanded over the past 40 years and my relationships with everyone in it have evolved as well. Gone are the days of getting dressed up and going dancing until the wee hours of the morning. My “new normal” involves sharing a glass of wine on my neighbor’s back porch while my kids play in the yard.

I love the new dynamic, and I’ve come to appreciate the perspective that these women give me. Being a mom isn’t easy, and neither is being a working mom. Thank goodness I have certain women in my life to act as a support network and provide me inspiration. This blog is a tribute to them.

I have to start with Gretchen. When I was pregnant, a certain friend told me that, as a mother, I would get lots of advice on how to parent my children. HER advice was to identify someone who has kids that I would like my children to be like, and to only take that person’s advice. For me, that person was Gretchen. She has three beautiful boys, all of whom are kind, polite, happy and healthy, and all of whom clearly adore their mother. Because I had a little boy, I turned to Gretchen for support in the early days of motherhood when I needed to get my then 3 month old son on a nap schedule.

I’ll never forget when she came over. Gretchen took one look at Wyatt rubbing his eyes in his vibrating chair and stated, “This child is tired.” She then informed me that we were going to put him in his crib and the two of us were going to go sit on my back porch and chat. I was not to re-enter the house for at least an hour, even if I heard lots of crying. And, yes, there was lots of crying! But the great part was that the crying eventually stopped and Wyatt had his first nap in his crib.

The most beautiful gift that Gretchen gave me – and I still think about it almost every day – was to release me from my guilt as a mother and let me know that it was okay if my baby cried. I now use that same gift when I’m in the grocery store and Wyatt (now almost 5) wants candy. He can produce tears like a master thespian, but I know (thanks to Gretchen) that those tears don’t make me a bad mom and its okay to say “no.”

As Wyatt got older, I discovered other moms within my circle of friends who inspired me in different ways. One of the first women I connected with as a mom was my friend Julie. We shared a background in consulting and discovered that our two boys clicked well on play dates.

Julie has always blown me away by her ability to juggle. When I met her, she was raising her then two year old son and volunteering as the Treasurer of our local Junior League. Over the course of the next few years, she would expand her volunteering to include service on the Board of our community association, helping to found an anti-crime group in Annapolis, acting as the Treasurer of a local non-profit, serving as the PTA President at her son’s school, and working on the campaign of a State Delegate. Where she found the time (not to mention the energy), I will never know!

If Julie is my multi-tasking role model, then Kelly is my Slacker Mom partner in crime. Kelly and I have boys around the same age and we share a very laid back attitude towards parenting, as well as an appreciation for wine. In the Fall, Winter and Spring, Kelly hosts a happy hour play group at her house that I regularly attend. Every Monday, five or six moms descend on her back porch and share snacks, drinks and conversation while the kids play in her fenced-in yard. Inevitably, the group of moms falls into two categories – those (like me) who sit at the table chatting while their kids run around, and those who never sit down because they are running after their children.

I confess – I’m a slacker mom. My attitude has always been “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This means if you eat a little dirt, you’ll be okay. If you drink out of someone else’s cup, it’s not the end of the world, and if another child pushes you, it’s not a big deal unless someone is bleeding. My mantra when the kids fight? “Work it out!”

Not surprisingly, there are many moms who don’t share my approach. Then there is Kelly. She and I are solidly on the same page about mothering and she makes me feel better about my Slacker Mom-dom. Her boys are great and I think my son is pretty fantastic as well (I know, I am really, really biased!). And while I kid around about being a slacker, I believe that what Kelly and I really share is the belief that kids need the freedom to explore, experiment, make mistakes, and pick themselves back up again. We both believe that by giving our boys a long leash, we’re building stronger, more independent men.

Another mom that I’ve always been blown away by is Phebe. She seems to have discovered the secret to that elusive balance for which I’m always searching. Phebe is married and has three children. She has a busy schedule, but always finds (or maybe I should say “makes”) the time for exercise and is a pretty competitive triathlete and runner. She also has regular date nights with her husband and always seems to be planning fun getaways with the family. She shuttles her kids to school and activities, but also makes the time to spend with each of them one-on-one. Throughout all of this, she is also one of the calmest, most peaceful people I know!

In the last two months, Phebe was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer and now, in addition to being the most balanced mom I know, she is setting the standard for dealing with health challenges. With her incredible attitude, endless energy, and unmatched strength, I know she will beat cancer. In the process, she will teach us all a lesson about living life to the fullest every day.

This brings me to Andi, my friend and neighbor who is due to give birth to her first child in the next few weeks. As I think about my experience as a mother, my advice to her is to form her own network of moms who inspire her. There is no one “right” way to mother and no one person can possibly be the perfect mom. Instead, the beauty of motherhood lies in finding the right approach for you and your child and then surrounding yourself with women who, as a group, can provide you the support and inspiration to stay the course and enjoy the journey!

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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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Busy Mom

A few weeks ago, I read a thought provoking Harvard Business Review blog by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Work-Life Policy. The title – “Does Female Ambition Require Sacrifice?” – was enough to grab my attention. As I read the blog, I was taken aback by some of the data cited, beginning with 2010 research from the Center for Work-Life Policy indicating that approximately 1/3 of women who begin their careers wanting to climb the corporate ladder no longer have that same ambition when they reach their 40’s. Even more surprising to me was that 41% of women who achieve executive-level positions do so without an “intimate partner” and 40% do not have children.

I’ve had a hard time getting this blog post – and the fundamental question it poses – out of my mind, and recently, I decided to do a bit more digging to try and form my own answer. This digging (and plenty of Google searching), led me to a New York Times article on “Marriage and Women Over 40” which details an interesting trend regarding marriage and college-educated women. As it turns out, women with a college degree have historically been the least likely to marry, but over time, the gap in marriage rates between college-educated and non-college-educated women is closing.

Interestingly, at the same time that marriage rates for college educated women are increasing, data indicates that so are the number of men who are marrying wealthier and more well-educated women. This seems in stark contrast to the stereotype of women looking for their “sugar daddies” and trying to snag an older, wealthier man for marriage. Now, more and more men are looking for a “sugar mama.”

So what does all this mean? And how does it help answer the question of whether female ambition requires sacrifice? To cut to the chase, I’m not sure there is an answer to the question. As a self-described feminist, I have a hard time thinking of women as victims of their circumstances, but I also recognize that as women, we’re forced to make tough choices and often difficult trade-offs to have the lives we want. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I simply don’t WANT it to be true that success requires sacrifice – especially in this day and age. Too many women have fought and worked too hard and for too long for that still to be the case.

When I consider the data cited above – on marriage and career ambition over 40, and on the trends regarding men marrying wealthier women – I find myself hoping that the answer to Hewlett’s question is “yes – but that is changing.”

I do believe that for women of my mother’s generation, it was much harder than it is today to achieve an executive-level position and do so while married and raising children. Note that I said “harder”, not “impossible.” There are certainly examples of women who have managed to have it all (at least from outside appearances!), including former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman (married with two adult sons), CEO of international media conglomerate Pearson and former CEO of the Economist Group Marjorie Scardino (married with children), and Xerox Corporation Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy (married with two children). But the list of these women is not very long. While women make up over half of our country’s workforce, only 12 Fortune 500 companies and 25 Fortune 1000 companies have female Presidents or CEOs.

I think – or at least I hope – that in 10 years’ time we’ll see a different picture as women of my generation reach that point in their careers where an executive-level position is an attainable goal. Thanks to the work of our mothers and grandmothers, we were raised with the expectation that we can – and should – have it all.

I’m trying to have it all right now as the mother of 4 and the Owner of my own company. It’s hard work, and exhausting, but if I thought it wasn’t possible I wouldn’t be putting this much energy into it. And if you told me today that I would have to sacrifice my marriage or family to have a stellar career, I’d give the career up in a heartbeat. But that’s just me. One of the beautiful things about being a woman today is that we can all make our own choices and lead the lives that make us happy and fulfilled. If that choice involves career success but not a husband or children, that’s fine. But so is choosing not to work if that is what makes you happy.

Thank goodness having it all is still an option too, and for those of you out there who, like me, are trying to have it all while losing sleep and gaining a few more gray hairs, I say “Bravo!!!!” (and feel free to email or IM me at 1 am, when I will surely be up working and folding laundry!).

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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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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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