Working Moms: Killin’ It or Barely Makin’ It?
Almost a month into my new job and I’ve collected just enough data to tell you what I’ve learned about being a working mom in the States.
Being a working mom in Baja looked super different for many reasons, most of which revolved around flexible hours and not having to tell anyone when I went to the restroom.
Now I’m on the clock for very specific hours and learning to resist checking my cell every 12 minutes for fear someone needs me.
No one’s gotten sick or impaled lately, but I assured my youngest he could still reach me. “Buddy… if there’s an emergency, call my office. I’m usually the one answering the phones.”
So now I’m part of the Working Moms’ Club, which feels like I’m also a part of the crazy cycle. Thought I’d ease into the new schedule no problem, but I’m definitely not killin’ it.
I texted a working-mom-friend on my break and asked, “Sooo… how do you do it? Crockpot? Takeout? PB&J?”
To which she responded, “Haha! Yes, yes and yes!”
Last week I got home from work, changed clothes, threw a frozen lasagna in the oven and ran out the door to string lights and tie bows on chairs for an event at church.
No salad, no set table, no family conversation.
Since moving back to the States, one goal revolved around not jumping into the American rat race, but there I was.
Our oldest could fly the coop in just over a year, and I have no intention of missing his firsts… or lasts. So I’m leery to volunteer for too much, and try to hang on to family dinners at least a few times a week.
So far I’m losing.
Curtailed Expectations (Let-It-Go)
If I promise to let a few things go, will you promise not to sing the theme song? Mkay, thanks.
Here’s my short list of how I’m currently choosing my new battles.
“Pretty sure it’s still fine.”
This is my new mantra for work clothes. If I can’t smell or see anything, back on the hanger it goes. Clean freaks can call me gross, but with all that unnecessary laundry, I’m probably saving some sort of Orange Roughy or Beluga while they waste soap and water.
Please tell me you use this method in your closet.
Speaking of saving water, do you use dry shampoo or baby powder in your slightly greasy hair? My friend says they’re bad for me. But when I don’t get up early enough for a shower, suddenly I’m okay with temporarily clogging parts of my scalp, one pore at a time.
Do you have a greasy hair solution? My husband is no help. (#bald)
My people keep getting hungry.
With a man, a giant teenager, and another close behind, I barely keep up with their stomachs. So I bought an Instant Pot when it went on sale.
Cute new red and Pioneer Woman versions, making my basic black a tad jealous.
Three months later it’s still sitting in the box. In the laundry room. Alone.
Our relationship felt distant so I decided it was a girl and tried to name her. But I couldn’t decide between Juniper Grace, Canella Sage, Mcintyre Clove, Tallulah Masala, and Saffron Joy.
She sits there like a fresh newborn, waiting to go home, with rookie parents gently arguing over the legacy of classic grandmothers and crunchy aunts.
Some days she appears to mock me, other days she’s seems to be offering help. But I have yet to invite her into my life, for the learning curve looks steep.
So instead I steep more tea and roll my lip between my teeth, ignoring the guilt and moving on. She’s cozy and I’m busy, but someday I’ll make space for her in my life.
In the meantime, I make space for things I never grew up with: frozen pizza, boxed brownies and applesauce in squeezable packets. Subtle abominations for organic granola eaters from the 70s, but whatever.
Writing / Speaking / Volunteering
The whole family’s eating and one out of two toilets are clean, but I can barely get a grip on this writing thing.
If I feel led to keep up a blog, comment on every comment, outline a book and write another, how am I supposed to date my husband, engage with my kids, hang with friends, file my nails and scrub grout?
I got asked to teach a seminar at a women’s retreat this spring, and I’m scheduled to co-teach a class at a writers conference three weeks later.
Then our church’s mom group asked me to give a talk on decluttering and organizing the same week I got my new job.
- Exciting opportunities? Yes.
- Fun getaways? For sure.
- Overwhelming schedule? Uh-huh.
And I can’t forget the decorating committee for my son’s middle school dance. It’s hard meeting other parents, so I thought transforming a multipurpose room and serving Flaming Cheetos to pubescent people would be a good way to get connected.
But first I need to figure out what shirts go with the only two pair of dress pants I own so I can look like I sorta know what I’m doing at work.
Makes me want to go back and read Lysa Terkeurst’s book, The Best Yes one more time. Have you read it? I give it 4.75 stars and an enthusiastic thumbs up for the way it challenged me without guilting me.
Is your platter overflowing? When you can’t (or shouldn’t) say yes to everything, choose the next best yes and graciously say no to the rest.
Click to check it out on Amazon
Years ago I heard a prominent Christian speaker with a ridiculously full schedule tell the audience, “People always ask me if I’m tired. I tell them of course I’m tired! I’ll sleep when I get to heaven.”
It got a laugh, and almost made me want to cut my ZZZs in order to get more done too, but I resisted when I read this:
Researchers at the University of Washington’s Medical Sleep Center compared adult identical twins and found the one who regularly slept less got sick the most. This supports earlier research that showed when giving sleep-deprived subjects a rhinovirus they became more likely to catch a cold.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults to get 7-9 hours of sleep, but 30% of the working population gets less than 6 hours per night.
I’m not trying to be an overachiever, but my desire is to tip the scales on the 9-hour side. I’m selfish about my sleep, feel terrible when I don’t get enough, and will almost always say yes to more.
It’s when we heal, people! It’s also when the body supports learning and memory, regulates our hormones (amen), aids in lessening stress, and clears brain waste.
Even in the midst of feeling like a cuckoo working mom who is definitely not killin’ it, I choose to close my peepers and let the day come to an end.
Because as we all know… it’ll be there tomorrow. But if you die from lack of sleep… you won’t.
Just kidding—that’s a morbid way to finish.
I wish all you working moms fresh cotton candy and fluffy rainbow unicorns with a side of glitter.
All right, that’s enough. Back to work.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)
Grace, my friend. I’ve learned it is all about seasons. And learning what to say yes to and what to let go – for a season.
My mom worked all my life, we ate a balance of fast dinners and slow dinners but it was food. And we learned how to help. Laundry, cleaning, making dinner and our lunches. It’s good. We all turned in to functional adults. Who still throw things in a microwave.
And yeah, if it doesnt have stains or smell you can totally hang it up.
You dont have to do it all❤
Thanks, Andrea. You sound quite balanced. I know I don’t have to do it all. I’m actually quite happy to let a few things go. But trying to figure out how to keep family first and still get my writing done is a fuzzy puzzle at the moment.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
My mom is a SERIOUS cleany. I am not.
I never will be.
I also have chronic pain/arthritis/nerve damage that limits my to-do lists. I have to decide what big chores to do, on top of the daily stuff, and let the rest slide, because if I do too much, my hands ache to the point of total misery. I can fold 2 loads of laundry per day, no more. I can either mop ONE floor OR pick up two laundry baskets. Per day. No more. If company is coming, I have to start prep four or five days in advance.
I once put myself out of commission for a month because I leaned over the wrong way to pull laundry out of the basket.
I’ve learned not to care. To ignore what I can’t fix. To be at peace over what other people do for me, but that I wish was done differently.
Let go of what isn’t tangible, and delegate.
I just listened to my 16 year old tell me that cleaning a certain something was impossible (dried spaghetti sauce in the corners of the trash can lid), then calmly said “use a Q-Tip.” It worked!
And YES, use short-cuts!
Teach the kids how to do their own laundry. If they can work an iPhone, they can program a washing machine, a crock-pot, or a toaster oven.
Remember, less IS more. Especially the guilt trip we take ourselves on.
Sorry to hear about so much chronic pain, Jennifer. Letting go and delegate are both great pieces of advice! Our kids have been doing their own laundry for about 4-5 years now. Maybe I should make them learn how to work the Instant Pot and then they can give me the Cliff Notes. Ha!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Yes! Put them in charge of mastering it, and then keep suggesting that they try something else…muahahaha!
And thank you, it can be somewhat draining at times to always have to plan ahead around things like pain and one’s tolerance of things like all the hand-shaking and stuff at church.
Haha… love it. You sound like Huck Finn.
Just put your arm in a sling and then you’ll never have to shake hands. Less germs too. 🙂
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Yes! Huck is my hero! And I actually bring my purse, and a travel mug of tea to church, A) for the tea, B) so no one can shake my hand.
Hilarious! I occasionally wore gloves to church in the winter when we lived in Baja so I didn’t receive quite so many germs. Didn’t matter what you had in your hands though (2 mugs, 3 bibles, diaper bag, baby) most locals would stick their hands out and wait for you to transfer everything to one side so you could shake. It’s a strong, cultural tradition… especially at church!
It sounds like you need a spa day! Or a much-needed time in your prayer closet with just Jesus (less expensive than a spa day!).
The trouble with taking shortcuts (eating out, buying prepared meals, hiring domestic help, paying others to do what I can still do) is they all cost a lot more money (sometimes more than what the job outside the home can pay for!). But if working outside the home is a must, then everyone in the family needs to share in the responsibilities at home. And as John says it creates a sense of belonging and gives them much needed guidance for when they fly away from the nest.
When I wear a clean shirt/pants/skirt (especially in cooler weather), I hang it back up turned inside out (after checking that it passes the “sniff” test), then it gets another wearing before it flies to the laundry bag.
And you are right about sleep. I am not much of a napper, but before retirement days, I learned that a quick 20 minute “power nap” helped me be more productive. And I do better when I have at least 7 hours of sleep at night!
God does not want us to live lives of frustration or guilt. He wants us to live lives abundantly in His joy and for His Kingdom–a good measuring stick for all our decisions.
While reading a response from you always brings a smile to my face, I don’t expect a response especially if it is going to add to your frustration. I am praying for you as you grapple with balance in your life. Been there; done that as the saying goes.
Ooo… I wouldn’t turn down a spa day, but since I haven’t even been working for a consistent month yet, I think I’m okay for now.
I’m like you when it comes to hiring out help. I don’t bring home enough to make most jobs worth it. Plus, I’d rather pay my kids to help them learn the skills too.
Your inside out clothing trick is brilliant!
My dad has always been a big advocate of the power nap, so we learned at very early ages how to hunker down for 20 minutes or less and feel energized for the rest of the day. Funny thing though… when I’m strict about no sugar, I’m never tired in the day!
No worries–I actually want to respond. I just need to juggle my schedule better. Also, some of these posts that are striking a chord with people are surprising me! Thanks for praying for balance, Sherry; I appreciate that so much.
Wow. Well written. I identified with so much in this article. I’ve never washed my clothes after wearing them unless they were dirty or smelled funky. I tell my kids that too. Only wash it if it dirty! But we share chores. I write a list of what needs to be done and have them sign up for what they want to do and pay them accordingly. I reward a “bonus” if they do it with a good attitude. They could also help with the cooking and setting the table, but as your boys get older, they’ll most likely have other activities that’ll interfere with family dinner. I recommend Parenting with Love and Logic for teens (not to add more to your plate) but it’ll help. Also, a family meeting expressing how to shoulder this new burden and ask them to help solve your problem. They’ll take ownership and feel like they’re helping. Win-win. My mom also hired a housekeeper when she started working as you pay for the penny jobs to make the dollar jobs, yeah? Prioritize what’s most important and give that your most time (God, family, friends, writing, job) and share the burden with your family. Very shortly the boys will be out of the house so you need to treasure each moment. Hugs to you.
You’re right–busier teen lives means there’s less time to cook with mom, learn new domestic skills, etc. I’ve always had one of them set the table, iron, mow, pick up after the dog, sweep, empty dishwasher, etc. Even when I get pushback I try to stand strong, knowing it will all benefit them in the future. I like your idea of the family meeting to ask them their opinions. Yes, I know… it’s already going so fast!
I do the laundry-back-on-the-hanger thing too. You’re being “efficient!” ????
I’ll send you some instant pot recipes. I’m still getting used to it too. But believe me, that beauty is wicked amazing. She’ll be your new BFF.
Whew–so glad I’m not the only “efficient” smell-test laundry girl.
Thank you for the recipes–I’m saving them for when I get brave and learn how to operate the beast!
Many of the things that used to be your responsibility need to be shared by the rest of the family. Each person needs to be responsible for packing their own lunch. You sons need to be responsible for their own laundry. Everyone chips in with house cleaning, cooking, kitchen clean-up, etc. It may take a few organizational charts but it will be a good investment of your time. Everyone needs to learn how to be proficient in each of the tasks necessary to keep a household operating. For an added bonus, everyone gets to feel that they are an integral part of the family and are needed to keep things running smoothly.
Yes, our kids have always helped and each has about 4-8 chores per day. They’ve both been making their own lunches since we’ve lived back in the States, and been doing their own laundry for about 4-5 years. Husband washed dishes the other night, too, so that was a win. We’ve always been big believers in chores and they know they don’t have technology privileges till they’re done. I’m grateful for the help, though I’m the solo cook. I’d love to have help in that department someday, but between homework, chores, sports, jobs and youth group, they’re pretty booked!
“The Best Yes” by Lysa Terkeurst has just reached the top of my to-be-read pile!
And I suggest taking all the shortcuts you can (or can afford). When I’m working outside of home, we regularly eat out, buy prepared meals (or parts thereof) and hire a domestic cleaner. I’ve also paid someone to do my ironing on occasions (I have a husband whose job requires business shirts).
You won’t be disappointed, Susan. It’s a great reminder with some practical new ideas, but without the guilt.
Yes, I’m open to easier meals now, but will always be torn about trying to make healthy dinners. That’s where I thought the Instant Pot could come save the day.
My oldest son does all the ironing as one of his chores. It’s glorious. 🙂
Thanks for visiting this side of the ocean!
On the subject of glorious – my husband actually cooks a lot of our meals. He takes a few more shortcuts than me, but I’m not complaining!! I remember when my kids were babies, he wasn’t really into bathing them etc. but he would cook a meal. I remembering thinking this is going to be good in the long run, and it is!
How nice that your husband cooks so much! A few years of bathing babies vs. decades of cooking? Score! 🙂