“Wow, you’ve got your hands full! How do you do it?” If I had a dollar (or a Euro!) for every time I’ve heard that since becoming a mother to three children, I would be a wealthy woman. It seems that regardless of where you are in the Western world, it’s acceptable to have 1-2 kids and still manage to have a life beyond your children – be it a job, a business, hobbies, or whatever it is you do outside the home.
However, once you cross over into three-kid-territory, you should no longer be able to manage it all without superhuman powers. People begin to treat you with a strange combination of awe and curiosity – and you become something to both respect and fear at the same time. Strange dynamic, but it’s what I’ve experienced for years now – especially since moving to Germany, where three kids is considered a “groß Familie”(big family). And even more so since I made the move into single-parent land.
At first I thought three kids was would be fine fine, I like a good challenge and staying busy makes me happy too. I also grew up the oldest of eight (yes, 8!), and thought if my mom could handle that many, surely I could manage a fraction of her troop. But it didn’t take long to figure out that yes, raising three children is challenging. And a tiny bit insane, especially when it becomes a single parent gig and you find yourself doing it all on your own.
So how do I do it? To be brutally honest, some days I don’t. That’s right – some days my apartment is a chaotic mess, my kids run around like banshees screaming at each other and fighting, and I’m an exhausted heap of rattled nerves just trying to make it to bedtime. But luckily that’s only some days.
Other days it feels like one part of the work-kids-everything-else equation is off-balance. So the kids might be great, my apartment clean with everyone happy and well-fed, but I feel like my job and business are not where they should be. Or – work is going well, I’m putting time into writing and my little dating biz and feeling good about that side of life, but home/personal life is a bit chaotic. The work-life-balance so many talk about isn’t always attainable.
Most days though (especially when I’m not crazy stressed about a custody case), I feel like I have life under some level of control. A good friend once said being a single working parent with a full life is basically like juggling – you toss the balls one at a time, trying not to let them fall. And while it’s a challenging word picture – really, how many of us can juggle? It’s also accurate. There is a lot going on at any given time, but you learn to pace yourself – both catching and throwing on ball at a time.
So how do I manage it all? Well – I do my best to take life a day at a time – although as a future-minded person and dreamer that does not come naturally to me. I also have a strong support system – family, friends, and a great guy who help and encourage me to keep going even when it’s hard.
And for the rest – these are a few of the most important things for me to help manage the busyness of parenting, work and the rest of life:
- Naps - An absolute must. I’m generally a weekend napper – “Quiet time” on Sunday afternoons is a ritual and one of the few things in life I am very dogmatic and consistent in having. I do also sneak in the occasional tiny nap during the week as well – either on my lunch break (I work from home, remember) or evenings when the kids are play. Just 15-20 minutes of shut eye will help me recharge and have the patience and grace I need to get through the rest of the day. My kids know how much better I am with rest and gladly give me that time.
- To-do lists – I am nothing without my stack of post-it notes. I write down everything, from grocery lists to work tasks, to creative ideas, and even parenting reminders. If something is not out of my brain and on paper, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve even added index cards to my post-its – the larger size and lined paper make the more complicated tasks – especially those for work or my creative projects – easier to break down into manageable line items to check off.
- Alone time – This is another way I recharge and keep energy levels high. I am a social creature by nature, but when you are constantly surrounded by three little ones – sometimes barely getting shower time alone without interruption – even the most social of us need a break. So I try to get at least one evening a week out of the home to get away by myself. I also do my best to get up before all three of the kids wake up (although it’s hard to beat my daughter, who is an early riser) so that the day starts in quiet. When all else fails and a big chunk of time alone is impossible – some weeks are just too demanding – I will sneak away for a few minutes on weekend afternoons to go grab a coffee at my favorite local café. Ten minutes and a cappuccino work wonders, believe me!
- Help/support - You can’t do it all on your own, so when friends or family offer to help – either by taking you out for coffee, bringing you food, or taking one or more of your kids out for an afternoon – you say yes. Every time. And when times are really busy and I’m not getting the support I need for free, I bring in paid reinforcements – either my babysitter so that I can get away for a bit, or my cleaning lady to save myself some time and energy.
- Not doing it all (myself) – As a bit of a neurotic Type A, I often feel as though I have to do everything and try my best do prove that I can. But this doesn’t work for the long-term, and reaching the point of burn-out the end of last year forced me to accept that I have limits I must respect to keep life running as smoothly as possible. Practically speaking, I’m learning to say no and let others do more, especially my kids. I’ve passed a lot of home chores over to my children that I had been doing – which both saves me energy and teaches them responsibility, which my previous efforts of “doing at all” had actually robbed them of. The result is a happier mom, more productive kids, and a more peaceful home.
- Keep things simple – This can be as challenging for me as #5, but it is important to keep life as simple as possible. When you have limited resources – energy, time, and money – and as a single parent the reality is that all three can be quite scarce at times – it’s really important to keep it simple. I do this by keeping meals and scheduled as simple as possible. Which means on weekdays I keep meals light and simple (which tend to save me both time and money), and I don’t have myself or the kids involved in many activities outside family, school and church. I tend to let each of my children gets to be involved in one activity at a time. So far this works and helps me keep sanity in check.
So there you have it – that is essentially how I manage to “do it all” and stay sane. Of course I forgot to mention the wine and coffee that are in the photo above (thanks Pinterest!), which are of course helpful as well!