Recently a friend of mine that currently doesn't have children asked how i manage to accomplish what i do with kids, when she feels super busy without them. I've been mulling this over some and thinking about how to respond and then decided that this would actually make a great blog post if i could just find time to write :) So excuse me Renee if you read this before i write back to you, but i think others might be interested as well.
Life is organized around four general areas: work, chores, extracurricular fun, and family. Each pushes and pulls on each other, but i've found some things that work for us in each category.
With work, something has to give. If both of you are corporate attorneys you're going to be outsourcing a lot of all the other areas. That might not be a big deal when it comes to chores, but you might start to really miss giving your child a bath or watching as she learns to say please and thank you. If you don't have a safety net in place, setting emotional concerns aside, you can also wind up stuck when your child gets sick and you both have important client meetings. So, generally one of you needs some flexibility in your schedule. This allows for someone to take off when little one needs to get to the Doctor, when your daycare provider is closed for the Federal holidays that you don't get, and to accompany said child on their first field trip.
We're blessed by the fact that i work remotely for a very family-friendly non-profit. My hours are pretty strictly 9-5, unless i'm travelling, and i work from home so there is no commute to factor into my day. Daycare is 15 minutes away. Even if you work longer hours and/or commute, working a few days from home can really make a difference. Obviously you don't have the commute to eat into your day and you can use the 4 minutes while you're waiting for your lunch to heat up to pick up the Lego's in the living room, throw last night's pajamas in the hamper, and take out the trash.
Which brings me to chores. I think the most important thing is to figure out what you can afford to outsource, and then looking at what's left, decide which items are crucial, and who can best tolerate/keep up with those key items. Much to the rest of my family's chagrin-- ironing has just never made it on to that list. We pay someone to clean our house every other week and divide the laundry/cooking/finances along our interest level and availability.
Assuming you have a spouse or partner, you need to figure out how to find a balance which leaves both of you feeling like you're invested in and responsible for the life you're living. In our house JT's the homebody. This means that he stays home on weekends while i toodle around Target and pick up cat litter. I actually kinda enjoy running errands, especially when i'm not toting two wee ones around.
One small thing which i wouldn't think would be much of a revelation is that i'm purposeful about my movements through the house. If i'm on my way downstairs i look at my desk and see what needs to be relocated-- a coffee mug, a water cup, the rechargeable batteries. After putting the dishes in the dishwasher and the batteries by the basement stairs i see the mail has arrived. I put 90% directly in the recycle bin and put the things that i need to do something about by the stairs to go into my financial folder-- you get the idea.
Then there's extracurricular fun. I think first and foremost, *what* and *how often* you do extracurricular activities changes once kids are on the scene. The trite "children change your life" is true but not like the soundbite makes it seem. It's not like you go from being an avid outdoorsman to a homebody Betty Crocker-type just because you have children-- at least not if you're going about things in a healthy way. But, your monthly overnight backcountry camping trips will most likely turn into long walks with your little one bundled into a back-pack carrier and a handful of camping trips to a site easily accessible by car. If your pre-baby days were spent logging late nights at local music clubs, you'll be scouring the area for music festivals that are child-friendly and happen during daytime hours. It's not that you're giving up your interests or hobbies, but they do tend to compete with the other responsibilities and priorities that children bring.
I used to workout five days a week, and attend ballet class and quilting group one night a week. I still try to fit in at least 3 workouts a week but i dropped ballet and attend quilting group once a month. Children are really great for helping you clarify your priorities and this level of activity helps me feel like i still have a life outside of being a Mom, but isn't so onerous that it's burdening JT or the kids.
One upside to kids is that they thrive on predictable schedules filled with sleep (or at least as they get older and stop waking up 6 times a night, ahem Silas!). So when you do activities changes, but can actually leave you with plenty of downtime if you're willing to take advantage of it. Our kids go to sleep by 7:30 (8 at the latest for Henry). Assuming a 10:30/11:00 bedtime, that leaves a decent chunk of time to eat a grown-up dinner if we haven't already eaten with the kids, spend a little time bonding as a couple, doing some chores and clean-up and maybe even working on a special project (a blog, a basement revamp, a baby quilt, etc.)
During the day (weekends for working parents) we have a solid 2-hour nap in the afternoon to work undisturbed on these types of projects as well. In a nutshell it's pretty simple, you have to pare down, be willing to adjust your expectations, and be flexible about when you get everything scheduled. In general we've found that these arrangements give us enough routine family time to feel like every one's needs are met.
All this said i'm adding a disclaimer that it took me about 6 weeks to do an imprint of Silas' hand for his memory book so clearly i'm not just crossing everything off my list as soon as i put it on there. In fact, i've moved to keeping my list in journals rather than on scraps of paper to emphasize that they are often long-term lists rather than immediate to-dos.