How I Manage My Time As A Working Mom
by Anne Kostecki
Hi friends! With our current situation, most of us find ourselves working from home, isolated, or perhaps in general spending more time at home. It's been a huge shift for most people, but to be honest: not entirely for me. I've been a "work from home mom" since late 2018, and since our family only has one car, I've been more or less isolated since that time. And despite the fact that I'm usually more of an extravert, I actually love working from home and making my own schedule. I often get asked how I manage my time as a working stay-at-home mom - not (usually) in a disparaging way, thankfully. Since I'm basically a workaholic, it's been a ruthless goal of mine to find efficiency while being at home with my child. For all of you working or new parents out there, here are some things that have worked for me. This is by no means an instruction manual, or me saying "I'm an expert at this!" but rather me just sharing some tips that have worked for me...and I hope can work for you too.
1. Make a consistent routine with your child, then make your schedule.
Before I had my first child, I was told by all of the mothers in my life that consistency was one of the most important things about parenting. If boundaries are vague or inconsistently enforced, then children will not take them seriously. And it makes perfect sense: if you knew you could delay your bedtime or get extra snacks by exhibiting certain behaviors (like whining), wouldn't you do it? Not all children take to routine well: a lot of kids have trouble sleeping consistently, and I can tell you, my daughter will sporadically refuse to nap AT ALL for a full day. There's not much you can do in those situations, and I have to write that off as lost time. But starting around the age that they can sleep through the night, and are still taking around 3 naps a day (which I think is around 10-12 months), that's when you establish the nap and sleep schedule. Even if they're only sleeping 45 min. - 1 hour per nap, if you plan, you can power through a lot of tasks in that time. As a working mother, you learn to use your time as efficiently as you can!
Once the nap schedule has been established, decide what you need to get done during that time. Under normal circumstances (not pandemic ones, which are completely different), my business requires these general tasks:
Administrative (answering emails/inquiries, updating financial transactions, organizing my office/files, etc.),
Content Creation (drawing/painting, video tutorials, Instagram scheduling, product creation, etc.),
Store Management (Etsy listings, Shopify listing, fulfilling orders, post office runs, etc.),
Research (art fairs, Instagram challenges or hashtags, possible partnerships, etc.), and
Development (learning new art techniques, exploring new income streams, Procreate tutorials, etc.).
Once you know your tasks, you can estimate how much time you need to devote to each task: on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I recommend that once the nap schedule is established, figure out what tasks are best to do when your child is sleeping. For example, when my firstborn would have her early nap, I would tackle the most pressing work: my freelance client projects, and prepping for an upcoming art show. These were the most important revenue generators for me, and deserved to be completed first. If you know that your child might be fickle with a nap and it'll only be half an hour, then you can do the small tasks like answering emails or ordering supplies online. I treat every extra minute I get to work as a blessing. If you start thinking about all of the things you don't get to because the kids need you, it can get depressing. So I choose to focus on the things I can get done.
This step works with my next step, as you'll see.
2. Be flexible, and use your best multi-tasking brain.
This might sound counterintuitive, considering my last point was "make your schedule," but having patience and being flexible is so important for me. Kids are full of surprises - and they will upend your schedule as soon as you make it!
When you divide your tasks, assign times, and figure out what time of day to do each item, this will actually allow you to manage your time best. As you'll see, making a rigid schedule will not really work with young children - they will randomly refuse to sleep, spit up, get sick, or need extra attention. That's why I break my tasks into general headings, then flexibly designate times of day when to do things. It's like breaking things down into Lego blocks, and building a new "schedule" city every day. I can't help but use a kid-friendly euphemism!
For example, if I usually have a child who naps from 1-3 pm, then I have about 2 hours per day that I can try to work with. Say I need to answer 2 emails, start a painting, and photograph 3 works. I usually start with the quick, must-do's first, like answering emails, then I'll do the photograph, and the painting. Uh oh, my child refuses to sleep, and my husband and I agree that we only let him/her languish in their room for 1 hour, then we take them out and skip the nap. So, I only had time to do the emails and the photography. I'm disappointed, but I'm ok with getting something done...even if it's not all that I wanted.
This has been an important lesson for me: you will not get everything you want done. As a workaholic lover of efficiency, it's made me sad when my child skips napping or interrupts my plans for work. But, I've learned to celebrate the small victories, and learn to let the little things go. Sometimes, you have to pretend like answering 2 emails is a big goal, and you did it! Sometimes, taking a shower and doing the laundry is the big goal, and you've got to celebrate that. My husband likes to say, if you lower your expectations, then you'll be a lot happier!
3. Accept ALL the help you can get.
Your partner, spouse, friends, family, or childcare team is so important! The first step here is to establish what you expect from your help: what are the rules with your child? Clothing, food, snacks, books, toys, habits...you would not believe how complicated it can get. If you have a partner or spouse, it's important that you establish rules so you can develop trust. One partner shouldn't allow infinite screen time if that's not what the other partner wants (plus, the CDC does not recommend any more than one hour of quality screen time for a toddler). It goes without saying that your children are precious, and that first and foremost, you should absolutely make sure you trust your help.
Once you have your help, discuss childcare plans so that you realistically create a schedule. For example, my spouse is very motivated to do his fair share, and I am so grateful for that. We compared our schedules, and since he can work flexible hours, he starts working early so he can finish work in the afternoon and help with the kids so that I can make dinner or work. This doesn't always work: sometimes he can't get to work early, or the baby keeps us up all night, or he has to work longer, so maybe I get nothing done that day. But since we communicate constantly about our deadlines and needs, we make sure that we work together to arrange childcare.
I know a lot of people out there have spouses/partners who work 50+ hours per week, or who won't or can't step up when needed. Be clear about your schedules so you can work it out! If you feel like your partner/spouse needs to shoulder more responsibility, approach them about it. Lay out both of your schedules, add up the hours, and see where you can adjust. Thankfully, there has been a gradual shift away from the expectation that a woman does all of the childcare and household duties, and parenting is now viewed as a two-person job. I am so grateful my husband received parental leave after our second child was born, because managing two children under the age of 2 is not easy (especially when my eldest refuses to nap, so I essentially watch them 8 hours straight).
If someone offers to cook you dinner, clean your house, do your laundry, or even just a therapeutic talk session, you take it. If you're fortunate enough to have parents, relatives, or close friends who are retired/free during the day and offer to babysit, you take it. If you can afford daycare, even just a few days a week, take it. My recommendation is to take all of the help you are offered. Sometimes it's hard to accept all of the help if you're independent, but for the sake of your sanity, you will need a break from time to time.
In summation: I am very lucky. My husband wants to help, and so he arranges his schedule to help with the kids. My parents are retired, and love spending a few hours in the morning to help. I also dedicate almost all of my free time to getting the most work done that I possibly can. I work weekends, nights, every single nap time, and any chance I get. My work is fulfilling for me, and I have an urge to work, even when I'm exhausted. I think my creative work allows me to refresh and reset for my kids. I have something for myself, and then I'm more available to them when they need me. And, now that my daughter is showing an interest in art, we are drawing and painting together, and that has been one of the most special things I've had the privilege to do.