How I discovered you can’t be a SAHM and working mom at the same time.

How I discovered you can’t be a SAHM and working mom at the same time.
Serenity now, Tina. Serenity now.

This past September was the start of a new phase of life for the Bailey household: Both my girls officially became grade schoolers. And that meant a huge change. For the first time ever, I had Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 2:30pm, all to myself.

FREEEEEEDOM! Right?

Well, sort of. I am a freelance copywriter and social media manager, so I still had clients to attend to and work to do. But I thought that at least work would be easier to manage this school year. No more crazy schedule of cramming in work during preschool and babysitter hours. I would have dedicated chunks of time to get stuff done. Thirty hours a week. Heaven.

And, oh, all the other things I could do with that time! I would be efficient! Effective! A kick-butt, part-time working mom, part-time SAHM! It’s that Holy Grail “balance” that so many moms wish they could have, and I was going to have it. (You can stop snickering. I’ll wait.)

I expected myself to have a successful career and a efficiently-run household.

But what I got was exactly the opposite.

In my delusional state — brought on by the extreme joy of my new freedom, I guess — I thought that each week I’d be able to take on more client work, volunteer at the kids’ schools, grocery shop, go to Target, do laundry, exercise, and prepare healthy dinners. And squeeze in some me-time, too. All before the kids came home from school. Then I’d help with homework, get the girls to activities, and get a healthy meal on the table.

I really thought it was possible.

What actually happened was this: I was so frazzled during the first part of the school year that I was an anxious, overwhelmed, ball of stress. Each day ended up being so carefully orchestrated that there was no room for error. When something went wrong or I didn’t get all the to-dos on the list done, I felt like a complete failure. Which was almost every day.

I got to a point where my coping strategy was this: Every Monday morning for two hours, I charted the week out on a weekly planner I printed out from some super-organized Pinteresty mom blog. I scheduled every moment of time down to the hour. I planned every dinner for each night. I planned out every work deadline, every errand, every household task, and every kid activity. Each item got assigned its own time slot. Everything. Was. Planned.

Shocker: This didn’t relieve my stress.

Of COURSE it made me more stressed. It made my kids more stressed. And it became clear that there was no managing this busy, hectic life I had created. It was just too much.

I had vastly overestimated how much more time I’d actually have with the kids in school and held myself to an impossibly high standard. I fell into the “I can get it all done” trap. And I told myself I could accomplish everything a SAHM would do and everything a working mom would do. HA. Maybe some women can do it, but I’m not one of them.

It took living through that craziness for a few months (and more than a few pretty terrible, anxiety-filled nights) to come to my senses.

Now we’re back from winter break and I’m giving myself a do-over.

How am I restoring my sanity?

– The biggest change I’m making is changing my view of myself. I am not a part-time SAHM mom and part-time working mom. I am a part-time working mom who happens to work out of the house. I’m considering the hours when the kids are at school to be work-only hours. No grocery shopping or errands. No laundry. Nothing but work.

My home office is an office, and now I treat it like one. It’s no longer the family dumping ground for stuff that has nowhere to go. I’ve cleaned it out and organized it (enough). Each morning I get up, shower, and get dressed like I’m going to the office. Because I am.

And I can’t even tell you the difference it’s made in just a week and a half.

Giving myself permission to forget household stuff and focus only on work has been so freeing. Yes, there is a lot of dirty laundry piling up. Yes, it’s a little hectic cramming a grocery store run in while my girls are at their dance classes. And yes, I have to go to Target on the weekend. But Hubs and I figured all this out when I worked full-time in an office. It worked then, so it can work again.

After I get more comfortable with my new work schedule, I expect I’ll do the occasional load of laundry here and there to lighten the burden on the weekends. I’ll probably throw a very simple dinner in the crockpot while I heat up my lunch every once in a while. But that’s it — I’m not doing more than that. Work time is work time. End of story.

– Another thing I’m doing is I’m ending work when the kids are done with school. I’m no longer trying to cram in more while they’re watching TV or doing homework. This is making me more efficient during work hours, and more present for them when they’re home with me. There will soon be a day when they don’t want to hang around with me after school, so I’m going to take advantage of this time that they do.

– Lastly, Hubs and I are expecting the girls to entertain themselves more on the weekend so we can get stuff done. There’s no time for me to do projects during the week now, so this is just the way it has to be. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be ignoring the kids. Like this weekend, I’ll take the girls skiing. We’ll play a family game at some point and probably go out to brunch on Sunday. But I’ll also finish organizing my office, Hubs will do laundry, and the girls will keep themselves busy. Or — gasp — even help!

I still haven’t figured out how to fit fun time for me or exercise time in all this. What I’m doing is not a perfect plan. But what is? And I know this has to be better than the first semester of the school year. Anything would be.

I guess I’m getting back to my working-mom mentality. I was able to do it before. Lots of you are able to do it. And there’s no reason why I can’t figure this out.

Right? Right.

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10 Replies to “How I discovered you can’t be a SAHM and working mom at the same time.”

  1. I had two days a week that my youngest was in preschool, then daycare. I look back on this past semester and I can't think of one thing I really got accomplished. I think the more time you have to yourself, the more things you think of to do.

  2. This is definitely a challenge. I work from home grant writing 30 hrs a week, and the hardest one for me is stopping when the kids get home. I am so often fielding work emails and texts and calls past my "work stop time" at 3, and some days it makes for really stressful homework time with the kids–me trying to do two things at once (and they are old enough now that they will absolutely call me out on it). But I'm working on it. And I'm truly grateful that I have the opportunity to work from home and avoid the commute and the business clothes 🙂

  3. I started working out of the house from 4pm-9pm a few nights a week back in September. I thought that all of the cacaos was the impending holidays, family visits and planning kid birthdays that hit from October until Mid January. Now that the smoke has settled everything is a mess – closets and the garage have been crammed with stuff that needed "home" during parties and family visits – seriously there is a car sized clear spot and a tiny path that goes from the car to the house, but it you accidentally hit anything it could be an avalanche of crap. Having to sift through all of it is weighing on me. I don't know if it's my working, or my feeling overwhelmed with two kids. (I don't think you feel the reality of the 2nd kid until they are 1 1/2 or 2) that is causing me a lot of stress and loss of patience. I will say that when I am at work I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what I need to do at home, it's become a nice little escape.

  4. Good for you. You're making the right move. You can't do everything & you can't drive yourself crazy thinking you can. I don't do household chores during the hours my kids are at school. That stuff can be done on the weekends or after school.

  5. You described what will be my life in September when my youngest will finally be in school full-time in Kindergarten. I hope to learn from this, as I keep telling myself next year will be easier having the kids out of the home for a good chunk of my work day, but like you I could see myself trying to do it all during that time and failing miserably at all. So, I mean it when I say thank you seriously for sharing this here so much!!

  6. Another way to help is make your husband a true partner. 50% of things home and child related can be shouldered by him. Not only does that free up more time for you to devote to your career but it also helps him feel really present in his kids life and give him a work-life balance that he'll thank you for later.

  7. I do that a lot on my holidays off from work, like today! I will overschedule my time and then end up getting next to nothing done, because it's overwhelming to think of all the stuff I had planned to do. Now, I just tell myself these days are actually holidays, to ENJOY…and I actually get more done. Yesterday, a Sunday, when I usually do a load of nothing, was beautiful here in Kansas and I took advantage of the weather. I walked around our backyard and realized what a mess it was, so I started raking. I ended up raking the whole yard and burning a ton of brush. I hadn't wanted to do a real workout that day anyhow, so this was a great substitute. I probably never would have done it if I'd scheduled it. Good for you for reorganizing the schedule. Reflection is a good tool to inspire organization.

  8. This whole scenario makes me sad. I was a full-time SAHM and I cannot imagine having a more wonderful or productive or satisfying life. The very thought of scheduling time with my children … putting them on a ToDo list… is unfathomable to me. What better job can you have than being with, for, and of your children?
    You said it yourself… Our time with them is so short. So, what else is there? You are never going to be super close to your children if you stay on this path. Selfish.

  9. I promise you your kids are/were thinking: I wish my mom would get a life. Recent studies have shown that children of working mothers are better off and more productive members of society. It is not selfish to want to keep a part of youself while also raising young children. I think you misunderstood the article; The author was not putting her children on a to do list. Before you judge someone else you might want to make sure your choices have not and will not have undesired consequences in the long run.

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