This is me: I work about 10 hours a week teaching outside the home, do regular freelance writing for a few lifestyle outlets, take in extra kids 2-3 days a week, homeschool, and spend 2-20hrs per week on my educational graphic design business. I love it all.
I don't feel too busy, but I do always want to find ways to feel less like an anxious fox surrounded by jumping squirrels.
Here's how I make it work:
1. Standing Desk
Because otherwise your kids will climb on you. More, I mean they will climb on you more often and more successfully when you sit. Kiddies never outgrow that baby phase of hating on you when you sit down.
A standing desk is great for the times you need to check your emails or post something quickly.
2. Find Homeschooled Teens to "Babysit"
If you have the great good fortune of having older homeschooling families in your neighborhood, get to know those people. They are probably fascinating. Hopefully fascinating like one of those David Attenborough bower birds and not fascinating like the garbage cart man at 8th and Washington - with homeschoolers you never know.
You can find the homeschoolers near you by joining a group, asking around, or contacting the leaders of local co-ops.
A 13-15 year old who can come over during the day to wrangle and entertain kids is a large part of my sanity. These teens don't have anything to do anyway because they've been homeschooled and are therefore miles ahead of the rest of us. That's what I tell myself, anyway.
What teen wouldn't want $5 an hour for coming to my den of confusion to practice patience and observation skills on a handful of pinballs? You can tell their parents that it's a great entrepreneurial learning opportunity! Earning money, responsibility, mathematics, spending money on video games and sour patch kids to numb themselves afterwards...
3. Set Timers
When I was a new attachment parenting mother, I thought timers were one step from those unfortunate bunny backpacks with the leash attached. "Put my children on a schedule?! How horribly benevolent dictator of me!" Well, now I am tired, and the benevolent dictator days are a fond memory of my offspring.
I put myself on a timer, the kids on timers, and often forget to put the oven on at all. I will check my email for 5 minutes. I will work on this piece with an expired deadline for one hour. Read for 30 minutes. When the timer rings, it's time to clean up.
The timer takes some of the onus off me. It's not really ME deciding how long you have to pair socks or when you have to stop taking dictation. It's the timer. Also, I don't have to remember to stop myself or hear my kids yell, "Am I done yet?" 300 times.
The best use of timers has been for nesting (see #7) and for clean-up sprints. Sprints are when something is a mess and I make up a number and we all go in the room and clean up for that number of seconds. Usually 52, sometimes 95. "Let's do a 52 pickup."
I count backwards from that number while they clean. If they stop or are useless, I must stop counting to give direction (see??). Depending on the nature of the mess, I will chip in or stand there like Mao Zedong booming the integers with austerity or enthusiasm - as the mood demands.
This way instead of complaining for 52 minutes before they actually get to it, they just spend 52 seconds doing it and it's 'done.' Whatever is left can be left.
4. Semi-Dedicated Time
I can't get all my paid work done if I only do it after my kids go to sleep. I need to work while they are active. Sometimes I get quite a bit done! Sometimes I leave the computer and cry in bed. We have work time (#5) and semi-work time.
Semi-dedicated work time is time that I am working (sadly in this modern world almost all the work is on the computer), but still available to them. Work time, by contrast, is when I am unavailable.
During this semi-dedicated time, I am dedicated to their needs and wants (the storybook request or the drink of water - not the Jackson Pollock painting project they've schemed up or the trip to the custard stand). They are my priority, but I am also working.
It works like this: In my mind, I think "Oh, yes! They are playing on their own. I will get x, y, or z done." I go to the computer to do it. But the caveat is that I am more interested in my relationship with them than I am in getting my work done during this time. So if they want to sit on my lap or talk to me about something or read a book together, that's fine. I've allowed for it in my mind. This way it doesn't drive me batty to be interrupted. I am sneaking in this work time. Anything I get done is lucky.
5. "I'm working" Time
Real, honest-to-goodness work time is different. Everyone in our house knows that it's okay to focus on your work, to say "Not now, I'm working." Or, "Please don't touch my work." When I'm writing or otherwise engaged, I won't be interrupted for anything unless it's an emergency.
My kids know this and eventually learn it's pointless to try. For whatever reason, that doesn't keep them from trying. When that happens, I ignore them until the point at which I cannot ignore them. Then I give them a hug, tell them I'm happy to help in x number of minutes or "when I'm done," and lock them on the other side of the office door.
I figure I'm giving them a gift. They learn that even though they sometimes watch me poop, I, too, have boundaries. This gives them permission to have boundaries themselves. They can work on a project without being interrupted and play with the creation of their own boundaries.
6. Love breaks
After I come out from work time - or any time during the day when things get hectic - we have a love break. Basically, anyone who seems heart sick gets some sit-down, here's-my-full-attention time. If one of the kids is extra fussy or clingy or gets hurt or can't seem to settle, we try a love break.
Just talking together, reading a book, playing a game or walking around the garden hand-in-hand soothes both our busy souls. It reminds both of us that, though lots of things go on during the day, this is important. Our relationship is important.
It also soothes any guilt I have during, "Not now, I'm working" time.
When our third was born, it wasn't two weeks before I realized that I couldn't do it all day long. I had a brainwave one day and instituted "Nest." I made the girls a little nest in their room, with blankets in a circle and some books and a few soft toys.
Our first nest was 10 minutes. They had to stay in their room by themselves for 10 minutes. It was stressful. But after about a week of daily nesting, we upped it to 15 minutes. Now we're at an hour.
No one here naps, so this is imperative to our health. We need time away from each other. Sometimes I use it as work time, sometimes I exercise, and sometimes I just sit and read or nap myself.
When your energy goes outward like a roman candle for weeks on end, eventually you burn out. Your kids plug into you, your job requires your energy, maybe your friends and partner as well. Who takes care of you?
You do. Do things that tell yourself and your family, "I am important, too. This is for me." Take time away, breaks, and luxuries. An hour solo walk in the woods. Time and place and things, just for you. My favorite is a quiet room, a good book, and divinely expensive chocolate…MTGFC. (Much Too Good For Children.)
Make sure to take a little time every day to do something that is just for you. Not a shower - unless it's a particularly long, luxurious one. Not eating lunch sitting down-that's just what healthy people do. Something that feels like pampering. You wouldn't present your friend with an Egg McMuffin and pat yourself on the back for how well you were taking care of him. Don't do the same to yourself.
Having friends over helps spread the attention. Your kids can play with other kids and not look to you for entertainment. With the right friends, I get quite a bit of writing and design time.
Friends are also important for me. Having other people who are in a similar boat makes me feel less crazy and gives me someone to bounce ideas around with.
10. Something Has to Give
My children are essentially feral. They run around in the backyard making pyramids of dirt and I'm not even watching. They go through three bottles of glue and a package of rainbow glitters in an hour. You can see the rainbow joy on their faces and my kitchen. And that's okay with me.
Our housekeeping style is best described as "lived-in bohemian crap pile" and "there appears to have been a struggle." And most of the time, that's okay with me too.
I don't have a housekeeper or even a sporadic, casual maid. My kids don't go to school or camps or lessons or regular, unaccompanied play dates like normal people. They're always here. And it shows.
Very often my children are half naked and, well, I'm pretty sure there's a hair brush around here somewhere…
I dress comfortably. That means if someone noses all over my shirt or wipes paint on my stretched-out yoga pants I won't turn into, as my kids say, "scary, scary monster mama." I don't look good around the house and my children sometimes appear to have recently climbed out of a sewer. Thank God for my outside work. It feels nice to get dressed occasionally.
That's what gives around here. Our house doesn't look like yours, and we're okay with it. I know something gives in your life, too. We can't all be everything.
While we're trying to be most everything, there are tips and encouragements we can share with each other to ease the overwhelm. These are some of mine. What about you?