Making Time as a Work-at-Home Mom

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Our little guy starts preschool this year and, if you’ve been following me on social media at all, you probably know that I thrive on structure and routine. I’ve got a bit of those bohemian/mother nature vibes coursing through my veins, and I often wish that I could embrace them fully and be a true “free spirit” who could roll with the tide, take things day by day...but that really just isn’t me. I was the child who became inexplicably melancholic in the summer, spending days at a time in bed, overcome by sadness when the school year let out, and it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized it had been the chaos and loss of routine that left me feeling so stressed and lost. I have always needed a routine to help me achieve the productivity, focus, and peace that I crave.

Of course, it can be incredibly hard to maintain a sense of normalcy and routine when major life changes hit. When we first moved to Colorado, I was pregnant and without a teaching job for the first time, and I simply didn’t know what to do with myself. There I was, this person filled with dreams and projects and crafts I would love to immerse myself in, and I found myself doing...nothing. I slept in, I rarely changed out of my pjs, and I spent hours surfing Pinterest, scrolling Instagram, and waiting for someone to text me—and I was struggling. I had no structure to help me make use of the time, and it essentially came and went without any real growth or achievement. It was a hard season for me.

Throw a child or two and some part-time work into the mix, and I suddenly had responsibilities and lovely human beings to interact with, but I still found myself doing little more than surviving, not really embracing and making the most of the season. I craved time for myself, time with other adults, and would resent my husband for not offering to help more. A year or two ago, I decided to get serious about creating routines for myself that would allow me to schedule time for myself and to present a better me to my husband, children, and community.

It takes intention.

In my experience, you cannot hope for “me time” or “spouse time;” you must schedule it. As a mama, there is no shortage of things I could be doing with my time. I could always be cleaning a little more, doing another load of laundry, playing another game. With an endless supply of tasks, we must be selective and prioritize what we value most.

To help us do this, Doug and I sat down to discuss what we value most as a couple. We came up with—in no particular order—nature, health, education, and relationships. We discussed these things in greater detail, what they meant to us and how we wanted to live them out through our time, service, and resources. With this in mind, I worked out a schedule that made sure we were hitting on each of these values every day, or at least every week.

My Routine

In case you’re feeling a bit lost as you navigate life with a new baby, a new job, or anything else, I’ve posted my latest weekly routine to give you a peek into how I’m fitting it all in. Please keep in mind that everyone has different priorities and needs. What follows are simply some snapshots and tips of what works well for me and my family.

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Get Up Early

This has made all the difference for me. I am fortunate to have babies who are relatively good sleepers and who will usually sleep until at least 7 A.M. This has allowed me to squeeze in a bit of productivity and “me time” before I have to be Mama. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning so that I can tend to my own needs before I am overwhelmed with requests for attention. I have a morning routine that involves some quick tasks to get me up and moving, including sun salutations and short devotionals. Because I value rest, this also means that Doug and I aim for lights out by 10:30, so that we can get 7 hours of sleep.

My husband and I have also worked out a schedule where we alternate morning kid duty, so even if the little ones wake up earlier than normal, I have days when it is my spouse’s responsibility to prepare them breakfast, get them dressed, change diapers, etc. I have a guaranteed two mornings a week that I can work on my family history business, and two more mornings where I aim to work but go with the flow depending on how my kids fare.

Get Out of the House

I am significantly more productive at a coffee shop than I am at home. If I try to work at home, it’s filled with distractions and interruptions that disrupt my work flow, and sometimes I feel like I have to “swoop in” with my mom cape on, as if my kids can’t live without me or my husband can’t manage something on his own (read: he’s not doing it my way). Removing myself from the house altogether prevents this, allowing me to be much more productive (and avoid altercations with the hubs). Even little interruptions can cost you hours of work.

For some, it might not be logistically or financially possible to sneak out of the house, but if you are at all able, I highly recommend it. We are on a relatively tight budget and I still plan to be at a local coffee shop three days a week for two hours at a time. I usually stick to one simple drink while I am out to minimize costs (and bathroom breaks).

Make Time for Your Top People (That Means You)

You have to make time for the people who matter most to you, and that should include yourself. Since most of my day revolves around my role as a stay-at-home mom, I have blocked off time to be intentional with my children each day. Most of the time, this means us hanging out at home, usually having dance parties, playing pretend, building with blocks, reading books, or doing a simple craft (drawing, playdough, etc.). Once a week we have a “field trip,” where we try to hit up a playground, go on a nature walk, or visit the library. I also have weekly time to interact with my children one-on-one, whether it’s playing with my daughter while her brother is at school, or swimming and baking with my son. We also anticipate working in dates with the kiddos as they get older.

My husband and I plan for one date night a month (usually in place of a Thursday night trip to the gym) but we also have regular low-key spouse time worked into our weekly schedule. Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting in bed and talking, other times we throw on a documentary on Netflix. We also take advantage of the free childcare at the gym and at church, using the time to talk, hold hands, and connect.

For myself, I set aside time for work, exercise, devotionals, reading, and crafts, so that I am hitting on my personal values and goals in little bits each day. I have learned to value intention over completion—as long as I’m putting in the time, things will get done eventually. It's easier said than done; as a lover of to-do lists, dealing with getting less done is still a struggle for me, but I am finding I am more productive if I do little chunks each day as opposed to waiting for the perfect moment to do it all (that moment will never come).

As I’ve talked about before, my husband and I alternate evenings where one of us gets time to do something they want—I often use this time for yoga class or work, but it’s where I fit in girls’ nights, meetings, or anything else I might want to do. Doug and I each get two nights a week for ourselves, and the other three nights are family nights. Family time has been my favorite, and we make sure we have intentional time together each weekend, including family nature walks and family movie night.

Ditch the Devices

Digital distraction is easily one of the biggest obstacles I have encountered while trying to get into a good routine. The constant text message checks and Instagram scrolls can do a number on your focus, self-esteem, and satisfaction, not to mention stealing time from your day. I believe few of us will look back on our lives and be happy with the amount of time we wasted on social media. I have to constantly remind myself: whatever is happening on your phone is not as important as the people around you or the dreams you have for yourself. It’s funny that we even have to tell ourselves that (shouldn’t it be obvious?) but that’s how addicting our phones can be.

Some steps I have taken to limit my digital distraction include:

  • Deleting email from my phone. The inbox time suck is real and I often use responding to emails as a form of procrastination. If they aren’t as easy to see, I’m less tempted to read and respond.
  • Turning off all notifications—even for text messages. I don’t need to know what’s going on in all of my apps; I can open them to find out when I’m ready on my own terms. I have also found it impossible to resist reading a text message if I hear the phone chime or if I see the notification on my lock screen, so I have shut off text notifications. No more temptations to text friends when I should be playing with my kids. No more interruptions when I am trying to get work done during my very limited office hours. If my husband/the babysitters/the school really need me immediately, they will call.
  • Scheduling social media time. I have been working toward social media free weekends and limiting time on social media apps to twice a day. I aim to post something in the morning and then check again in the afternoon to respond to messages and interact within my online communities.
  • Putting the phone away. I have a drawer where I charge my phone and unless I am on the go or it is one of my designated “phone checking times” I put the phone in the drawer. I remember watching a TED Talk once that said that people automatically feel less important if you have your phone visible when you're with them, even if you don't look at it!

These simple steps have made such a difference in giving me back time I didn’t think I had, helping me connect to and appreciate my husband and children more, and freeing me from some of the unhappiness that comes from the comparison game. I believe many people need to think more critically about how often they are on their phones and how they may be justifying that time to themselves.

Keep It Simple

While I have my entire day broken down into chunks, there isn’t a lot of running around. Now that E is starting school, my day will inevitably involve a bit more driving, but most of my day is still spent at home. The time blocks I have worked into my schedule are less about getting a million things done, and more about ensuring I’m making time for the things that I value most while also—perhaps most importantly—knowing when to stop. Instead of trying to do everything at once, I focus on doing one thing at a time with my full heart and mind. I set timers for myself and for the kids to help them transition from one thing to another.

You may have noticed that I have little time set aside for cleaning in our weekly routine. That’s because, as much as I do enjoy cleaning, it’s not one of the top values in my life but it used to take up so much of my time. With two little ones (read: Tasmanian devils) in the house, I could easily spend my whole day tidying up. In the past, I found myself telling my son that we would start playing as soon as I picked up, and hours would go by of half-assed cleaning while giving him half-assed attention. I felt like a failure on all fronts, like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live like that.

There are several ways we’ve compensated for the minimal amount of cleaning time in our schedule.

  • Getting rid of stuff. The less stuff you have, the less time it takes to clean, to fold, to organize, to put away. By keeping toys, clothing, dishes, etc. to a minimum, we’ve had less belongings to manage—this has left us with both a cleaner house and more time for the tasks and people we value.
  • Making time for the essentials. The two non-negotiables in our cleaning routine are laundry and the dishes. My husband does the dishes and cleans up dinner every night—yes, every night. I complete (wash, dry, fold, put away) a load of laundry every day. I work making the bed into my morning routine, which also helps me feel a lot more put-together. The kids will begin to participate in these chores as they get older.
  • Putting things away when you’re done with them. I have been working on putting things back where they belong and teaching my kids to clean up after themselves. This is still a work in progress but I've found that seeing cleaning up as part of the activity leaves a lot less work for later.

I also work in seasonal deep-cleaning projects that help declutter and organize the house that aren't part of my normal routine. If cleaning is a higher priority for you, simply work it in as part of your regular schedule.

Go Easy on Yourself

Routines take time to become habit. Things won’t always go as planned. Be forgiving of yourself, especially at times where getting into a groove is especially difficult, like when a newborn arrives or when you come back from a vacation or holiday break.

There will always be things that “come up” and interrupt your schedule: doctor appointments, back-to-school nights, out of town trips. Figure out where you’re willing to compromise in your schedule and where you are not. My afternoon play time and gym time are really important to me, so I tend to schedule appointments in the morning. Our weekly family movie night is incredibly precious to me and there are very few activities I feel warrant missing out on this special time. I am choosy when in comes to my time and you should be, too—don’t let guilt manipulate you into losing out on time for self-care or down time with family.

You only get one life—make sure you’re living it on your own terms. Do you love or hate routines? How have you worked your schedule to allow for work, rest, creativity, and relationships? Give us all the tips in comments!