It was only recently, when for the first time in my long and colourful career, that someone asked me for a lesson on how to juggle your time between work and family and everything in between- that I realised how cold and clinical my life must look from my calendar’s perspective. In fact, my calendar must think I’m a real psychomom with a stone for a heart.
But the reality is that through many years of enjoying really fulfilling and hectic careers, my husband and I have managed to raise (or partially so, we’re still at it), two happy children who have never felt that we chose our careers over them. If you ask them (and I did), they’ve always felt that they come first, that we’ve made incredible memories together, and that on the odd occasion when I’ve had to miss a sack race, it was for really good reason.
Staring at seemingly callous calendar entries like “Mom and Max, 14:00-17:00”, “Family dinner, 18:00- 20:00”, “Lexis cook turn, 17:00-19:00”, “Getaway research 13:30-13:45” and jammed up against an international Skype call, “Rugby CAN’T MISS,” I realise that parental-planning while working has become a fulltime job all by itself- and that I’ve only managed to remain half sane by using the gifts that Google gave us when it comes to organised calendars that synch with every device known to man, but also, by spending my time as efficiently as possible, when possible.
Behind those cynical-sounding calendar entries are a thousand laugh lines, aching stomach muscles, pics on the wall, adventures had, conversations enjoyed and indelible bonds built forever. So let me redeem myself from my calendar’s judgement, and explain- and perhaps it inspires a working mom out there to divide up her time just a little differently.
Mom and Max, 14:00-17:00
When my calendar sees “Mom and Max time”, my son sees “Alone, adventure time with mom.” He sees one-on-one time allocated to him on a Friday afternoon, once a month, with one of his parents.
In reality it means an early knock-off Friday every 4 weeks, which goes generally unnoticed at work, but which means the world to us and our kids. I’ve learned that these are the times that they share more than ever. And that it isn’t time to be spent shloffing around Woolworths or drinking wine over a playdate… it’s about getting out there and pushing the proverbial boundary as you shriek down a Zipline, run from a paintball, sweat from a hike, hell it through a go-kart race or hang onto a Segway for dear life. It’s about taking yourself outside of your comfort zone, and letting your kids laugh at you while you do. About happy times doing something new and teaching everybody where your priorities lie… including yourself.
Family Dinner, 18:00-20:00
And Calendar, when you see “Family dinner, 18:00-20:00”– we see time to sit down like civilized human beings and talk to eachother.
Families are busy- and evenings are hectic times when we generally navigate unhappy hour, grab a piece of pizza over bath time and can’t wait to get everyone to bed. But not on Thursdays. On Thursdays, and assuming that the children are old enough to cut a piece of meat with a knife and fork in a decent establishment without running the risk of stabbing another patron, we go out for dinner to a quiet place where there is no trampoline. But if budget or time or circumstance doesn’t allow for that, we lay a formal table at home and eat over conversation.
It’s always at these dinners that my kids tend to sing like Canaries about what’s bothering them, who was nasty at school, where they need help with school work or what they’re hoping for for Christmas. It’s always calm, a treat and something everyone looks forward to. I guess as they grow older it will probably include boyfriends and girlfriends, and have to happen on a Sunday- but for now, nobody else is invited and Sundays are booked out with “Braai with friends, 13:00-17:00” anyway.
Lexi’s cook turn, 17:00-19:00
And then Calendar, when you see “Lexi’s cook turn, 17:00-19:00” – we see kitchen chaos.
We’ve all read extensively about the things that kids need to do for themselves by the time they’re 8, 12, 16, 18… – and if you’re anything like me, stabs of guilt will get you in the gut when you realise that Little Johnny is 12 and he still isn’t packing his own school lunch, or that Sally is 14 and you still have to remind her when it’s hockey.
And let’s face it- any working mom who says they force their kids to do everything on their own, lies. We all feel guilty that we missed yesterday’s hockey selection, or that we got home late and now there’s no milk- so we compensate with freshly squeezed orange juice awaiting the madam in the morning, or even a packed schoolbag when sir arises from his slumber.
The point is that although it makes us feel better to do stuff for them, the creatures do need to learn to do some things themselves. “Lexi’s cook turn” is a time once a month or so, when a kidlet gets a turn to make dinner. All 3 courses of it.
Whoever is chef for the evening orders their ingredients over the weekend, has to research a recipe, and needs to spring into action when they get home from school. It’s an awesome evening off for a working mom and dad, but it’s also been the source of insane laughter. Nine times out of 10, things are a little underdone, or burnt to a crisp, or an ingredient forgotten or a genius plan made to hide the slip up. The kitchen looks like Loftus after a Bull’s game, the food is barely edible until they’re 12, but the family has fun and the kids actually learn something valuable. It’s a must not miss.
Here are some easy to make kid’s recipes to inspire the little culinarians.
Getaway research, 13:30-13:45
Then Dear Calendar, “Getaway research” may just be two words to you, but to us it’s a weekend away- no friends or extended family- just us, every 3 months. It’s a Friday pick-up from school and a hit-the-road to nowhere weekend. Sometimes we don’t even book… we just drive in a direction and see where we end up. Other times it’s an actual destination, an experience, a place worth seeing, a historical lesson- and sometimes it’s just to catch a fish. But it’s mandatory.
Families need time away from hectic social and working lives- and time to breathe… together. Often, getaways coincide with school holidays, and planning annual leave around public holidays (for example, check out this Public Holiday Cheat Sheet by FlySafair for 2019) goes a long way in maximising your time off.
Rugby, CAN’T MISS- 14:30-15:00
And lastly, dear Calendar- when I write “Rugby, CAN’T MISS,” it means that sometimes, just sometimes, there are events in our childrens’ lives when they need their parents to be there. And if not both, then at least one. I’ll never be the mom working out your change at the tuck shop, or have my kids skip in to see me flogging second-hand gear on a random Tuesday afternoon- but if you’re playing a big rugby game against your arch rival, you’ve been practicing relentlessly for this day and you’re nervous as hell, mommy will be that pshychomom from Mars, albeit in my boardroom shoes, at the side of the field – screaming like a fish-wife when you get the ball. That’s the deal I have with my kids anyway. I can’t be everywhere, but I promise to be in all the important places whenever humanly possible.
A few other basics
And then, of course, there are the basics, dear Calendar. The absolutes which help to maintain any kind of sanity for a working mom-
1. Take a Sunday morning, between eggs in bed and your Sunday read to introduce the D6 communicator and Google Calendar to eachother- I promise you that it will be love at first sight. And when those two procreate, your week becomes so much more manageable.
2. Find an Engen near you with a Woolworths. Enough said.
3. For every “Family time” entry, be sure to include an “Out with friends”, “Me time”, “Admin hour” and “Date night” entry- because nobody finds a mommy auto-firing a paintball gun at the range-master, while asking for more bullets, funny. You need time to wine too.
Have fun and enjoy every, single minute of that jammed-up calendar- it won’t be full forever.
About the author
Daniella Louw is a serial entrepreneur. From SA’s 2016 female tech and digital entrepreneur of the year to full-time mom, there’s very little that surprises her these days. Currently in start-up mode with her new venture, Daniella writes for us from Somerset West where she lives with her husband and two children, Lexi and Max, 9 and 11.
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