Organization is Key!
“Lower your standards about everything,” one of my new colleagues advised me, just a few days into the new school year when she learned that I was a fellow working parent. “What your kids eat, how much homework you give, just lower your standards.”
I was startled by this advice, but then again, I was starting to become aware that I could not possibly live my life as I had before. I could not be the same kind of parent I was before, or the same kind of wife—or the same kind of teacher.
Something had to give. Or rather, something had to change.
I have always been a very type A, organized person. This trait has served me well for years: helping me to manage my time as a teacher and to create an smoothly running routine when I had a family.
Now suddenly I am finding myself having to do both, but struggling to let go at aiming for my usual high goals.
I’ve reached out to friends and family and taken their advice to heart. It has been less than a month since I reentered the workforce and already I have had to reshape the person that I am.
A well-organized routine is still key to my day.
I get up at 5, work out for 30 minutes, shower, eat breakfast, say goodbye to my kids and hit the road before 7.
I leave work at 3:20 to pick up the girls from school. We’re usually home by 4:30. In the time before they go to bed at 7, I have to get dinner on the table, clean the kitchen, do laundry and prepare lunches for the next day.
The first few days were so hard. I was exhausted from trying to do everything I did before. My husband gently reminded me that he was here to help.
I have a hard time delegating. It just always seems easier to do everything myself so that I don’t have to fix mistakes later on. But really, who is that attitude hurting? Only myself.
Learning to let go of some of my responsibilities and let my husband take over some tasks has been difficult, but it is also helping me to manage better day to day.
I turned over garbage duty to him. He also prepares the girls breakfast and lunch every day. I pass on their “orders” and he gets everything ready. He also gets them up and dressed in the mornings and drops them off at school. I jump in where needed: brushing my older daughter’s hair and making sure I leave them with big hugs and kisses. But I am really making an effort to step back and let him do everything in the morning.
One big tip I received was do as much on the weekends to prepare for the week as possible.
For me, this means shifting my regular Friday laundry day to Saturday. Whenever I wake up in the morning, I start doing laundry and pretty much do it all day, washing everything from towels to bedsheets. I also try to do a load on Tuesday or Wednesday to avoid too much at once.
Another weekend job is preparing meals. My husband and I work together on this. We might divide up a package of chicken and prepare all of it two different ways to work our way through over the course of the week. We cook a couple types of vegetables too, to ensure that all I have to do when I get home is heat up our food and maybe cook pasta or rice, although I try to make large batches of those foods to avoid having to cook every day.
By pre-preparing meals, I have more time when I get home to deal with other things like cleaning all the breakfast and lunch containers that we use every day and throwing in a load of laundry. I also make sure my gym clothes and outfit for the next day are picked out when I first get home in the afternoon to save time in the morning.
The good thing about school is that the girls are tired earlier than they used to be. I aim to have them in bed by 7:30 at the latest, which gives me time to get myself ready for bed and do a little work.
I find that I also need to be more efficient during the day. I try to stay ahead of my students by at least a week, planning out lessons and posting assignments as quickly as I can. I have learned to give homework assignments that are easy for me to grade. Assigning group projects that take a few class periods is a huge help too. Not only do the girls learn to work together and manage their own times, I can use those class periods productively to grade homework or plan ahead.
Before I go to bed every night, I pick out my work out video for the next day and load it up on my computer so I can easily get started in the morning.
As I’m starting to settle into my new life, I find that in terms of organization, it isn’t too much more different than it used to be. I’m juggling a lot more, but by keeping lists and checking off one item at a time, I’m managing better than I thought I would after the first challenging week back.
I am also trying to find time for self-care, hence the early morning workout. I also make sure I stop working by 8:45 every night to give myself time to unwind with a book before my 9:30 bedtime. Finally, I am learning to find positives in my commute. I hate commuting, especially in rush hour traffic, but I am finally learning to embrace podcasts. Audio books might be next, but really I’ve learned that by having something interesting—and usually funny!—to focus on, my drive passes quickly and I’m also in a good mood when I arrive at my daughters’ school.
I don’t think I’ve really lowered my standards, although my colleague’s advice was spot on. As working parents, we have a lot to manage in too few hours. We learn a routine that will service everyone, but might not be the perfection hoped for. We are spread too thin, but we figure out how to make life work for the whole family.
What it comes down to is that I’m happy to be back at work and I am thrilled to see my girls at the end of the day. I’m lucky we get to have dinner together and can stick to our old bedtime routine—just with less books before bed. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to get back into teaching and I’m looking forward to life—hopefully—becoming easier as the year progresses. And if it doesn’t? Well, there’s always the calm of summer vacation to look forward to!