In my life right now I am juggling more roles than I have ever juggled, and sometimes I feel like I drop more balls than I keep in the air. Right now my roles include (but are not limited to):
- a wife;
- a mother to two young kids (with one on the way);
- a full-time grad student;
- a part-time university First-Year Writing instructor;
- a sister;
- a friend;
- a daughter;
- and a youth Sunday School teacher.
On the days I feel like I have been a fantastic student, I realize that I didn’t quite give my children the time they needed, or I neglected to give my husband the affection he was seeking. On the days I am “the best mom ever,” I fall behind on my grading and school work.
Even though it seems like I am out of balance more often than I would like to be, the days I “get it right” all seem to have some things in common.
I would like to share a list of ways I work to achieve balance in this particular crazy phase of Mommihood.
- Put God First
The days I “get it right” always start out with prayer and devotional. Right now I am learning more about the characteristics and attributes of Jesus Christ. Taking time to pray for stamina and the ability to appropriately prioritize my day, accompanying that with study of God’s word, and journaling about what I have learned and how it applies to me help broaden my perspective and put my mind at ease. I feel like God is more likely to guide me throughout the day when I have taken the time to ask Him for help and to ponder on His word.
This is a big one! I don’t know about you other Mommi’s out there, but it is easy for my husband to fall back into old habits. Our oldest child was born almost five years into our marriage and I was able to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. With a child who loved her naps and learned to entertain herself early on, I was able to keep our two-bedroom apartment virtually spotless, the laundry was always clean and folded, and dinner was always ready and waiting for my husband when he got home from grad school. Before I applied for my own graduate education, we had a chat about how things around the house would have to change. Responsibilities would need to be delegated, and I would need him to take on more of the household responsibilities. He fully agreed to do whatever I needed, but about three months into grad school, it was like we never had that conversation. I found myself staying up late working on a paper and cleaning the kitchen while he relaxed on the couch watching YouTube videos. Needless to say, there were many nights I went to be exhausted and fuming.
After some serious contemplation and conversation with God, I decided to confront my husband about it. I told him how exhausted I was trying to balance everything and reminded him of our earlier conversation about needing him to take a larger role in the household duties. Because he is an amazing man, he quickly apologized and promised to do better. And he did do better. For about two months. And then I had to remind him again. And then again two months after that. He still needs a reminder every two or three months, but being willing to ask for help has made my life easier and our home and children happier.
This one is often easier said than done. I found that if I want time for self-care I am going to have to get it early in the morning while everyone is still asleep. My alarm usually goes off at 5:00 am. After my morning prayer and devotional, I exercise for 20-30 minutes. We are too cheap to pay for a gym membership, so I exercise in my living room or go on a run outside. The winters in Utah (where we live) are freezing, so I usually save my outside runs for the other seasons. Inside I like to do yoga, cardio, and strength training videos I find on YouTube. Not only is the exercise one way that I participate in self-care, but it also gives me the energy I need to conquer the day. Exercise doesn’t have to be your thing, but you need to find something that you do just for you in order to pamper and take care of yourself.
This year, I have been more open with my husband about my need to have some time alone to do something that isn’t school work or grading or Mommi-ing. On Saturday’s I try to take at least an hour of “personal time.” Sometimes I go to the mall and enjoy a good book while eating a soft pretzel. Other times I go into the bedroom and take a nap or take a walk around the block. Someday, when we have a bathtub large enough for me to take a bath in, I might even treat myself to a nice, hot bath. A few months ago I went and got a massage, my first massage, which was amazing!
Taking time to nourish my spirit and to do things that I enjoy does wonders for my energy levels and makes me much better at balancing all of my roles.
I love a good list. Grocery Lists. To Do Lists. Book Lists. Lists of Kid Activities. I love lists! It is so satisfying for me to check an item off of my To Do List. When I get to the end of the day with everything checked off of my list it makes me feel so accomplished. There are a few tricks when it comes to creating that list, though.
First, get God involved. He can help you prioritize your day so that only the most important things make the list.
Second, keep your list short and simple. Think about your day and write down things you realistically think you can get done that day. It is okay to be ambitious, but not to the point that you reach the end of the day and feel bad about what you did not do instead of good about what you did do.
Finally, no one ever said you can’t add already completed tasks to the list and then check them off. There are multiple times throughout the day that I find myself confronted with things to do that were completely unexpected. A student shows up to my office hours, we run out of milk, the baby dumps his snack all over the floor and I have to sweep it up, or I have to withdraw cash for the babysitter from the ATM. I always add these unexpected tasks to my list and immediately check them off. At the end of the day when I look to see what I have accomplished, I can see these additions and still feel awesome. “In spite of all the extra things that came up today, I still accomplished three of the four things I set out to do today. AND I did a whole lot more.”
So, when faced with an unexpected task, add it to the list and then check it off. It is a wonderful feeling.
This advice came from one of the grad students in my program. She was a year ahead of my cohort and part of a panel of grad students who volunteered to answer our questions. The question, “What is the best piece of advice you received when you started grad school?” was asked. This particular grad student replied, “do the small things as they come. If you get an email, answer it. If you have a short reading to complete for class, read it. If a scholarship comes up that you think you should apply for, fill out the application. Do the small things as they come and they won’t turn into a big thing that you have to tackle later.”
I applied this advice to my school work and my home life. Do the small things as they come. If my son asks me to read him a story while I am cleaning the bathroom, stop right then and there and read the story. If my daughter wants to tell me a story about the game they played at school, stop what I am doing and listen to her story. If my husband needs a bit of quality time, stop what I am doing and enjoy it. If I am in the middle of writing a paper for class, and my kids want me to play outside with them, I go play outside with them. If I don’t let the big things get in the way of the small things it seems like the big things have a way of working themselves out. I have also noticed that some of the most important things are the small things.
This has worked for me on so many levels! At home, I set the timer for playtime with my daughter. She is good at entertaining herself, but sometimes she just wants to play with her mom. She usually doesn’t want to play with me until I sit down at the computer to grade assignments or read for class; however, keeping to my previous suggestions, I stop grading in order to do this small thing, but I also set a timer to remind me when it is time to stop playing and get back to work. While part of me hates to set the timer when I sit down to play Legos with my daughter, the other part of me feels relieved that as soon as the timer goes off I can get back to work. I also do the reverse. I will set the timer when I sit down to start working and then promise my daughter we can play when the timer goes off. This helps both me and her. It helps her to know that I will come and play with her when the timer goes off and it helps me to balance my school work time with play time.
When I am in my office on campus, I also set the timer. When I was writing my thesis and had to conduct extensive research, I set the timer for an hour or two to help me focus on the task at hand. When I have essays to grade, I set the timer. The trick is to honor that timer, but also honor yourself. If you really do need to move on to a different task when the timer goes off, allow yourself the ability to move on. If the timer goes off and you feel like you can keep working, then reset the timer and keep working.
Timers have saved me these past two years, but I am looking forward to the upcoming days when I can sit down and play with my kids without setting a timer.
I have an average of five hours on campus before I pick up the kids from daycare. Those hours are filled with teaching, mentoring, attending my own classes, and school work. I remember one day a fellow classmate came to talk with me when I was in the middle of preparing for a class and we talked for over an hour about the most ridiculous things. We stopped talking because my class was starting, but I wasn’t prepared for class and I also didn’t accomplish the other items on my To Do List because of the time spend shooting the breeze with my classmate.
Now, I am not saying that you should never talk to your classmates or coworkers at work, but sometimes it is appropriate to unleash the power of the headphones. I can’t listen to music while I work, but I have found that if I am wearing headphones, my classmates are less likely to linger for long discussions and I can get more work done. Some days I am able to get all of my coursework and lesson planning finished at school so that when I get home I can focus on my kids. Other days, I need about an hour to finish up assignments at home. But needing only one hour to work at home instead of three does so much to help with the balance!
About a semester into grad school, I noticed a rift growing between me and my husband. Our relationship had shifted from romantic to roommate and I couldn’t even remember when we made the switch. I reached out to a sister from church and asked her if she would be willing to babysit my kids two or three times a month so my husband and I could be alone together. She readily agreed and my husband and I were able to get back into a regular date night routine.
When I had a draft of my thesis due to my committee chair, I realized that I had almost zero time to write. I reached out to my mom (who lives about two hours away) for help. She was willing to take my kids for a week so that I could devote all of my spare time to drafting my thesis. I was able to work guilt-free, and my kids were able to have a fun time with their grandparents.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Each of the roles you currently occupy are important and deserve attention, but part of finding balance is knowing when to let some things go and put other things on hold.
So, there you have it. These are the things I do in order to help myself balance it all. To recap:
- Put God First;
- Communicate with Your Partner about Your Needs;
- Make Time for Self Care;
- Make a List;
- Do the Small Things as They Come;
- Set Timers;
- Unleash the Power of Headphones;
- Ask for Help.
I think the important thing to remember is that there will be days when you’re just off, when it seems like nothing is going right, and you feel like a failure. The important thing to remember is that you are not a failure, you are a hardworking Mommi and you are human. Be thankful for the good days, be patient during the hard days, and know that God knows you, loves you, and will reward you for your sacrifices.
I will leave you with some words from my girl, Alicia Keys:
I am a Superwoman
Yes I am
(Yes she is)
Even when I’m a mess
I still put on a vest
With an S on my chest
I’m a Superwoman
What do you do to help you balance all of your roles?
You got this, girl!
Peace + Love,
Mommi Cree Phillips Taylor
Cree Phillips Taylor is a 27-year-old married Mommi of two—almost three—young kids. Her daughter “K” is four-years- old; “M,” a son, is 20-months-old; and a new baby girl will be making her debut in June 2020. Cree has a Bachelor’s of Science in English Education with a minor in History Education. In May 2020, she will graduate with her Masters of Science in English—Literature & Writing. Her research focuses on empowering black and brown voices in the Language Arts classroom by using the literature of Authors of Color to foster conversations about race and identity. She believes the classroom is a place where difficult discussions about race and White Supremacy should be tackled openly and honestly with students in age-appropriate ways. Cree is a certified Secondary Education teacher and has been teaching First Year Writing courses at the university level for the past two years in addition to working on her master’s degree.
While going to school full-time and working part-time, Cree has had to be more open and honest with her husband (who works full-time) about school, work, and family schedules. She has learned a lot about the importance of communication between partners and between parents and children. She has been striving to balance education, work, and family life with appropriate self-care. Once she feels like she finally has the balance worked out, life happens and she has to re-calibrate and try again. In the rare instances she finds herself with free time, she enjoys exercising, reading, writing, knitting, waterskiing, being outdoors, going on dates with her husband, and, yes, playing with her children.