parenting

40 mom-tested tips for balancing work and family

Dec. 9, 2011 at 12:03 PM ET

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Wondering how to create a better morning routine, stay involved in your child's life while you're at work or make the most of your evenings at home? Get tried-and-true advice on ways to juggle work and family from other working moms.

How can I make mornings go more smoothly?

  1. Follow the same consistent routine each day so your children know what to expect.
  2. Get up before your kids do to exercise or have a quiet cup of coffee.
  3. Get showered and dressed before your kids wake up.
  4. Set out your kids' clothes the night before so there's no arguing about what to wear.
  5. Pack your children's lunches and backpacks the night before.
  6. Let children do as much as they can by themselves—get dressed, brush their hair or pour themselves cereal. This can help them feel independent while also freeing you up to do other things.
  7. Keep breakfast simple and portable.

How can I stay involved in my child's school or daycare?

  1. Go on school field trips or volunteer in the classroom if you can take time off from work.
  2. Volunteer to help after work hours—plan parties, prepare crafts, make phone calls.
  3. Stay in touch with your child's teacher or caregiver by phone and email.
  4. Donate snacks and supplies for parties or projects.
  5. Channel some of your work talents into volunteerism. Help build a Website for your child's daycare center, for example.
  6. Ask your caregiver to keep a journal of your child's activities and milestones.

How can I build a positive relationship with my caregiver?

  1. Look at the relationship as a partnership.
  2. Work together to solve behavior problems both at child care and at home.
  3. Drop by as often as you can to say "hello"—share your ideas, express your interests and volunteer to help.
  4. Recognize your caregiver's good work. Send a thank-you card or a small gift.
  5. Bring surprise treats to day care like snacks, crafts or toys for the kids.
  6. Keep your caregiver informed of any changes in your child's schedule.

What can I do when my child is sick and I need to work?

  1. Decide in advance how you and your husband will share this responsibility.
  2. Split the day with your husband.
  3. Work at home if you can.
  4. Line up someone locally who can care for your child on short notice.
  5. Save some of your sick days to care for your child.

How can I make the most of evenings at home?

  1. Give yourself and your kids time to relax and unwind.
  2. Make kid-friendly meals in advance or cook something quick and easy.
  3. Treat yourself to dinners out on occasion.
  4. Turn off the TV and discuss your day during dinner.
  5. Stick to a routine so your kids know what to expect.
  6. Factor in fun and time to snuggle.

Between working all day and dealing with the kids at night, how can I maintain a healthy relationship with my husband?

  1. Spend time together, even if it's just reading or watching TV.
  2. Talk and email during the workday.
  3. Schedule lunch or dinner dates together.
  4. Put the kids to bed early so you have more time to yourselves.
  5. Go to bed at the same time—and make love!

How can I let go of my feelings of guilt about working?

  1. Ask yourself why you feel guilty.
  2. Do whatever it takes to help you feel good about yourself.
  3. Don't identify yourself as a mother only.
  4. Celebrate the fact that your kids are happy and healthy.

Tips for Making Your Mornings Run More Smoothly

Keep It Simple
Have a schedule and stick to it. Get yourself up early, get your exercise in, get your coffee on, then go wake up the kids. If your children are young, get yourself totally ready before waking them up. If your children are older, make them get themselves ready. Have them pick out their clothes, make their beds, brush their hair, etc. Let them get breakfast ready if they can do it unsupervised, or stick to very simple breakfasts like fruit and yogurt or oatmeal. The trick is to keep it simple. —Dori

Keep It Routine
I have a four- and two-year-old, so mornings can be nuts. But over the past few years I have gotten it down to a science. The night before I lay out everyone's clothes—mine and my boys'. I also pack their backpacks with whatever they need for the next day, except for their lunches. In the mornings, I do not make any beds. No one will be home all day, so who cares? Then I get my two-year-old dressed and help my older son if he needs it. We go downstairs and I get their cereal for breakfast, and I shower while they eat. Our routine works very well. We get up at 6am and are out the door by 7:15 every day! —Amy

Keep It Moving
We have a routine, and it works. I'm up by 6:30 and showered and dressed (mostly) before the kids are awake. At seven, I wake up my two sons and my daughter. Clothes are laid out the night before -- that way there is no arguing about what to wear. The boys share a room and have a TV in their room (I know, I know), and they use the TV as their timer: They know that they must be ready to leave before their favorite program is over. During that time all I have to do is worry about getting myself ready, keeping the boys on track and getting my daughter dressed.

Breakfast is simple and something portable—usually granola bars or waffles. The kids eat in their room while finishing getting dressed. Backpacks and lunches are packed the night before. Once they grab those we're out the door. I have to make three drop-offs before I head to work, so keeping everyone moving and happy is critical. It all comes down to the kids knowing the routine and expectations and not varying it.—iVillager Gigi

How to Stay Involved In Your Child's School or Day Care

Volunteer at Night
Not only am I a working mom, but I am a fourth grade teacher too, so I see this issue from both sides. I stay involved in my son's preschool by signing up for parties and bringing treats. Field trips are a good way to get involved too. There is generally more than a week's notice for any school trip so that a working mom can arrange her schedule to help out the teacher. There are also opportunities to volunteer outside of working hours. Call your child's teacher and ask if there are any calls she needs made to other parents or any parties she needs help planning. Primary grade teachers often need help with cutting patterns or tracing things, which can easily be done at night if the teacher sends it home with your child. The PTO/PTA in your school will have lots of committees to volunteer for that meet in the evenings. Just be proactive and make the call to your child's teacher. As a teacher, I love to hear from parents who want to help. The feeling of support and community is great! —iVillager Amy

Do Something You're Good At
Here's a good rule for school involvement: Volunteer to do one or two things very well rather than a bunch of things not so well, and make it something that you enjoy doing. Also, pick something that you can do in the time you have. If you work locally, volunteer to be a lunch or playground monitor. Or channel some of your work talents into volunteerism. This has two benefits: It allows the school to get some free professional-level consulting, and it gives you some experience as a private consultant, which may prove useful someday if the layoff fairy visits. I've focused my school involvement this year on helping to build our school's Website into a better communication tool for parents, students and teachers. —iVillager

Stay in Touch with the Teacher
I generally cannot be at my child's school during the day, but I've found other ways to stay involved. For example, my children's teachers will at times send me homework to do, which can be anything from cutting a million triangles to recording a book on audiotape. I also send in supplies, snacks and donate whenever I can for projects. I also take time off from work to go on field trips, and always attend any plays, parties or other special events going on in the classroom. There are so many ways to get involved. Parents must simply ask the teacher, "How can I help?" Now that email is so prevalent, communication is much easier. Use it! Teachers are responsible for too much today. They need you. —iVillager Dori

Stay Apprised of Your Child's Development
My daughter's babysitter keeps me up to date on meals, naps, playdates and other activities by writing it down in a daily journal. We also talk twice a day—once in the morning and once in the afternoon so that she can share any stories with me. —iVillager Jenny

How to Build a Positive Relationship with Your Caregiver

7 Ways to be Partners
1. Look at your relationship with your provider as a partnership. After all, she is helping you raise your kids. My husband and I are lucky to have found one who shares our values and parents the same way we do. Our kids are growing into wonderful people, and we feel comfortable that they are well cared for in our absence.

2. Talk to your provider about any problems your child may be having. If there is a certain stage he's going through it helps to work through it together and come up with a plan at day care that meshes with your plan at home.

3. Always get your provider's side of the story. If you're upset about something your child has told you about his day, talk to your provider about it before making a judgment.

4. Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right about the way things are handled at day care, question it and don't let up until you resolve it. Talk to your provider about it. Or call the county to find out the laws. Many times, doing some investigating will put your mind at ease. If there really is a problem that you and your provider can't resolve, it might be time to find a new day care.

5. Don't sweat the small stuff. Realize that children are not perfect and that there are going to be days when they hit the kid next to them or refuse to share their toys. Unless this is a reoccurring problem, dismiss it. Everyone has bad days; children are no exception.

6. Bring treats occasionally for all the kids at day care—and not just snacks. Our provider loves it when we bring little crafts or small toys for the kids. It gets all the children excited, makes our kids feel like heroes, and gives our provider a little break.

7. Be sure to keep your provider updated with current phone numbers and emergency contact information. And be sure to inform her of any changes in your schedule (e.g., someone else coming to pick up your kids or that they'll be late the next day). She worries about your kids too! —Donna

Drop By As Often As You Can
Get to know the day care director. It's much easier to initiate change with a friend than with a stranger. Our director maintains an open door policy, and I take full advantage of it by dropping by her office to say hello almost daily. I also have her email address and phone number on speed-dial and I try to participate in the parent's advisory committee, and any fundraisers the day care is involved in as a way to stay in touch.

Make sure that parent visitation is encouraged at your day care and drop in unannounced as often as possible. If you see something you don't like, take your concerns to the director immediately. Day care directors are there to oversee the smooth running of the entire facility. Your child is their concern, and you should never feel that the director won't have time to hear your comments or complaints. If you do feel that way, the ultimate recourse is to pull your child from their institution. A good reputation is difficult to maintain when word gets around that parents are unhappy. —Sarah

Show Your Appreciation
Whenever I need to stay late at work, my babysitter is always happy to take care of my daughter and put her to bed. In addition to paying her for the extra hours, I bought her three cookbooks and some mixing bowls recently since I know that cooking is one of her hobbies. I wanted her to know how much I really appreciate her time and effort, not to mention the love and care she has shown my daughter. The fact that I can always count on her in a pinch means so much. —Jenny

What to Do When Your Child is Sick

Figure Out a Solution in Advance
My husband and I take turns staying home with sick kids when necessary. I am also lucky enough to have my parents and my in-laws in the area. My mother-in law is wonderful about taking a sick child at the last minute. Often I can drop off my son at her house and go into work for an hour or so and then come home to get him. It is important to think about what you will do in this situation before it arises and line up people to be your backup. Talk to neighbors who are stay-at-home moms or family members. You may be pleasantly surprised how many people are willing to help out in a pinch! —Amy

Split the Day with Your Husband
When my kids are sick, they stay home and we find a way to work around it. Usually my husband and I split the day. I go to work in the morning, from 7:30 until 12:30, come home, and then he goes in and works from 2:00 until 8:00 If the split shift doesn't work for that day, then one of us will take the day off altogether. Another word of advice: Never apologize to your boss for being a mom. It only feeds prejudices. Don't ask to take time off when your kid is sick; tell your boss that you will be taking time off. But meet her halfway by working at home if you can, and get your spouse to take time off to care for the kids too. —JoAnn

Save Your Sick Days
My husband is able to work at home more effectively than I am, so he typically stays home with our kids more often. Otherwise, I am happy I have a job that is not customer centered or requires travel, so that I don't have a problem staying home when I need to. I try to save my sick days so that I don't have to take unpaid days. My company is pretty flexible, and everyone here has kids so they understand. —Linda

Tips for Making the Most of Your Evenings at Home

Serve Kid-Friendly Meals
I leave my office at 4:30, pick up the kids at 5:15 and get home about 5:30. It really helps to have dinner already made. The kids want to eat about 6:15. I use my Crock-pot a lot and serve lots of kid-friendly meals. My kids love frozen vegetables, especially broccoli, so it's easy to slip some nutrition into the mix. I also serve them hot dogs, chicken nuggets, chicken breast pieces, and sometimes we have breakfast for dinner -- eggs, bacon and cereal. About once a week we go out for fast food. Often my husband and I eat later, since it's too much to try and get everyone to the table at the same time. But we do have dinner together as a family on the weekends. —Gigi

Discuss Your Day During Dinner
I work 7:30am to 4pm, so I can have the children picked up and dinner started by 5:30. That gives us a little breathing room in the evenings. The kids get to play or watch a little TV before dinner, but TV is definitely off during dinner. Aside from eating, we discuss our days and other issues during dinner. After dinner there might be some more play time, but usually it's PJs, teeth brushing, story time, then bed. After the kids are in bed, I clean the kitchen (if it isn't already done), prepare lunches for the next day, and perhaps start dinner for the next day. I also set up the coffee on a timer for the a.m. Then I hopefully get an hour of TV before bed. —Susan

Plan Ahead
I am trying to plan more dinners ahead, so that chicken, steak or salmon is marinated overnight. Then I can leave instructions and dry ingredients and sauce packets out on the counter and my husband can cook it while I work out. My girls are two and five and after dinner the goals are: two-year-old goes to bed by 8:30, five-year-old by 9:30. I alternate fun "rewards" with required "work"—bath is fun, pajamas are required, snack is fun, brushing teeth is required, stories are fun, bed is required. I also threaten that if we don't move it along we won't have time for stories. Also they get to pick shower or bath, and we wash hair and bodies, then get out the toys. They play in the water for 15 to 20 minutes while I clean up after dinner. —Linda

Find Time to Relax—and Have Fun
There are three huge timesavers I use for after school and work. First, I go into work early, before 8, so that I can leave work by 4:30 and get home before 5. My kids don't usually want to eat dinner until after 6 so I can actually relax, read the mail, and sit for a few minutes before starting dinner. Second, I make sure dinner preparation is easy, no more than 15 minutes. I use the "make ahead" method. That is, I usually have a few things in the freezer that I can simply defrost and cook like casseroles, marinated chicken, burgers, etc. Either that or I put something into the Crock-pot before work and it's cooked when I come home. Third, my son's school provides after-school care. During that time he gets most of his homework done, so when he comes home there is more downtime for him to enjoy and less whining. Before dinner, my kids usually do their own thing—TV, games, outdoor play if it's warm and light out. After dinner, we usually hang out together in the family room, either with the TV on or without. Bath time starts at 7:30 and we try to get the kids in bed (if not actually asleep) by 8:15. —JoAnn

How to Stay Connected with Your Husband

Make Time to Talk
After the kids are asleep on the weekends, my husband and I often just sit in the living room with the lights off and talk quietly and unwind. —Sarah

Create Couple Time
Go to bed early sometimes. Turn off the phone. Decline some social invitations to make just couple time. Have at least one night a week be "couple time." Email and talk during the workday. Put the kids to bed early. —Felicia

Make Lunch or Dinner Dates
My husband and I go out for lunch about once a week. We email each other quite a lot during the day. We send jokes and links to Websites. We have even worked out some bigger issues via email, because then you have to think over your reply and not fire back some off-the-cuff response that you can never take back. We also try and plan nights out alone together. —Linda

Make Love!
I would say that, hands down, the years when children are young are the most difficult for a marriage. The most important thing to remember is that times will change and little ones won't be so dependent as time goes on. Although most of us struggle with this, the single most important thing one can do to maintain a healthy relationship is make sure you have a healthy sexual relationship. Lock doors, sneak into other rooms after the kids are in bed, whatever you have to do. —Carol

Share Chores
My husband and I generally talk, read or watch TV together after the kids have gone to bed. We'll also wash/dry/fold laundry and sometimes do other chores during the commercials. Each of us has some nights where our own activities are scheduled: He has church folk group practice on Wednesday nights. I go to school fundraiser meetings or the occasional "girls night out." And, of course, there are sometimes where what we do to entertain ourselves after the kids are asleep is not fit for discussion in a family-oriented Website! —JoAnn

How to Let Go of Your Guilt

Get to the Root of It
Ask yourself why you feel guilty. If the reason is based on how another person feels (your mom, your mother-in-law, the stay-at-home mom down the street), forget about it. They don't have your life so they have no right to make you feel guilty any more than you have a right to make them feel guilty about their life choices.

If the reason is based on how you feel about yourself (if you feel you don't see your family enough or that you're too involved with work), then by all means seek a change. Shorten your hours, cut down on travel, split shifts with your spouse, or be bold and change careers. Do whatever it takes to make you feel good about yourself. Just be sure that you're doing it for you, your spouse and your kids and not for someone else. —JoAnn

Change Your Way of Thinking
Guilt is a useless emotion. It can make you unproductive, resentful and depressed. It is so easy to identify ourselves as having only one role in life—mother—and leaving it at that. However it is important for us to maintain separate identities, for our children's well-being and our own. I am one of the few who actually enjoys working, and that makes it so much easier for me. While I'm at work I give 100 percent of myself to the task at hand and take great pride in doing a good job. The same is true when I'm at home with my children.

You only get one chance to live this precious life. You have to make the most of it while you are here. I don't identify myself by what I do any more than I identify myself by my children. I am a person in my own right and I (usually) am fairly happy with who I am. Mother, wife, employee, student—these are just labels. I don't feel guilty about working any more than I feel guilty about taking classes. I am happy with the choices I've made regarding child care, my boys know who their mommy is and they are well adjusted little guys who are happy to go to school and learn new things. —Sarah

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.


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