168 hours — the amount we all have per week — is a lot of time. I maintain that it is enough time to build a rewarding career and have a family and personal life too. But how, exactly, does one fit everything in? What does “having it all” look like on an hour-by-hour basis?
After Cloud — the nom de blog of a biotech executive and mom of two who writes at Wandering Scientist — wrote about her usual logistics, feMOMhist suggested a blog carnival in which lots of people would write about their work and family schedules. The blog carnival is in honor of International Women’s Day.
To a degree, I’ve already posted my schedule — multiple times! You can see several 168 Hours challenges here, here and here. During these weeks, I kept a log of how I was spending my hours and posted it on the blog. I think time logs are more accurate than attempts to describe a schedule, but the point of this blog carnival is more narrative: to talk about how working parents do what they do.
For starters, a bit of background: I’m 33, and I have a 4 (almost 5!) year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 5-month-old who’s still nursing. Professionally, I’m an author of various life management books (All the Money in the World, 168 Hours and Grindhopping). I also write for a variety of different places including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, City Journal, Fortune.com, a 3x/week blog for CBS MoneyWatch, Real Simple, Prevention, etc. My husband travels a lot for work. Partly for this reason, my mother-in-law has been staying with us for the past 6 weeks to help out. We have a full-time nanny for regular workday care, and the 4-year-old is in preschool 5 mornings a week, and the 2-year-old 2 mornings a week. I work in a home office.
So here we go. The photo on this post is of my office on a really good day. I try to keep the desk relatively neat, though, because I spend a lot of time in here.
These days I’m getting up between 6:30 and 7. Often, I’ve been up at 4:30 or 5 to feed the baby, but sometimes she sleeps through the night, and if she doesn’t, she’ll go back down in my bed until 6:30 or 7. The wake-up is usually precipitated by either my husband’s alarm or my 4-year-old jumping into bed with us. If my husband is traveling, sometimes I set an alarm for 7-ish.
We get up and have breakfast. The baby often wants to eat again around this time, which is a fascinating logistics challenge to get a 4-year-old and 2-year-old breakfast if I’m by myself with them. This is one reason my mother-in-law has been staying with us for the past 6 weeks, but she’s refused my pleas to stay forever, so it’s back to getting frozen waffles out of the fridge with one hand while holding the latched-on nursing baby with the other next week.
Our nanny shows up at 8am. She helps the kids get dressed and get teeth brushed. During the 8-8:45 window (when my mother-in-law isn’t here) I try to crank out a blog post for my own blog or CBS MoneyWatch, or some other quick hit like answering a few emails or sending a pitch. At 8:45 either I take the 4-year-old to school (a 5 minute drive) or else the nanny does while I stay with the other kids. 9-noon is time for focused work, with some interruption for baby feeding as necessary. This is when I try to tackle any longer writing assignments, like working on book chapters or writing an essay or column.
At noon the 4-year-old comes home (either I pick him up or nanny does with the other one of us handling the other kids) and we all have lunch together. I don’t schedule anything from noon-12:30 most days so I can sit and eat with the kids. In the afternoon, I tend to schedule phone interviews, or handle things like social media, quick edits, etc. My business is a 2-woman operation these days, and my marketing guru (who works remotely) has massively boosted my productivity.
I go for a 30 minute run most days after the baby’s afternoon feeding. At 4:30-5 I start triaging so I can finish anything that needs to happen that day by 6. My goal is to spend the last 15 or so minutes of the workday reading something relaxing, as if I were commuting, but this usually doesn’t happen.
My mother-in-law has been cooking dinner the past few weeks, which has been awesome. If she’s not here, I try to come out from my office at 5:45 to make the boys dinner. Sometimes I’ll make myself something, or else if my husband’s coming home at some point in here, I’ll wait. Nanny leaves at 6 most days, and I give the kids dinner. Hang out for an hour or so, playing, reading stories. If I’m by myself, I’ll put the 4-year-old and 2-year-old in front of the TV while I go put the baby to bed around 7:30, aiming to be done by 8. Back down to read more stories with them, play trains, cars, etc. I tend to do baths for the boys on nights another adult is around due to concerns about the baby crying and needing to be picked up while I’m in the bathroom watching them. We try to be in their room by 8:40pm for jammies, teeth brushing and stories, then lights out at 9.
Then it’s back down to my computer most nights. I’ll catch up on email I didn’t get to, and try to tee up a blog post for the next day (or at least figure out what I’m writing about for here or CBS MoneyWatch). I’ll sometimes answer Q&A requests, respond to blog comments, sometimes read other blogs during this time. It’s also a good time for coming up with pitches for different publications.
If my husband’s around we might watch a Jon Stewart (TiVo’d). I shower at night. At least I’m no longer pumping at night (a little trick I learned by the second baby to keep my milk supply high enough for exclusive nursing, even if I miss a feeding. Start pumping as soon as your milk comes in so you produce more than the baby needs. The upside is this makes nursing easier. The downside is that I hate, after a long day, to spend even 8 minutes tethered to a breast pump).
In bed at 10:30, reading until around 11. Sleep.
Variations: Our nanny stays late on Wednesdays so we can either do date night or so I can get more work done or go out with friends. She then comes later, like 11, on Thursday and Friday mornings, since my older two are both in preschool those days. So I tend to get them both ready for school and do the school run with all three in the car (if mother-in-law isn’t there). Sometimes I’ll take the baby grocery shopping after the school run, since I can’t necessarily get that much work done while I’m taking care of her those mornings. Otherwise, she and I hang out while I do light work (answering a few emails, easy edits). Or we just play if she’s looking extra cute.
Outsourcing? Professional cleaning for floors, linen-changing, kitchen, etc. Hubby does laundry (lately mother-in-law has been).
Weekends: Nothing set much at this point. Some housework. Yard work. I try to do a run. We do at least one family activity: zoo, aquarium, visit people, children’s museum. Sometimes we go to church on Sunday morning. We make hamburgers and hot dogs on Sunday nights. Sunday night is a work night after the kids go to bed to get ready for the week.
I’ve been aiming to do more things with friends, and I usually have one event a week. This is a part of my life I hope to scale up when I’m no longer in the kid-chaos that comes from having three under age 5. I go into New York every two weeks or so, and that nicely muddles the rest of this schedule up. We aim for date nights every few weeks. I’d like to run more, and hope to do it in the early mornings as the weather gets nicer.
Overall thoughts: Things are a bit hectic now but will calm down when I’m no longer feeding a baby every three hours in the midst of a book launch. I’ll use some of that time to work, and some to go for longer runs. I’ve been working on reducing the “mental load” problem that comes with running a household. Hiring a good nanny is key to this. My 4-year-old showed up at preschool with handmade Valentines that I had little to do with.
I’m pretty happy with how I’ve worked out the logistics of my life. I’ve written, and had published, two books in the past three years, during which I also had two babies (in addition to the first). I’ve run a marathon and a half marathon. I work a lot, but I also eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with my kids more days than not. I’m slowly making more friends in my new home, but I still get back to New York relatively frequently.
How do you make your life work? Feel free to post here, or if you have a blog, I’m sure the blog carnival could use lots of other entries!