Four ways to ‘cancel’ Mom guilt during the pandemic

Originally published on AL.com -July 2, 2020

As a career woman and a mom of six, I’ve had my fair share of long days.

I decided to pursue a career in online education when my youngest child was two years old. Even though I worked from home, I struggled to figure out how to balance everything so I could still make dinner, help with homework, and be an active, present parent.

It was a challenging time in my life, but I’m on the other side now.

Today, my days are very different than they were when I first started my career. I have teenagers now, and my older kids have left the nest and started families of their own. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve heard from so many parents who carry the same anxieties, and guilt, I did when I first started working from home years ago. Here are four strategies I’ve used to help me stay organized…and stay sane:

1. Carve Out Time For Yourself … And Don’t Feel Bad About It

A valuable lesson I’ve learned relates to the importance of finding balance—even during the most hectic of times. There were times I didn’t exercise, drank way too much caffeine, or made poor food choices. But I’ve found that the best version of me appears after I’ve made time for myself and my health. Over time, stress, being overworked, and poor nutrition will make you burn out and make you ineffective in your work and personal life.

So, make time for the things you enjoy. I enjoy crocheting and baking, and even though I’m busy, I always spend time reading before bed. If I ever have time to watch TV, I pick up yarn and commit to an ongoing project (usually baby blankets for all the grandbabies I have). I also love to spend time cooking, and I try my best to put a good meal on the table for my family every day.

Lastly, be kind to yourself by designating someone you can share your feelings with. It’s important to talk to others, commiserate with them, and cheer each other on.

2. Have Dinner With Your Family … Every Night

I know how easy it is to get sucked into working late or attempting to get just one more thing done before the day ends. But no matter what, put your family first.

I realize this is easier said than done, so one of the first things I learned when I started working from home is that waking up early has its rewards. When my kids were little, I got up at 4 or 5 a.m. every morning to get a head-start on the day before they woke up. This allowed me to complete or address my most critical priorities first before I had to stop to get them out the door and off to school.

Another thing that will help you get closer to daily family dinners are “family signals.” For example, when my kids were younger I taught them that a closed door means “shhh…mommy’s teaching a class online.” They also knew if I had my headset on, they needed to write a note and hand it to me. Having clear signals like this helped stop a lot of interruptions.

Speaking of interruptions, you can avoid a lot of them by planning ahead. I’ve found that it is better to work on something for an hour, take a 10 to 15-minute break to check on the kids and spend time with them, and then return to work. When you choose to take a break, you mentally plan for it, and your kids also anticipate your periodic check-ins. This means you can work more efficiently while minimizing interruptions.

Remember—no matter how much you think you need to do, there will always be even more to do. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? If work projects have specific deadlines, you can always stop for a few hours, eat dinner with your family, and then go back to work later in the evening.

3. Lists, Lists, and More Lists … Learn to Love ‘Em

OneNote, a digital notetaking app, is an essential part of my daily life. The app helps me keep folders and subfolders on every detail of my hectic work schedule—from meeting needs to collaborative projects to brainstorming ideas.

Need collaboration on a project? Start a one-note and ask your team to add their ideas. Need a place to put notes in preparation for a meeting? Ask meeting participants to add their agenda items before the meeting. Then, use it throughout the meeting and continue to add to it. This kind of easy planning has been essential for me—not only for day-to-day work but also for strategic planning purposes for the future.

Even though so much of my work life is on the computer, an actual paper notebook is where I plan my personal life. Instead of starting each day with a list, I actually end my day with it. This helps me determine the progress I’ve made and where I still need to go. As part of this process, I review my list from the day before – cross off the things I’ve accomplished and review what I didn’t. I then make a new list for the next day. This routine helps me “let it go” as I shift my mindset from work to my personal life.

And by the way, I’m not the only one in my house with lists. My kids all know the value of hard work and they’ve had to do their part from a young age. They all have assignments they’re required to do to keep our household running. As I explain to them—it’s all a part of working together as a family.

4. Be realistic

As women, we often hold extremely high expectations for ourselves. I used to think I had to have a sparkling clean house, cook three perfect meals a day, have clean cars, kids with straight A’s, and everything crossed off my work to-do list. This is how I measured success. But these are unrealistic expectations; we’re human after all!

I’ve learned that as long as I manage to clean my kitchen, I can live with various shades of messiness throughout the house (as long as it’s all clean). If you can afford it, it’s OK to hire a cleaning service every once in a while, if that would help you. There’s no reason to be ashamed of doing that; it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or a lazy person. Rather, it means you’re a busy person who prioritizes spending time with your family.

I realize that the tips I provide may not work for everyone. I also recognize how fortunate I am to have a job that allows me to work practically anywhere with an Internet connection. However, I hope you can take a few nuggets from my advice and make them work for you.

Kayleen Marble is a former teacher and Head of School at Alabama Destinations Career Academy. She’s currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education at Capella University.

To learn more about Alabama Destinations Career Academy, visit https://aldca.k12.com/

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