“I’ll warn you in advance, you may hear a little background noise,” I say as I start an interview. My daughter, 3, is napping, but I know enough not to count on her being quiet through my work obligations.
The woman on the end of the line — a researcher on family and labor policy — chuckles. If that intro doesn’t sum up the challenges facing working moms, particularly during the pandemic, nothing will.
In the past year more parents than ever are grappling with balancing work and parenting, especially with everyone at home. It’s been great to see more wide conversation about how we need policies that support parents, especially moms. But many mothers have pointed out that the conversations highlight the problem, but not enough solutions.
I by no means have the answer figured out. But for seven years I’ve been working from home with my daughters. Although their dad stays home with them now, for many of those years I had to figure out how to balance work and childcare. Along the way I’ve found a few ways to keep my sanity intact. Here’s what’s worked for my family.
Exchanging Childcare With Other Moms
When my first daughter was a baby, I met another work-from-home mom at a local playground. Out of the blue, she messaged me to ask if I’d be interested in a childcare swap. The idea was bold, but genius. For the next three years, until she moved out of state, my daughter spent two days a week at her house, while her daughter spent two days a week at mine. We had childcare that was reliable, without a huge price-tag.
After she moved I reached out to another local family. They used their grandma for daycare, but I knew she would appreciate a kid-free day too. We began doing our own childcare swap, this time with two kids each. Even during the pandemic, they’ve been part of our small pod. Having another family that we can rely on, whether for scheduled childcare or a quick emergency that arises, has been a huge stress relief.
Putting yourself out there and asking for help from another family can be awkward. I probably wouldn’t have had the gumption if someone hadn’t asked me first. But the rewards can be huge, for both families.
Outsourcing When We Can
Before my husband was a stay-at-home dad, he was working long and irregular shifts. We were rarely off and awake at the same time, which made it impossible to join forces on things like projects around the house or deep cleaning.
That’s when we started outsourcing what we could. For a while, we had a cleaner come every other week so do the grunt work like mopping the floor and cleaning the bathrooms. Now, we pay a bit extra for grocery pickup or delivery. The time and stress we save is well worth the money that we spend.
Giving The Kids More Space
Did you know that moms today spend more time with their kids than moms from previous generations? While that may sound great, research also shows that doesn’t improve outcomes for kids. But spending time with moms who are stressed or crappy can have a negative impact.
I remember that when I tell my kids, frequently, to go play by themselves. It’s important to me that they know how to entertain themselves, and it’s also important to me that I have some free time spent not interacting with my kids. While I love their stories and silly games, I also appreciate silence or an adult podcast. Today there’s a lot of info telling moms to be on-call 24/7, but that just isn’t realistic for my family.
Mom are under more pressure than ever right now. Hopefully, the pandemic will lead to some large social changes, but until then, each of us have to figure out the little ways to make our lives run more smoothly. Whether it’s running by yourself, baking after the kids go to bed, or investing in some noise-canceling headphones, there’s no shame in finding solutions that work for you. Remember, a happier mom leads to happier and healthier kids, and that’s something we can all get on board with.
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