License to Mom: Life Balance

Scales Stella, a Queens Mama and family social worker, continues her License to Mom series with observations and practical tips for all Queens Mamas. She welcomes questions and ideas at Stella@queensmamas.com.

Mamas are a dedicated, hard working lot. I’ve heard the joke many times that if you just put an army of Moms into any failing industry, they could swoop right in and fix the place up; everything would be organized and labeled, budgets would be strictly adhered to, meetings would start on time, healthy snacks would be provided, and we would do it all without asking for so much as an afternoon off.

If we were able to distance ourselves from our ‘jobs’ a little and look at the amount of work vs. play in our own lives, does it seem fair? There’s a lot of babble about “life balance” in parenting, but it’s really just code for “balancing work and kids”. What’s a term for “life balance” as in “balancing parenting with your own life” – maybe “self balance”? A good friend recently, finally, took her girlfriend up on a night out. She was thrilled to find that she felt like a much better mom the next day. She was in a great mood, which made her more patient and attentive to her 2 young kids. I immediately related to that statement, and could not help but write about it. Every one of us falls somewhere in the “self balance” spectrum; what’s the difference between those who find it, and those who really want it but can’t seem to make it happen?

For Mamas who haven’t had a child-free morning, afternoon or evening in months (or ever), they’ll tell you that it’s impossible. There’s never time, expendable income, or someone to watch the kids. For Mamas who manage to have even a small portion of time for themselves, they’ll tell you all of those things are definitely true, but you just have to make it happen anyway.

Time:
We are past that stage of life where one can sit and wonder what to do with the afternoon. You’re in Mama land now and your child will always feel like a priority; we simply have to force prioritizing ourselves. Tirelessly rearing children for months on end with no break doesn’t make a model mom – OSHA would find it to be inhumane working conditions.

The most balanced moms I know are the ones who schedule their self time with the same structure and commitment as they do their children’s needs: weekly dance classes, book clubs, running, meeting for drinks once a month after the kids are in bed. I hope you’re not getting the impression that this is going to be easy – it often takes multiple tries and cancellations, but keep at it and one day you will find yourself at Starbucks with a good book, grinning like a freed prisoner. I have a friend with 2 children who I’ve been emailing with for the better part of 3 months, trying to figure out a night to go out for dinner. It’s easy to give up but we are determined; plus the hysterical “You’ll never guess why I have to cancel this time” emails are sanity sustaining in themselves.

Money
Working moms often struggle to make ends meet, and stay-at-home moms often feel guilty spending money because they don’t “earn” it. Save your spare change actively into a date night jar. You’ll have enough for a movie and a slice of pizza eventually. Dates do not have to be at night – if you have any kind of day care arrangement, it might be easier to plan a fun day out. Be cheesy – go for a bike ride and pack a picnic lunch (don’t forget the wine!). It might feel a little awkward at first, but it will quickly turn into great fun if you let it.And the most budget-friendly option of all; get the kid out of the house (instructions below) and stay in. It may have been a long time since you and the hubby have been alone, but you may still be able to recall a thing or two that you enjoyed doing together.

Child care
Some of us have grandparents or siblings who would be willing to take our little ones for a night or two, but some Mamas are sure that only they know the absolute best perfect way to care for their child, and should anyone do anything differently, the child will somehow return a wild, untamed, unscheduled beast. If your child has a predictable routine at home, one night of a wonky schedule will not alter all the good you’ve done. Besides, it’s a good thing for kids; adaptability is an important trait in life. As long as you trust that person with your child's life, I would consider it.

For those of us who do not have parents or siblings available to us, all is not lost. There’s another circle of childcare…the trusted friend with kids the same age as yours. Start little – propose a play date switch-off; you drop your kid off at my place for 2 hours, I’ll do the same next week. If all Mamas and kids are happy, you have either found a great few hours reprieve (aaahhhhhh…imagine the silence in your house), or better yet, you can work your way up to sleepovers!

Concerned about taking on someone else’s kid when there are days you can hardly manage your own? We have two families that we toddler swap with regularly, so can tell you truly that a Friday night in with two toddlers is actually heaps of fun. D and her little friends do arts & crafts, have Lady Gaga dance parties, learn the fine art of sharing and tickle fights, and watch a Sesame Street movie piled up on the couch together. Before you know it, it’s time to pop up the pack & play and put two perfectly exhausted toddlers to bed.

Make it happen, Mamas. Start asking your friends if and under what conditions they might consider a baby swap, and keep at it. If you’re a Mama with good “self balance”, tell us how you do it. Go forth, Mamas, and use those well earned vacation days!