It's not easy, but here are some survival tactics that work for many women.
Are you a WAHM (work-at-home mom)?
If so, check the box next to the words that describe you in your current state:
If you checked “all of the above,” then you’re probably wondering if the other WAHMs have it all figured out, or if you’re the only one who’s struggling – and I mean struggling – to make it all work.
I have good news: you’re not alone! All the rest of us are just like you! It’s messy, imperfect, unique, and hard. And yet, we’re also grateful that we have the opportunity to navigate this strange hybrid lifestyle that lets us be with our little ones and bring in income at the same time.
Out of curiosity (and let’s be honest, also to help myself), I asked other moms for their tips, strategies, and best practices to get through the day. This is what they shared.
Accept that you can’t bilocate
Even the most proficient multitaskers have to admit it: when our attention is divided, we aren’t able to give our best.
“You can’t do both. You can work when they are asleep or being cared for by someone else, but if you try to work while they are around, you become an absent parent or your work suffers, or both,” one mom wrote.
Mental work, which often requires a train of thought that goes on for longer than 30 seconds, is not compatible with little children who constantly pepper us with questions and requests. When we are trying to think and they are fussing or squabbling over a toy, or just asking for a snack or needing their poopy butt wiped, our stress level rises and we become impatient, irritable moms.
Kids need and deserve moms who are mentally present, not just physically there. And our job also requires us to be able to write at least a coherent email from time to time.
This is a hard one, but we should probably just accept that physical and mental bilocation are impossible.
Find a mother’s helper
Part-time daycare is a great option for several hours per day, especially if you need more time than their nap schedule allows. But if you can’t afford it, there are cheaper options available.
Some moms hire a “mother’s helper” to play with the children for a few hours while they pound out work in the next room. A mother’s helper could be the 11-year-old daughter of one of your mom friends, or the friendly neighborhood kid who wants to make 8 bucks an hour playing Legos on your living room floor.
“Our mother’s helper jumped at the chance and couldn’t believe she got paid just to play without too much responsibility,” one mom said.
It’s a win-win. The pre-teen is too young to babysit on her own with you away, so you’re training her to be responsible with kids, plus she’s getting some spending money. Your kids are happy because the mother’s helper is young and fun, and probably not immersed in her cell phone like most teenage sitters. And you’re happy because the kids are doing something fun and creative for a few hours while you get work done.
Why not ask your mom friends if any of their kids would like to help out a few hours a week? You could have a regular stable of kids who each take one day of the week. Boom. Problem solved.
Of course, if you have relatives and family members who can pitch in, that’s even better. And husbands can be the best possible allies to help you make it all work. Not to mention swap-trades with other moms, and the life-saving play dates.
Time blocking and radical discipline
With kids on board, rigid schedules are not realistic. But what we can do is block out time every day when the kids are asleep, on a playdate, with family, or in the next room with the mother’s helper, and then maximize that time.
“You have to be very dedicated to schedules and time blocking. Know what you can do when the kiddos are asleep and make sure you have a plan for each day of the most important things you have to get done during that time. Also, know that when you do have a sliver of ‘free’ time, it will need to be spent working,” another mom advised.
A lot of moms resort to what I would call “radical discipline” in their time management. Kids need more sleep than we do, so there is always the option of getting up really early or staying up late after they go to bed. We can fit in about four hours of work time on the margins of the day, although I’ve personally found that early mornings tend to work better because my brain is fried by the time they are in bed.
One mom wrote, “I start my day at 4 a.m. and try to accomplish the most difficult task of the day before my toddler wakes up. For my own sanity, I don’t do any work on Sundays.”
She’s not the only one. Another mom mentioned that she gets most of her work done from 4:00 to 8:00 a.m.
Radical discipline. But if this is what it takes.
Find shortcuts for the nonessentials
Since work and motherhood take up most of a WAHM’s free time, it can be hard to fit in the other aspects of running a home, like cooking, cleaning, laundry, house maintenance, grocery shopping, and all the rest.
Here are some additional tricks that moms use to make their lives easier (whether they work from home or not):
- Shop for groceries online and pick them up curbside.
- Be an Amazon mom, not a Pinterest mom. Perfection is not essential; convenience is.
- Hire someone to clean your house a couple of times a month.
- Try Hello Fresh or a similar service to help you with meals a few times a week.
- Set up a regular schedule of meals so that you don’t have to improvise and do last-minute shopping. For example, Mondays are chicken days, Tuesdays are pasta, Wednesdays are vegetarian, etc.
- Use a Google calendar for the whole family to deconflict schedules in advance.
- Have a set time for kids’ chores, and set tasks that they have to do before they go off and have fun on the weekends.
And last, but never least, enlist your husband’s support. Husbands are often more than willing to help, but sometimes just need to be asked directly and clearly — and before the crisis point. In the end, working and raising a family together is a team effort, and the challenge of time management can help you grow closer as a couple.