My Husband’s Transition


Over the past 2 years since I returned to work I have done a lot of transitioning, my life is very different than it was 2 years ago.  And while there are days I still want to fight this life I now lead, for the most part I have settled into the routine of being a working mom and homemaker.  I admit I spent most of the past couple years thinking about myself but as I begin to break free from that and think of others I realize something I did not fully appreciate before.

While I was busy with my own transition my husband was having one of his own. Not just in returning to school but also with taking more responsibility in our home and with our children.  My first year back to work, on top of returning to school and working, he also was responsible for getting our daughter on and off the bus every day and making dinner almost every night.  Tucked within those tasks are: homework monitoring, permission slip management, lunch making, hair fixing, outfit coordinating (OK he didn’t do that last one, Isabelle has her own sense of style).  WOW!  And he did a great job without ever complaining.

Sometimes in our overwhelmed states we forget we aren’t the only person going through this transition from homemaker to working mom.  How can we support our husbands in their transition?

Be Appreciative:

Remember how much you appreciated being acknowledged and thanked for your hard work?  Your husband feels the same way.

Be Supportive:

This one can be a little hard.  I have to admit as much as I loved seeing my husband help out around the house, especially those first few months when I was totally wiped out after work, I was also feeling territorial.  He would take initiative in doing the laundry and I would think, “that’s my job!”   Maybe your husband doesn’t do things your way.  Complaining and criticism are not what is needed during the transition period, support and encouragement are.

Be a Listener:

You may find conversations at your house to be a little different.  Listen to your husband as he shares the satisfaction he discovered in a freshly vacuumed rug.  As you later tell him what happened at the weekly staff meeting you just might discover a new appreciation for each others lives.

How are you helping your husband through the transition?

Is there such thing as home/work balance?

Many years ago I sold Mary Kay Cosmetics.  One of the founding prnciples of the company is “Faith first, family second, career third.”  Conceptually right on the mark of how I believe we should all approach our lives.  But practically we are all in a constant struggle to figure out what that looks like on a day to day basis.

When I was a homemaker and “career” was this sort of vague thing that I did on the side it was easy to prioritize my faith and family first and live in perfect balance.  But now that I am working it tends to get the largest portion of my day.  I don’t feel balanced at all.  If we were going solely on how I spend my time you would conclude that I, along with most working women, consider career the most important thing in my ife.

There are many books and articles written on the topic of work/family balance.  Most of them seem to be about streamlining the home/family life so that we can get on with our work.  That doesn’t sound like balance to me that just sounds like necessary efficiency during this time crunched phase of life.

But if the goal is not balance then what is it?  If family is the most important thing but we are working half the day how is that reflected?  I believe it is reflected in our attitudes.

If you believe that you and your children, marriage, home, relationships can thrive while you are working, they will believe it and they will thrive.  Learning to do it all in a way that doesn’t cause lots of stress will take time to develop but the first step toward figuring it all out is having the right attitude.  As Chuck Swindoll puts it,

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude . . . I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our attitudes.”

What kind of attitude are you going to have today?

I used to be organized

I used to be organized. I used to be able to keep track of things. I used to know what needed to be done next. I used to be able to juggle multiple projects without dropping it, well not much of it. Then I went back to work and now I just feel lost all the time. I have a million things to do and don’t know where to start.

Back when I was at home I had one task, take care of my family. Within that task I did a lot of different things and occasionally branched beyond that one task but the bulk of my time and energy went into my number one priority, my family. Today my family is still my number one priority but they don’t get the largest chunk of my time anymore and deciding which of the many activities necessary to care for a family and home get top priority once I punch out at the end of the day is overwhelming.

Is the most important thing to help my kids with homework? Make dinner? Do the laundry? Date with my hubby? What about extended family and friends? What about me? Most of the time what I really want to do is plan my escape. It seems like too much.

Being organized when you work is not like being organized when you are at home. At home my days flowed easily from one thing to the next. The tasks would often mix together, I would go back and forth from one to the next. Making dinner while helping my daughter with homework, doing the laundry while on the phone with a friend, back and forth to the washer and dryer throughout the day between or in the midst of many different tasks. In the kitchen I might find items that belonged in the office, bathroom and my daughters bedroom. During my deliveries I would find items in each of those rooms that belonged in other rooms which I would pick up. In and out of tasks adding and subtracting as I went through the day.

Now that I work I find there is just not a lot of flow. Some tasks still flow together, I still make dinner during homework. But mostly I have realized that I can’t keep track of things anymore if I let them flow together. I don’t live in one world anymore I live in 2 worlds. I live in my work world and in my home world. I realize I need to compartmentalize a little more.

Lately I have been reading about time blocking. I am still learning to understand but I would say time blocking is blocking out a chuck of time in your day for a specific task. There is a slight nuanced difference between time blocking and time management. Time management is more about keeping track of appointments, meetings and other quantifiable activities within your day. Time blocking is more about blocking off periods of your day for accomplishing your own tasks.

Within a work environment this might look like scheduling a meeting in your outlook calendar in which you are the only attendee so that you can work on a project without risk that someone will take that time for their meeting or help with their project. At home time blocking might help you get in a daily work out.

One interesting take I read on time blocking discussed the idea of simply blocking out the tasks of your day rather than the time. So instead of saying you are going to work out at 6am every day you simply commit to working out every day as a calendar event. The problem with saying 6am is if your kids have you up all night or you are out of town at a meeting or your alarm doesn’t go off, you miss that scheduled window for the day and therefore miss the work out. If instead you simply block off the activity, plan to spend an hour working out each day, then it doesn’t matter if you do it at 6am or 9pm as long as it is accomplished.

I am definately still learning to master time blocking but so far I am finding it to be helpful in increasing my productivity and decreasing my stress level. Here are a few things I have tried:

I have blocked a homemaking task into each day of the week. Monday is laundry, Tuesday is dusting, Wednesday is floors, etc. Some tasks take more time than others but each task is very doable in any given day. And I am finding that because I have these tasks on a weekly rotation, if I don’t get to them this week I know I will have another chance next week. Without a plan it felt like the bathroom was never getting cleaned. Now I know it will get cleaned on Friday. So if I don’t have time to clean up the toothpaste in the sink today I know it will get done in due time. I would have hated this system when I was a homemaker but I am loving the freedom it gives me as a working mom.

At work I have a large and very tedious project sitting in a corner. I could wait until someone thinks it is an emergency and then spend days going insane with the detail of this project but instead I have blocked off 1-2 hours each day to spend getting this task caught up and will continue to assign an hour or so a week to maintaining the sytem once it is in place. Doing it in smaller chunks and seeing the pile shrink keep me motivated.

Recently I committed to a task that took me 20 minutes for 7 days. I time blocked this task into my day. Although I did it at approximately the same time each day, I didn’t assign it a specific time. If I had then I would have begun to worry each day about whether I would be ready or not when the time was nearing, I would rush, panic and end up flustered. And if I had a deadline that couldn’t be put off I would have ended up skipping the task. Knowing I had committed to doing it each day meant that I was prepared to do it at 9pm if necessary but not being tied to a specific time I was able to work my way through the priorities of the day and did it every afternoon without worrying about lining up all my tasks perfectly.

What new time management techniques have you learned recently?

I came accross this book by Glynnis Whitwer called, “I Used to be So Organized”. Somebody who understands me! I haven’t read it yet but it sounds great and I have heard Glynnis speak so I am sure it is great. Definately adding it to my reading list.

Home Help

Things I am learning: My children don’t do much around my house.

I have always struggled with delegating chores to my children. While on the one hand I know I do a lot around the house, on the other hand I don’t really know what they should do. They don’t seem to know how to do things as well as I do and it just seems faster and easier to do it all myself while they just sit around watching TV or playing with friends.

Recently I read that, “Chores are not something we do TO our children but someting we do FOR our children.” Facinating. Profound.

Often, getting kids to help around the house does feel like we are punishing them. And frankly, it feels like we are punishing ourselves. But the reality is that teaching them the skills and discipline required to care for a home is a gift. It is a foundation on which to build. Plus, all our children will at some point, God willing, move out of our house. And I for one would like to feel confident on that day they can take care of themselves and the new space they call home.

Now that I am working it is more important than ever that I get a little help around the house. When I was at home I had the time to just take care of everything myself and sort of hoped my kids were paying attention. Now that I am working it is very clear what I am getting done and what I am not getting done.

You know those old jokes where the husband comes home and the house is a disaster, kids running wild and his wife calming laying on the couch reading a book. He asks what happened, “well you asked me what I do all day so I thought today I would show you by not doing any of it.” Going back to work is sort of like that joke playing out in real life! Suddenly nothing is getting done and you realize how much you were doing. Which is why it is so important to enlist your families help.

Teaching your kids to do chores and getting them to do them regularly can be yet another job, another thing to do in an already overwhelming new schedule. But taking some time to train your children to do a few chores will be worth the effort in the long run. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Start small.

Don’t dump a whole list of chores on your kids. You are all transitioning, decide on a couple things that are most important and let the rest go for now. If your kids haven’t been doing any chores to this point you will all be frustrated if you suddenly announce that they now have to make their bed, empty the dishwasher, sweep the kitchen floor and wipe out the bathroom sink daily plus sort and wash their own laundry. One or two things is a good place to start. Make whatever you add managable both for them and for you. Remember, whatever you ask them to do will require you to teach, follow-up and supervise.

Make it age appropriate.

There are many lists online to help you determine this. A great place to go is the working mom site.

Stay Focused.

Growing up my parents were enthusiastic about chores, charts and rewarding our good and helpful behavior. For about 2 weeks. Then we got bored, they got bored and the whole plan went out the window. My siblings and I laugh today about the number of charts and allowance schedules we had growing up, but also know we all struggle in the same way with our kids. Changing that habit has been about realizing that if we get off track for a day or two, or week or month, we can just re-focus and keep going. The key isn’t the chart or the plan, it is the consistency. And I have found this to be easiest when we keep the plan simple and build on it.

Praise and Reward.

There are so many opinions on allowances and rewards that I am not even going to begin to weigh in on how to go about doing so. What I will say is that kids love to be praised and appreciated. Just as I never wanted to be taken for granted when I was a homemaker, I don’t want my kids to feel they aren’t appreciated for their contribution to keeping our home running smoothly and our families success.

What is your best tip for establishing a chore schedule?

No Comparrison

Several years ago I was lamenting to a friend about how my girlfriends who worked full time seemed to be so much more disciplined than I was. I felt like I was just flopping from thing to thing while they were so purposeful in their lives. She reminded me that I was not a working mom and should not be comparing myself to them. I may not have been as disciplined but I had things they did not have as a stay at home mom.

Now that I am working I need to remind myself not to compare myself to my stay at home mom self. I am not able to do what I did when I was at home. I used to keep my house clean, I used to be available more for my kids, I used to think about healthy meals to make, I was on top of our shopping needs, I knew where everything was and I was a walking encyclopedia of our life. Then I started working and I don’t know anything, I am not available very often and I don’t even care that we are out of shampoo and nobody has made dinner. I am a different person. And that is hard because I liked who I was at home. But, as I slowly begin to embark on this new adventure I am finding myself admiring some things about this working mom side of me too. Mostly I am still getting to know this new working mom within me but there are a few things I like so far: I am learning to be more disciplined and I like that. I am meeting new people and being social and solving problems and learning new things every day and I like that. My family is working more as a team and I really like that.

What do you like about your new working mom self?

Part Time or Full Time it is Still a Transition

Years before I went back to work full time I was already struggling with the transition between work and home. I had taken a part time job to save up for a trip we took to Kenya. I was doing childcare at a health club 2-3 days a week, 2-4 hours per shift. And even then it was a challenge. I wrote this after working a couple extra shifts one week:

I worked 4 days in a row this week and I am still alive and am not having a break down. Of course have done nothing but work, make dinner and check my facebook page this week but still I am good. I started working this past summer and increased my hours slightly in the fall. After 2 days in a row of working I would literally be on the verge of a mental breakdown and completely incapable of making dinner or caring for my family in anyway. Now, before you feel sorry for me, keep in mind I work less than 10 hours a week. I don’t transition well. But, I am now in the groove of working and I sort of like it. I changed my schedule this week plus picked up someone else’s shift which is why I ended up doing 4 days in a row. I know John was skeptical when I told the girl I would take her Sunday afternoon shift that I would still be in my right mind tonight but I have done it. I feel so powerful.

While going back to work full time has been a crazy challenge, even just going back a couple hours a week can completely change the dynamics of your routine and be a big transition. In some ways part time can be harder because you think you can still be a homemaker and work. So you add work but don’t give up anything as a homemaker. When you take a full time job and are out of the house 9-10 hours a day it is pretty clear sign you are going to need a little extra help around the house and probably can’t continue to chair the fall fundraiser or hit the gym with friends every morning at 9am. When you are part time you continue trying to do it all.

Upon my return to full time work I realized I needed to do some releasing. So I stepped down from my leadership position at church, let my house get messy, I even told my daughters 1st grade teacher we wouldn’t be doing homework that year! For me, I needed to totally wipe the plate clean. Once I was feeling comfortable I started adding things back one at a time. So this summer I agreed to plan the church picnic I have planned in the past and told my daughter we would do homework in 2nd grade. But I continue to avoid long term regular commitments because the rest of my family has irregular schedules and I need to be as flexible as possible.

Once upon a time my whole life was a flexible schedule but now I have a rock in the middle of the day I need to work around. For me, the fewer rocks I pile around that rock the better my life flows.

If you are going back to work part time I would encourage you to consider what changes you are going to need to make. What might you need to release and what will you need to work around? A part time job of only a few hours a week might not feel like a big change but any time we add to our schedule we need to make changes.