Like most work-at-home mothers, I wage a daily battle against the clock to get the kids dressed, emails sent, homework completed, proposals drafted, calls returned, and dinner cooked all within an impossible twenty-four hours.
Struggling to do it all, I began multitasking, but I found that, when I did everything at once, nothing was done well. This, in turn, led to guilt: I got to the soccer game late, I didn’t have time to distribute the invoices, and I was on conference calls the entire time my daughter and I were making cookies for her class. Wasn’t the whole reason I left the office to work at home so that I could spend more time with my kids? Yet, here we were together, and I was so distracted with everything that still had to be done, that I wasn’t present.
As the CEO of Hills of Africa travel, a premier provider of personalized, luxury safari vacations, I have big responsibilities at work. Clients depend on me to plan once-in-a-lifetime safari trips for them, and it’s hard to do that when I am scrambling to clean up the house during the few quiet hours my kids are at school. On the other hand, I don’t want to sacrifice time with my kids. They are only young once, and this time with them is precious. I want them to be experiencing their childhood with me instead of a nanny.
Exhausted, guilt ridden, and overwhelmed, I had to make a change. Here’s what I did . . .
My first step was to create a structured work schedule around the time my kids are at school, 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During this time, 100% of my energies are focused on Hills of Africa—no more scheduling play dates or baking during conference calls. No matter where I am in my work at 3:30, I close up shop and refocus all my attention on my kids.
The old me would sit in front of the computer first thing in the morning and look through a few emails before jumping up to brew a pot of coffee or download a few songs to listen to while I worked. Each of these small tasks took time and broke my concentration. Now, before I even sit down at my desk, I have cup of coffee in hand, my favorite classical play-list on, and my personal phone line set to go straight to voice-mail, so that I can sit down for several hours of uninterrupted work. It’s amazing how much more I began to accomplish when I wasn’t jumping up to switch the laundry every couple of hours!
Just being physically there with my kids was not enough. I had to be mentally and emotionally present for our time together to be meaningful. Now, when I’m with my family, I’m not just there, I’m present, listening, and interacting. I mentally free myself from distracting work obligations when I’m with the kids. At the end of the day, my kids crave my attention more than my home-cooked meal, and there’s no shame in occasionally ordering a pizza if it means that we get to eat and engage in conversation together as a family.
Let It Go
If that client call has yet to be made and those pots and pans still need to be washed when the kids arrive home, I forget about it. It can get done the next day. I’ve learned that supermom is an impossible notion, and I can’t do everything by myself. I now have my groceries delivered by Peapod and outside assistance with housekeeping. Anything that allows me to focus my work time completely on my job and my family time completely on my kids is a worthwhile expense.