Dear Debbie, You have four children and you seem to always be so organized. How do you do it? Cheryl
Did you ask me this question or did I ask you? Balance for me has always been one of my greatest challenges. Ten years ago when I got my first teaching job with Dr. Stahlman, I was a spring chicken, I had one child…one husband…and a plethora of creative energy coupled with a passion for learning. I was on a mission to change the world. I thought I was doing a great job juggling my personal and professional life, so I never felt it necessary to slow down. And then the twins came. You’d think that life change would cause me to slow me down and refocus my priorities. Although bed rest and childbirth did cause a brief intermission, I came back to work with a vengeance. To be honest, not much changed - even with three children. Then God reached down and said, since I didn’t listen to Him the first time when we were blessed with the twins, then maybe I would listen when He sent us number four…the icing on the cake. This time I heard the Man upstairs loud and clear. While I agree with those who find it difficult to work when you have young children, I find it necessary for my mental well-being. You know how the old saying goes…if mama ain’t happy, nobody ain't happy! I believe that to be somewhat true in my situation. For me, I am a better mother and wife when I am working at a job I am passionate about, with people I love & respect, in a school whose mission is to invest in the future…the future of ALL our students! With four children, I have had to make a few changes and become a better manager of my time. Although I still have not found the perfect balance, I do find a few things that have helped me be better organized and maximize my time.
1. Mom’s Plan It Calendar – This calendar displays a month at a time with six lines designated for each family member every day of the week. All six of our names fit! It hangs on our fridge and everyone’s schedule is on this main calendar which includes - dance lessons, gymnastics, karate, birthday parties, church events, doctor’s appointments, projects, date night (yes, my husband and I have to schedule a night out on the calendar), etc. Although Hugo, Peyton and I have our own personal calendars, we coordinate all our activities with what is on this main family calendar. Since Peyton is a teenager with a life and Hugo works two part-time jobs in addition to his full-time job, we have found this calendar helps tremendously with our communication which is critical in our crazy lives.
2. Meals – I have a pre-printed grocery list that hangs on the fridge next to the Mom’s Plan It Calendar. All week long, we circle items on the list as we run out. On the weekend, I plan my meals for the week (usually trying at least one new recipe a month). I only purchase the items I need for the meals that are on the list. Peyton eats out before church on Wednesday night so that is the night I cook Hugo’s favorites that no one else eats, such as Hamburger Helper, SOS, potted meat sandwiches, or Chef Boyardee Pizza in a box (if ya call that cookin’) I know…yuk!
3. Laundry – I wash one load of laundry a day so I usually never get behind. On the weekend, I plan the three little ones' outfits for the week. Every night, I lay out their clothes, and although they’ve been working me lately, they aren’t allowed out of their rooms in the mornings until they are dressed. I also lay out their pjs & clean underwear in the mornings in preparation for baths when I get home from work.
4. Nightly routine – Anyone who knows me knows what a wonderful, helpful husband I have. We have a system from the minute he gets home that requires teamwork. He takes the kids outside while I prepare dinner. We eat dinner together where each of us shares our “high” of the day and our “low” of the day. That’s when I hear all the stories from school. It also lets me know what is important to them and what bothers them that we might need to talk about. Then, I clean the kitchen while Hugo bathes the kids (Remember the pjs are laid out for him but he often puts the girl’s underwear on backwards so that they look like thongs). Usually he takes a kid, I take a kid, Peyton might take a kid…and we do homework. It CAN NOT be done together in our home. Sometimes we read an additional book other than book-in-a-bag together depending on the time due to extra curricular activities. Finally, Hugo brushes their teeth while I lay out their clothes for the following day. He tucks them in while I make lunches and then I follow behind. This is our schedule on Tuesday night but differs somewhat on the other days of the week since one of us has to pick up Peyton from dance or church on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and Piper and Josey from gymnastics on Monday, and Parker from karate on Monday and Wednesday.
Then after the kids are in bed is when the clothes come out the dryer, the email is checked, and school work is done. I don’t need a lot of sleep so I usually lay down about 11:30 and go to sleep between 12:00 and 1:00. I am not a morning person and my partners will tell you that I don’t wake up until after I’ve had my coffee. The same coffee that I lay down and depend on my partners to find for me since I can’t remember where I put it.
5. School - I work the hours I work because I am passionate about what I do. This is the least amount of money I have ever made and the most fulfilled I have ever been. There is not a day that goes by that I am not touched by one of my students or learn a life lesson that makes me a better person. I am constantly growing and being challenged with no day or class being the same. So I am grateful that I have a supportive husband and that I am able to work and have a family.
Working with mice (Kathi and Jess) this year has been a blessing in many ways. One being that I don’t keep the outrageous hours I’ve been known to keep. That doesn’t mean we don’t work as hard but we try to stay more focused and prioritize our time with what’s most important. We tutor one day a week before and after school on Tuesdays. We work late, usually on Mondays and/or Wednesdays (depending on Hugo’s schedule), and we stay after school to do the newsletter on Friday. Additional work, as I said before, is done after the kids & Hugo are in bed.
With all that said, I still don’t feel I devote enough of my time to all the different areas of importance in my life. There are many days that I feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and spread thin, but I’m doing a little better job of realizing that I can’t do it all and do it well. I also realize that much of my stress I often create for myself. So when it gets to that point, I try to step back and look at what is important and where my time is most needed and best spent. I welcome any suggestions from any other teacher or teacher-mom who has other suggestions of how to create balance in your professional and personal life. Debbie