It's finally fall. Well, in some parts of the country, it's actually sweater weather; in the South, we're just imagining the day when we stop sweating while walking to our car. Either way, September means that school has started and, pandemic or not, the pressure to do all the things has returned.
In hopes of learning something new this year, I spoke with business owner, former military spouse and long-term homeschooling mom Erika Tebbens. I secretly hoped she'd have a simple tip such as, "Stop doing laundry, and you'll find all the time in the world." She didn't. But she did have some sage, well-practiced advice to help parents "do it all" this fall. Here it is:
1. Figure out the non-negotiables. In business and in life, there are things that are incredibly important to your family. For some, that's travel soccer; for others, it's family dinner every night. Whatever it is, make it the priority and work other things around it.
2. Put the big rocks in first. Once you have established those non-negotiables, put those on the calendar first. Tebbens uses virtual schooling as an example. "You don't get to decide when the school says this is classroom time, so that would be a big rock. You just have to put that in."
3. Look at alternatives. If you don't like the idea of virtual schooling or a hybrid schedule -- or the lack of consistency -- as being the main thing, you can look at more traditional homeschooling or a different option. But if you have school-aged kids, school is going to be a pretty big rock.
4. Evaluate the remaining time. Tebbens says it's then time to "look at the remaining time that you have available and look at all the other stuff that needs to get done, or that you would like to get done, and start to actually schedule it in." It's kind of like your budget. What's left after you pay your bills? Only what you can afford. "You could find a way to make more money, but you can't find a way to make more time," she said.
5. Create routines. When you're clear on what needs to happen and when, start routines. Get up at the same time every day, and encourage your kids to do so as well -- even if they're not leaving the house every day. Establish work hours, school hours and down time.
6. Set yourself up for the week. "If I want to be super focused on my business stuff during certain hours during the day, then I need to prep other stuff that is for my life outside of that time," Tebbens said. This may mean doing laundry daily, starting it in the morning and switching it at lunch. Or maybe you go grocery shopping Saturday and do meal prep Sunday. Find what works for your family and do it.
7. Find things to delegate. Here's a big hint: not everything needs to be done by you. Tebbens recommends that everyone who lives in the house chip in, at an age-appropriate level. Older kids can read to younger siblings; one parent can do homework review while the other cooks dinner. There's a way for everyone to chip in.
8. Outsource if you can! You may not have enough time to get all the things done, so think about what you can outsource. Maybe it's grocery shopping, where you can put together the list and pick it up, or have it delivered. Maybe it's a meal kit delivery box. Maybe you have a cleaning lady or you pay someone in the neighborhood to cut the grass.
9. Get help from afar. In these times, you can't always rely on physical help, but that doesn't mean that a deployed spouse, a friend or even a parent who lives far away can't help. Maybe your dad is a retired teacher and can tutor your child in math via Zoom. Or maybe your sister has time to meal plan and put your grocery pickup order in for you.
10. Set boundaries. As a working parent with kids around, you're going to have to set boundaries -- for both parties. Be clear on what each person needs and stick to it. "Model the respect you want your child to show you, by not interrupting their school work or walking into their space chattering away," Tebbens said. Make sure they know when they can, and should, interrupt you and when they shouldn't.
11. Figure out when you work best. By knowing your natural rhythms, you can set your professional life up for success too. Tebbens said, "Sort your tasks by how much brain power you need to accomplish them." For example, if responding to emails doesn't take too much brain power, do that at a time when you aren't at your peak.
12. Prepare in advance as much as possible. Think about what you can do to make things easier. Are you still packing lunches for your kids to eat at home? Are you switching your hot meal to lunch time so you can all eat together before sports practice? Are you putting snacks within easy reach in the pantry so the kids don't need to interrupt you for help? These things will help minimize distractions and allow everyone to move easier.
13. Take down time. When the day is done, make sure you shut down work and spend time as a family. It's easy to rush back to the computer and keep doing projects when you're working from home, but you need down time.
We're all battling comparisons in our parenting right now -- comparing ourselves to other parents and to our own parenting six months ago, but neither is helpful.
"I think that, especially in this season, it's more important than ever to evaluate what are those non-negotiables and what can you let slide. And letting things slide does not make you a bad person or a bad parent," Tebbens said.
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