Today’s reader question comes via Twitter, and has to do with life transitions. A new mother has decided to stay home with her baby. She asks: what time management tips do I have for a new SAHM (or SAHD)?
With this question, I am reminded that time management is really life management. This question is less about when is the best time to grocery shop or what should I do while baby naps than it is about figuring out new priorities, and making space for them. To that end, here are some important questions to ask that can then help you manage your hours (and life).
Am I staying at home for a few years, or am I retired?
If you have the financial means to be done with paid work, more power to you. However, most people who stay home with their kids intend to focus on home for a few years and then transition back into paid work later on. If that describes you, then your 168 hours should contain at least an hour or two devoted to professional maintenance. It doesn’t need to be a lot, but even from the beginning it shouldn’t be nothing, because you want to enable that transition should circumstance (e.g. a spouse’s job loss) or choice (e.g. wanting to send kids to private school) require it.
Professional maintenance can take lots of forms.
You could do whatever continuing education requirements are necessary to keep a license current. You could help plan an annual industry conference. You can keep a running list of people to reach out to every few months. You can maintain a social media presence designed to position you as a thought leader. You can take on the occasional consulting project. You can volunteer with an eye toward demonstrating your professional skills, though handle this with care. There’s some evidence that kid-related volunteering is perceived less positively for women than not-obviously-kid-related volunteering.
Whatever it is, carve out some regular slot of the week (early AM on Tuesdays? Nap time on Wednesdays?) and make a habit of it. Keep a record of what you’ve done so you can refer to it when it’s time to ramp back up.
What would I like to get out of this time with my kids?
Presumably, you’re choosing to stay home because you’d like to be intimately involved in your children’s day-to-day lives. The problem is that when you’re always with them, it’s easy to stop being really with them, in the sense of interacting, playing, reading, planning adventures together and the like. There’s always something else one could be doing, but you’re probably not choosing to stay home with your kids to spend all your time on laundry and Facebook. So be mindful, ask what kind of memories you’d like to make with your kids, and then create circumstances where such memories are more likely to happen than not.
How much social interaction do I (and my kids) need?
Some people are perfectly happy actually being “at home” much of the time, but isolation drives others nuts. Figure out where you are on this spectrum. Then structure your life accordingly with like-minded playgroups, classes, standing play-dates and the like. Going to the office gives days a structure whose absence can make life disorienting. I know I experienced this when I first started freelancing full time. Maybe you don’t need a daily rhythm. But if you do, design one. Pro tip: The post-nap slot is often harder to deal with than the morning. When I’ve got the kids, I love to schedule 4 p.m. playdates. Sometimes these involve wine.
How much me time do I need?
An unsung benefit of work: you can go to the bathroom by yourself! If you need space, you can find a quiet corner of the cafeteria and eat alone! Many new parents don’t appreciate these things until they disappear. If you’re more on the introverted side, being constantly surrounded by small children who want something can be tough. Even if you’re more out-going, you’ll likely want some grown-up time. So acknowledge this and figure out when you can still do your own thing sometimes apart from the kids. Your spouse can take the kids for a few hours on the weekend, or one evening a week. If he/she has unpredictable hours, you could hire a sitter, ask for help from extended family, or work out swaps with other parents. Then use this time for something fun, rather than picking up the playroom.
A version of this post appeared on Laura Vanderkam’s website where she writes about strategically managing time between her work and family.