Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. --Chinese Proverb
‘Twas the night before school started and all through the house…mom was running around like a madwoman and on the verge of a panic attack.
What? That doesn’t rhyme?! Just hearing the words “back to school” makes me twitch as I start thinking about trying to work a full-time job, sign up for school events, get my kids to running club/band practice/afternoon sports/dance lessons/piano lessons/blahblahblah, make sure to help with evening homework and get everything signed and in the right backpack by the time I hustle out the door at zerodarkthirty the next morning to go back to work. Deeeep breathhhhhhh.
Let’s face it—most healthcare jobs are not great at offering flextime options. While this is understandable, and you wouldn’t want your patients coming to your house for treatment, it makes the juggling act of getting all that mom stuff done a lot more tricky. So, in honor of “back to school,” here are my top 5 tips for surviving the school year.
- Take advantage of school lunches. Have you visited your kid’s cafeteria lately? Gone are the days of mystery meat, carb overload and neon-colored vegetables. Today’s schoolers get balanced meals with fresh fruits and veggies, as well as a variety of options. Your kid might complain for the first day or two if it’s a new change and he’s not getting his favorites every day, but after a week of not having to pack lunches, the tradeoff for an extra 10-15 minutes of time in the evening or morning (as well as not having to remember to buy lunch stuff at the grocery store) will be worth every whine. Time saved by not having to shop, prep and pack lunches: at least 90 minutes per week
- Keep a shared family calendar. This can be the old-school paper kind, held with magnets on the fridge, or an online calendar that can be accessed by everyone in the family. My personal favorite is cozi.com, and my husband and I use the Cozi app on our phones. The point is, it’s everyone’s responsibility to check it and know what is going on that day and week. Have a quick weekly “meeting” to go over the calendar and make a game plan. If your kids are too little to read and write, they can still know what color they are on the calendar. A quick 15 minute meeting on Sunday night will save you hours of driving around at the last minute picking up kids from all over the city, scrambling to find equipment for sports, and making frantic phone calls to other parents to check dates for activities because they told you about it at the last minute. Designate who is responsible for what, and let that person handle it. Time saved because you are not responsible for doing everything on the list: at least 2 hours per week
- Don’t underestimate what littles can do. Children as young as 4 can be expected to get themselves dressed in the morning, with a little planning from mom. Lay out clothes the night before, or get a divided bin and set out clothes for each day of the week. Post a checklist (in picture form if your kids can’t read) in your child’s room that lists the top 5 activities for the morning routine. A quick quality-check from mom is all that’s needed to make sure the steps were followed, and your kids will feel a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Time saved by not begging and pleading with children to dress, wash their face and brush their teeth and hair: at least 90 minutes per week.
- Have a “Dumping Ground” for homework, school notes, and permission slips. I see the organized bins and boards on Pinterest and get a bit overwhelmed. You don’t need some fancy filing system to handle the avalanche of papers that come home with your kids each day. Get two paper-sized trays and set them in a convenient location, preferably by a trash can. When the kids get home, they go through their bags and pull all the papers in the “IN” tray. When you get a moment (now that you’ve saved a few hours of time from the steps above!), sort through the stack, pitch what you can, then review and sign anything that needs it and put it in the “OUT” box. If your kids are old enough, it can be their responsibility to check the OUT box each morning, if they are younger you can clean the OUT box and make sure everything goes back to school the next day. Time saved not looking for permission slips or being called out of work by the school because you didn’t sign one: at least an hour per week
- Pencil yourself in. Stop scrolling through Instagram beating yourself up for all the ways you see other moms doing it better. It ‘s HARD to fit everything required of you as a dedicated employee into an 8-hour day, and it’s even HARDER to fit everything required of you as a mom into the 8 hours that are left each day. The truth is, there is no one right way and no one is doing everything right. Find a moment of quiet for yourself, and it will multiply your peace immensely. Use the time you save to do something for you. You are worth it, and they are worth a mom that knows to take 15 minutes for her own sanity. Read a book, meditate, take a short walk, or just sit in the quiet after everyone else is asleep—but put yourself and your down time on the calendar. Those of us in healthcare are sometimes the worst at practicing self-health. Time saved because you can think more clearly after a moment of peace: at least an hour a week.
These hacks amount to at least 7 more hours in your week to do things that matter most, especially if it’s taking care of yourself. Happy “back to school” time, working mom! May it be your family’s best year yet!
Holly is the Founder and CEO of Catalyst Scrubs, an online fair trade medical apparel and accessory company that gives sustainable jobs to women in need around the world. Holly is a speech pathologist, social justice advocate and sought-after speaker. She lives with her husband Jim, their three children and a menagerie of pets in Lee's Summit, MO.
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