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Striking the Balance

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

We would once again like to welcome Monica Shulman of Ciao, Chessa! – a blog about art, photography, living in New York City and inspiring things! For more of Monica, follow her on Twitter!

The other day I was having lunch with a friend and our babies and naturally the topic turned toward our kids and the inevitable daily balancing act that happens between taking care of our families and work (AND school for her–she’s my balance hero). Throw in trying to make time for yourself and my day becomes a constant juggling act.  I know I’m not the first woman who has ever had to deal with this (my mother was a working mother and now she’s a working grandmother) but it was refreshing and comforting to know that not only am I not alone in trying to figure out what works and trying to strike the ever-elusive balance.  So many women I know personally are searching for the balance.

After I got home, I thought about what has worked for me and what hasn’t since I had my daughter.  Of course, everyone’s experience and circumstances are different and although I wish there was some way around it, the truth is that there is no magic formula that works for everyone.  I am primarily a stay-at-home mom but I work from home on my photography business.  I have a babysitter (who is amazing!) who comes to help me three days a week and on those days I work from home, go out to meet with clients, handle all of my business errands, blog, take care of personal things like doctor appointments and such, go food shopping, run other household errands, work out and generally do all of the things that are easier to do when I don’t have my baby with me.  On the days that I am home alone with her I (try to) get my work done during her naps (although she’s down to one long nap a day instead of two so I’ll have to adjust my work schedule again).  Even listing all of these things out makes me feel a bit overwhelmed.

I started to see some patterns and I noticed all of the things that I have to work on in order to make it better for me, my family and my business.  I was able to narrow it down to five basic points.  While often times following my own advice has been a tall order, like everything else, it’s a work in progress.

1.  Define what balance means to you

Balance to me means doing my best in any given situation.  I’m usually wishing that I had more hours in the day so I could get everything done but I have to do what I can with the 24 that I have.  I used to spend a lot of time feeling guilty and I still do but it doesn’t help me at all to be a better parent or a better business person.  I set my own barometer for success and for me it’s not an option to fail (either my family, my clients or myself) so along the way I’ve had to accept that sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything.  For me this has meant taking on fewer work projects and being realistic about what I can deliver.  Ultimately, if I have to choose between my work and my family, my family always wins.

2.  Get and stay organized

I’ve always been very diligent about making my schedule.  Before I had my baby I could make it up as I went along, but now I have to do it on a weekly or daily basis and (try my HARDEST) to stick to it.  I love making lists.  I make a long, long list at the beginning of the week and I break it down into categories.  I need to have that order and I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I take my red pen and check the completed items off.  It’s a little thing and maybe it makes me sound a bit nuts but it goes a long way for me.  Hey, whatever works, right?!

Of course, the planning is tougher when you have a child since things don’t often (rarely) go as planned, but if I have my schedule set out for the days that I have my babysitter my day is infinitely easier.  Also, I no longer have an office at home–I work at my desk in my bedroom or at my kitchen table so being neat and organized is key.  I can’t let the pile get too high or my head feels crowded.  I have a “work closet” where I keep all of my gear, test prints, samples, files including contracts and invoices (I’m not completely paperless…yet) and a lot of other random stuff and supplies that I need.  Also I keep only one calendar and I cannot live without it.  I don’t have to go back and forth between personal and professional because I can see everything in one place.

3.  Change is necessary and normal

My daughter is a routine-lover just like her mommy and she needs it and thrives on it as much as I do.  While her routine has been set for over a year now, everything changes…especially when you have a kid.  For example, like I mentioned, she is now on just one nap a day which means I no longer have a stretch of time in the morning to do everything from clean the kitchen, take a shower, blog, answer emails, take phone calls, etc.  Obviously if my baby is sick one day or my sitter cancels I have to switch things up but at least if I’m organized and stay focused, I can do my best to make it all work.

4.  Focus

Staying focused is the most difficult thing for me.  This part goes hand-in-hand with being organized.  Whenever I feel the procrastination coming on or I sense myself getting sidetracked (Twitter and Facebook are great tools for my business and my personal life but it’s so easy to fall into the time suck) I try to remind myself that I only have 45 minutes until the baby wakes up or the babysitter has to leave early or whatever it is that will get me back to what I need to get done.  I always check back on my list to see what’s next and what’s left.

5.  Take time for yourself

I never made time for myself when my baby was first born.  I was all over the map trying to do everything and be everything.  But you know what?  I need to spend time on my marriage, I need to work out for my body and for my mind, I need to go out and take photos for my personal projects and I need to see my extended family and friends.  These are the other things that are important to me and that help me grow as a mom, wife and person.  The baby goes to bed every night by 7:30 and then we have the entire evening to ourselves.  While I do end up working late at night and my husband works very long hours at his job, we make it a point to have dinner together at least twice a week and when we don’t have dinner together we still find time to sit down and talk about our day and all those million other things. This time for myself really helps me to stay focused.

I always joke that I’m a professional juggler and it’s so true!  As moms we’re always trying to figure out how to find time for everything.  I have the utmost respect for all mothers – those who work at home, those who work outside of their home and those who are stay-at-home moms.  It is a full-time job on top of whatever else it is that you do.  Along the way I’ve learned that everyone, myself included, has to do what they feel comfortable with and what is best for them and for their family.  I find comfort and satisfaction knowing that I’m doing the best I can and that I’m accomplishing so much in all the different areas of my life.  Maybe someone else thinks they can do it better than I can and maybe that’s true but in the long run, I’m the only one who knows what works for me.

What do you think?  How do you try to strike the balance?  Do you think it’s possible?

Copyright 2011 Monica L. Shulman

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