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September, Now Even Harder

School is back in session. In theory, that should mean life gets easier. The kids have somewhere to go, and we all get more structure back in our day. Plus, we lose the guilt over heading off to work while our kids are making summer memories.

But for many working parents, life gets anything but easier in September. I remember a colleague’s warning after I had my first son: “If you think having small children is hard, wait until they hit school age!” Life with small kids was a whirlwind, and I resented the idea that any stage would become more difficult.

Sure enough, she was right. Being a working mom of school-aged kids is a complicated gig. So, I decided to try a little experiment this year. What if I saw my role as working mom through the same lens as my role as a leader? Are there skills I use to manage a team that might make managing a family a little easier?

Here’s my strategy:

  • Seek out mentors and role models. How do other working parents do it? I’m going to pick their brains, use them as a sounding board, and vent to them on the tough days. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Ask for tips and tricks to make life easier.
  • Ask for help. With four kids in different places at the same time, this mom job is physically impossible to handle alone. Asking for help is the smart way to lead a team, and it is the only way (in my opinion) that you can be an effective working parent. Build your village. Have people back you up when the school calls and you can’t be there. Leverage neighbors and friends to give rides, give hugs, or drop off forgotten lunches.
  • Outsource what doesn’t give me energy. Delegating is equally important at home and at work. It reduces your workload and gives other people the chance to shine. House cleaning. Meals (one client has a local mom make dinner for her family three nights a week). Homework help. Laundry. Lawncare.
  • Empower my kids to be a part of the solution, just like I empower my team. Trust that they can do things. Let go of control. Give everyone jobs. Don’t think you have to be the one to make the lunches, pack the backpacks, etc. Teach kids how to do it themselves and engage everyone in working together. Recognize and reward them for doing their jobs so that they stay motivated.
  • Keep expectations in check. Accept failure. Each day doesn’t have to go perfectly to be a success. There will be bumps in the road, things will feel chaotic along the way, and it won’t always look pretty from the outside. But I can appreciate the positives of each day and keep my perspective in line.
  • Stay focused on what matters most, just like keeping a work team focused on goals and deliverables. There are so many distractions today: the internet, on-demand TV, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest… the list goes on and on. We have so many outlets to escape the stress of our day. But do those things really restore us?  Or are they really contributing to the stress? What if we shifted that time to do more snuggling with loved ones on the couch, reconnecting with ourselves, or conversing with someone important in our lives.

Longing for Bedtime, Saving Some Fun

I’m not gonna lie. I go into each morning with the intention of being calm, cool and collected as I get all four of my children up, dressed, fed and out the door. And I hope for the same each evening as they get off the bus and come barreling back into my house. But the reality is that there are many a day when I am anything but calm.

And I reluctantly admit that there are many nights when, even though I haven’t seen the kids all day, I long for bedtime when the house will be quiet. This is especially true after a long day of meetings and conference calls when I’m already running on fumes.

One of my clients recently describe the same feeling: “My kids and husband never get any of the ‘fun me.’ I don’t have any of ‘her’ left by the time I get home.”

I think every working parent can relate. It is hard to be fun when you feel spent. So, my last goal for this school year it to find a way every day to save a little bit of the “fun Teresa” for the important people in my life. After all, they are the ones that need her most.

As a principal of Life Meets Work, Teresa Hopke plays a lead role in the company’s strategic direction and consulting projects. She specializes in helping organizations close the leadership skills gap, manage through change, and develop custom coaching solutions that help people thrive in both the workplace and their personal lives. Learn more about Teresa and the team, and connect with her on LinkedIn.