Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Working Mom Hacks

Its been forever and a day since I posted here, but I have been meaning to for months and months, so I am just going to jump back in and ignore the extra long silence that has taken over this space. Deal? Deal.

I am a sucker for any thing that claims to have a hack to make my life easier. I will always click the link that promises five hacks for a simpler, more productive and easier life. So when I was getting ready to go for a run last weekend, I was browsing through some of my favorite podcasts and saw one titled “Working Mom Hacks” by the Edit Your Life podcast. I really enjoy the Edit Your Life podcast generally, not every episode is relevant to me, but I listen to the ones that I think are and typically either learn something new, or I am reminded about trying things that I know would benefit me, but I have not really been super motivated to do. Like, commit to a twenty minute walk every day to increase happiness, for example.

Anyway, back to the podcast episode. I was excited about it, and have found being a working mom very challenging. And although I thought it would maybe get easier by the time my baby was 20 months old, I still find it hard to navigate more often than not. Let me just tell you that the episode full of “hacks” for us working mamas really just pissed me off. There. I said it. I legitimately got so angry during the episode that I started drafting an email to the podcasters themselves,telling them how disappointed I was in it, and how they should really revisit that and give us some practical and accessible tips for the everyday mama. This podcast was full of ideas to make your life easier such as outsource EVERYTHING. It had real problems and real pain points of real working moms and the person they were interviewing as the expert working moms answer for seemingly everything was to outsource it.

Oh, getting dinner on the table is really challenging after working all day, commuting from the office, and picking up kids from daycare? Just use grubhub and have takeout delivered, duh. Oh, you don’t have time for housework? Hire a cleaning service. Its worth the money. You don’t have time to run errands such as grocery shop or can’t sign for a package at home while you're working? Use task rabbit to hire someone do it for you!

Honestly, this advice made me irate. I certainly don’t have the money to outsource everything in my life and I don’t think the average working mom does either. If I did have that much disposable income, I probably could just not work all together! I also don’t live in an area that I can just get a task rabbit for everything, even if I could afford it, nor do I want to feed my family take out more often than we eat home cooked meals.

I do have a few ideas of things that have made my life a little more manageable as a working mom, and I thought I’d share them. I’d like to preface this by saying the single most important thing that has made being a working mother easier is having a extremely supportive and involved husband. He does just as much as I do as far as housework and cooking and parenting. In fact, he cooks at least 70% of the time so that task is not even my biggest pain point in the evenings( but waiting for dinner IS!).

Meal Time: I know we’ve all heard the importance of meal planning and prepping and we do do this, every week. We decide what dinners we want to have, and write down any ingredients we need, and then we grocery shop. But this isn’t revolutionary advice, so I will tell you what does help us even more than meal planning and that is making enough dinner to have left overs for lunches. We both generally take left overs most days of the week and not only does this save time, it helps us eat healthier,and frees up the lunch hour to do other things.

Lunch hour: I remember before I had Porter, I used to spend my lunch hours in the best ways. I would read a book and drink my diet coke sitting in my car in the parking lot and if it was nice enough, I’d sit on a bench in the sun. I also used to run often at lunch, or at least take a nice walk. Lately though, I have found myself so short on time that I use my lunch hour to either pay bills/update my budget or run errands. This is somewhat new to me because until Porter was about 13 months, I pumped every day three times a day, including on my lunch break. Now about once a week I stay my desk and pay bills,categorize transactions in our budget app, or make phone calls that I’ve been putting off. I also try to run errands at lunch if at all possible so I don’t have to do it on my way to pick up Porter or even worse, bring him along. I mostly just hate the bucking in and out of the car seat multiple times drill, so I like to limit my number of stops with that 30 pound monster.

House work: keeping the house clean and clutter free and clean clothes on our backs is undoubtedly a real challenge while being out of the house for ten hours a day. We do a majority of our cleaning on the weekends, but what has helped keep the house in a more live able state during the week is to commit to doing ONE thing every evening. Sometimes I do one load of laundry all the way through, sometimes I clean one bathroom, sometimes I vacuum, but I try and do something before flopping on the couch (or going to bed at 7:45 pm)and not moving for the rest of the night. Doing one thing a day keeps the clutter at bay and also makes our workload on the weekends a bit less. Do one thing a day, but also rest. I will say that as a general rule, I try and do one thing a day, I also feel no shame in taking a night off to rest when I need it! If we’ve had a busy week or I am just feeling extra tired for some reason, I give myself permission to veg on the couch or go to bed early. Last night, Ronnie and I both were so tired, after dinner we laid in bed to watch TV and I head Porter fussing in what felt like the middle of the night, but when I checked my phone, it was 8:50 pm and we were both OUT. I think parenting in general is wonderfully exhausting, and also working used to exhaust me even before I had a baby, so the combination of both makes me TIRED more days than not so I don’t feel bad for resting when I need it. The chores will always be there waiting for me the next day.

Paying for childcare: Daycare is expensive, there’s no way around it. I’m doing the math for two in daycare and it makes me physically ill so I’m trying to not think about it and just trust that the Lord will provide for our family financially like he has done SO generously for all of our married lives. But, one thing that helps a little bit is taking advantage of the Dependent Care FSA offered at my work. It allows you to put up to $5000 pre-tax dollars into a savings account per year, and then you can use that money to help offset the cost of daycare. It really does put a little extra money into my paycheck by doing this because it is pre-tax. It isn’t a huge amount, but every little bit helps. I typically pay my childcare bill once a month at the beginning of the month, and at the end of the month, I submit a claim to get reimbursed. My daycare costs are more that $5000 a year, but it covers a big portion of my monthly bill. And, at the end of the year, that $5000 that I didn't have to pay taxes on, and if you pay over that amount in childcare, you can still qualify for the child care tax credit.

These are just five ways I find that makes being a working mom a little more manageable. They probably aren't revolutionary, but I think they're a little more practicable and doable for the average working mom versus the advice to just outsource everything.

If you're a working mom, what are your favorite hacks? I seriously want to hear them!
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Friday, May 13, 2016

Craving: Balance

I recently took a class from an author/blogger/speaker that I absolutely admire-Hannah Brencher. It was the first class in her “Craving” series and as soon as I saw the first topic was balance, I knew it was exactly what I needed during this season of my life.

In December, I left my full-time job and accepted a new role with significantly less responsibility but also less hours. I work three days a week now in the office, and work from home two other days. This has been the absolute best thing for our family, but it surprised me when a few months into it, I still found myself feeling stressed, chaotic, and disorganized. I must have thought that working less hours per week would allow me enough time to do ALL the things. You know, like keep a clean, organized home, work out regularly, spend time with my husband and baby, sew, write, read, spend time with friends, serve at church, rest and so on. I want to do all of these things but still find myself racing around trying to do it all and at the end of the day, my to-do list still has items left unchecked.

  I read an article once I’ll never forget-it basically said that the magical cure to “doing it all” is to-get this-not do it all. I mean that maybe is over simplifying things, but no one can do everything. You have to pick and choose what’s most important to you, what is going to allow you to live the life you desire. Back to the Craving: Balance class I took, Hannah recommended that the very first thing we do is to write out what a balanced life looks like to us. To list the things we want to focus our time, energy, and attention on.

Here is what a balanced life looks like for me:

A regular routine of doing exercise I love consistently. For me, this is running. There’s nothing I love more than running so I want to make sure I fit this in at least three times a week.

Have an organized, calm, peaceful home. I want to continue simplifying and organizing my home so it’s a place of rest and peace for our family and our guests that we host. Gretchen Rubin says it best when she always says “Outer order creates inner calm.” Amen, amen.

Spend time in prayer and in the word so I can discern the Lords voice in my life.

Having weekly intentional time spent one on one with my husband.

Be present with my baby. Spending time playing with him, reading to him, taking him on walks and doing activities that will allow him to cultivate his playful & curious self.

Be a friend that shows up for people-who celebrates the wins and offers a hug and a pint of ice-cream on the stormy days.

To choose adventure of laziness. To choose filling my stolen moments of free time with books and encouraging podcasts versus mindlessly scrolling on social media. To cultivate hobbies I enjoy that allow me to be creative. Basically, to limit my social media use to have more time that bring me true joy instead of feeling discouraged, anxious, or envious when I see the highlight reel of other people’s lives.

To encourage & celebrate more then I complain.

To be generous with my time & money-to hear and obey the Holy Spirits prompting to bless others when the opportunity arrises.

These are the things I want to say yes to. These are the things I want to fight for. Many of these take discipline, these things mean choosing what is best over what is easy. This list doesn’t summarize what my life looks like right now, and maybe that’s why I feel so frazzled, so stressed, and so messy lately. Trying to do it all with no rhyme or reason. Over the next few months, I am going to spend time focusing on saying yes to these things that help me create a more balanced life and giving myself the permission to say no things that just don’t help me and my family achieve this life. One thing I know is a mama who feels like her life is balanced probably doesn’t feel like she’s running on empty seven days a week. A mama who feels like her life is balanced is likely a much better wife, mama and friend, and I think that’s worth fighting for. Over the next few weeks I hope to share how I am implementing each one of these things I listed.

What does a balanced life look like for you?

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Breaking up With the Mommy Groups

One of the best things I've done for myself as a new, first time mom is to break up with all the (online) mom groups. You know the ones? The Facebook groups and the birth club boards and the message boards with other moms in similar walks of life as you that you originally thought held all the answers to parenting and babies that you couldn't bear the thought of functioning without them? If you don't know, then consider yourself lucky because as full of helpful mamas as they are, they caused me to obsess over things in a really unhealthy way. 
I spent hours of my day when Porter was first born reading posts in these groups from anything to do with breastfeeding, pumping, sleep training, schedules, solid foods, and the list goes on. When Porter was just a newborn and cried and cried and cried whenever I tried getting him to sleep, someone mentioned that maybe he had reflux and a few other well meaning moms chimed in and said that their reflux baby had the same tendencies and off to the doctor I went. The doctor said yes, sounds like reflux, prescribed some meds and after about a month on it, I noticed that they seemed to be making him so much worse instead of better so we stopped the meds and it wasn't until he was five months old that we discovered he had a dairy intolerance that was making him miserable and the medicine was only creating more stomach pain for him.
This wasn't anyones fault on the mommy group by any means-but its is just a small glimpse into how much stock and weight I put into what I read and heard from these other mamas on the internet that I didn't even know. I was obsessed with finding the perfect, magical schedule that would solve all of Porters sleeping issues, and I would read posts from other moms about their worries and concerns and wonder "Should I be worried about that too?" 
I was obsessed-there's not another way to put it. Not necessarily with the mommy groups themselves, but obsessed with doing the "right" thing by my baby, and I thought that every problem or situation I encountered had a right or a wrong answer that I just didn't know yet. What I failed to realize is these mommy groups are made up of a lot of other moms just like me-moms who actually don't know what they're doing more times than not, and moms who are experts in their baby but not necessarily in mine. 
Mommy groups aren't bad and they even can be extremely helpful. Getting advice from what worked for other moms who once were in my situation was helpful, until I thought I was failing as a mom when their advice didn't work for my situation or for when I was doing something that other moms warned against. 
A mommy group I haven't and won't break up with-these are real moms and real friends from church
The lord has used motherhood to shape, refine and prune me. He's exposed major areas of my heart that are just ugly. I was desperately trying to control everything around me, seeking that perfect formula for winning at motherhood that I was stressed and anxious more then I was soaking up and enjoying that fleeting newborn stage. For me, one small step in opening up my hand and giving up control was breaking up with the mommy boards. Now, when things don't go like I planned or if I have questions, I talk to other moms in my real life community, I call the nurse line at the doctor, or sometimes I shrug my shoulders and say "Babies rule the world!" and accept the fact that I am not in control and that is a good thing. Porter continues to surprise me and has me shaking my head in disbelief often, but I've come to embrace that part of motherhood because I know this is only the beginning.
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Monday, March 14, 2016

I Sleep Trained My Baby and He Still Loves Me

I’ve been off social media for a few weeks now, and I am embarrassed to admit how hard it has been for me. I feel like I am missing SO MUCH. And I have more to say on this whole social media fast, but I also can tell you something I don’t miss. I don’t miss the mommy wars that are so evident and present all over social media. Its everywhere. Its in the links we share and the advice we receive and the passive aggressive comments that people make about other mom’s parenting. And if you really want to wage a mommy war, mention the words sleep training. Or the worst of the worst, the three little huge words, cry it out. Most people have a strong opinion one way or the other on letting their babies cry, and I am not here to try and change your opinion or tell you you’re doing it wrong. Simply, I want to share my experience with everyone and hope that it is helpful to another mama who needs some encouragement.

Lets all just agree that in this post, we are not going to use the words “Cry It Out” because it really does have such a negative association. Cry it out means different things to different people. Cry it out may mean putting the baby to bed and not returning to morning and letting the baby cry as long as it takes to fall asleep, or cry it out may mean letting  baby cry for a period of time before comforting and soothing, and anything and everything in between.

At about seven or eight weeks, Porter decided he wasn’t going to sleep anywhere but in our arms and if we dared to set him down, he woke up crying within 20 minutes. I spent hours and hours in the rocking chair in his dark nursery while he screamed when I tried to rock him to sleep, and screamed when I put him down. I remember spending what felt like full days sitting in there because by two months, he wouldn’t sleep easily unless it was dark and quiet. I felt really alone and wondered why my baby wasn’t like all the “other babies” who slept when they were tired, who could fall asleep anywhere. Porter never has been that baby, and never will be.

We started doing some very gentle sleep training at this age. I watched his wake times like a hawk, made sure he was changed, fed and swaddled, brought him into his quiet and dark nursery, turned on his sound machine and sung to him and then laid him down. We let him cry for 3-5 minutes before I would go back in, pick him up, and soothe him, and lay him down once he was calm. We did this method for a few months-it was called the pick up/put down method and we gave him the opportunity to learn to fall asleep on his own, but we still comforted and soothed him as he needed it because he was so little. On days that he was just hysterical or not feeling well or just over tired, I still rocked him to sleep. Now looking back I wonder if I confused him, because sometimes I rocked him, and other times I laid him down awake, but that’s okay. He quickly learned how to put himself to sleep, even though there was some crying involved usually it was less then ten minutes and he was sleeping so much better.

 By about three months, he was sleeping through the night. I did a dream feed at 10:30 pm and he slept until 6:30 am. Then the dreaded four month sleep regression hit and it was brutal on us for almost a month. Some nights he slept all night and other nights, he was up multiple times. I always tried giving him his pacifier before I fed him but he made it PRETTY CLEAR if he was starving and the paci just wouldn’t do. We had what felt like months of many paci replacements, and though I considered just quitting the paci cold turkey, I could never follow through with it. Now that he's eight months, I am glad we didn't give up the paci because he can put it back in his mouth himself! We sprinkle like, ten pacis around the crib and he always finds one on his own at night. Glory hallelujah.

By the time he was five months old, we moved past the sleep regression and I wasn’t dream feeding anymore. We did his last feeding at about 6:30 pm and put him to bed, and he started sleeping much better, though still waking for his paci a few times a night. I never did a full on cry it out session at night with him, though we did start letting him cry for about ten minutes before we went in to soothe him around this time. That ten minutes in the middle of the night felt like an ETERNITY. But, after a couple nights of this, he started putting himself back to sleep at least half the time. Sleep training for us worked out in the way that once he started indepently putting himself to sleep at night, he in turn slept better at night as well. It was about this time too that the pick up/put down method we used when he creid when we laid him down at bedtime started making him REALLY MAD every time we’d go in and pick him up and then in turn, put him back down. It seemed to be stimulating more than calming, so we did some brief patting when we went in to soothe him, but then we’d leave, even if he was still crying. I did interval checks, otherwise known as the “Ferber Method”. So we started with checks at five minutes, then we soothed him without picking him up, wait another ten minutes, and soothed him, then waited fifteen minutes.

We saw improvement really quickly in his ability to put himself to sleep at bedtime, and after waking up at night. He started sleeping through the night again, sometimes he'd wake up for one paci replacement, but that felt like a million bucks after getting up 4-7 times a night! He was sleeping from about 6:30 pm-6:30 am and if he woke before 6:30 in the morning, we used the same interval checks to get him back to sleep. 6:30 was the earliest I would get him out of his crib, and often times he did wake up a little earlier but would happily play or talk to himself until we came to get him.

At six months, I did some nap training and by nap training I mean that we set consistent times for waking up and for nap times, and he didn't come out of his crib until nap time was over. So, for us, nap time was at 8:30 am -10:00 am and if he woke at 9:15, he stayed in his crib til 10:00am. Our plan for that was : if he woke early and was playing or talking to himself, we didn't go in at all. If he cried (not whined or fussed, but cried) for more than 10 mins, I'd go do a brief check and soothe, and then leave. It took about two weeks of doing this consistently for every single nap, and then he started sleeping the full nap time. On days he doesn't sleep the full nap time now, he just plays in his crib until we come get him.

Honestly, sleep training was the best thing we've done for our baby. Nap time and bed time now are easy, because we do our quick routine of diaper changes, snuggles and songs, and then lay him down wide awake and he usually plays and talks to himself til he falls asleep. Theres very little crying involved, sometimes he fusses or complains but usually if he's really upset its because he's extra tired and a quick binky replacement and pat on the back helps him settle right down. When we go over to friends or he goes to Grandma's house, he can go to sleep easily in a pack n play without any issues at all. Porter is a much happier and well adjusted baby now that he's getting more sleep, and I am DEFINITELY a happier and better mom because I'm getting sleep as well.

Sleep training isn't for everyone, and if you don't feel comfortable with letting your baby cry, by all means, don't do it. Each and every one of us mamas gets to decide to do the best thing for our baby and family, and for our family, sleep training was beneficial for all of us! Its not easy, and you do have to put up with some crying because baby WILL protest change, but for us, it really was worth the few hard days and nights we had.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

How To Survive Returning To Work After Having A Baby

Nothing has ever given me the amount of anxiety and stress as the thought of returning to work when I was home on maternity leave with Porter. I was angry about it, I was devastated, and I asked God WHY he didn't make a way for me to stay home with my precious baby over and over and over. But, I did it. I went back to work and I survived it. I have since dropped my hours down to part time, which has been the absolute BEST thing for our family, but I worked full time for three months and have been meaning to publish this post to help other mamas who may be facing their return to the office after having a baby.

First-remember this: It's not as bad as you think its going to be.

Like I said above, during my pregnancy and the entire twelve weeks of my maternity leave, I cried at the mere thought of leaving my baby to go back to work full time. It felt like such an impossible unnatural thing to do, and I didn’t think I would survive it. I thought it was going to be the hardest and worst thing I’ve ever done.

I’ll be honest. It wasn’t easy. Tears were shed, mostly from me, but Porter also did have a few moments where adjusting was difficult. He screamed at the bottle, despite me giving him a few bottles a week from the time he was two weeks old, and he took 30 minute naps all day instead of the 1.5-2 hour naps he usually took at home with me. But we made it through that rough adjustment period, and dare I say I was glad to be back in the office? As soon as I got back and dove into the work that I geninuely do love, I realized I can do this, and everything is going to be okay. And it is. And now that Porter is eight months old and my hormones have leveled out, I really do enjoy my time to interact with adults and kind of step out of the mom brain mode for a few hours.

If you can, go out and buy yourself a new work wardrobe.

Don’t worry that you aren’t quite to your pre-pregnancy size yet. Don’t stress if you think you will just have to buy all new clothes when you lose the rest of the baby weight. To me, spending some money on clothes I would look and feel great in, even just for a few months was way more appealing then trying to squeeze myself into my old size four dress pants, or swimming in my maternity clothes that are no longer flattering in any way. I mean, where maternity clothes ever flattering? My mom and I made a day of it and went shopping and I bought a few pairs of pants, a couple skirts, and some tops that would work now and when (if?) I lost the few pounds. I went when Loft was having a 40% off sale and tried to be smart with the amount I spent, but I decided that eventually I will have another baby and will inevitable have another transition phase where my pre-pregnancy clothes are too small but my maternity clothes are too big. I knew that I could hold onto any clothes that I eventually didn’t fit into anymore so I didn’t feel like I was wasting money.  If you are done having babies, maybe you can donate your too big clothes down the line so less fortunate women have nice work attire for interviews and their jobs. Having some pretty & professional clothes helped me immensely. I felt put together, confident and ready to kick ass at the whole working mom thing.

Find a childcare provider you love and trust.

The number one thing that has made transitioning back to work easier on me was knowing that baby Porter is being so well cared for and loved while I am away. Our family has been blessed immensely by two different dear friends who stay home with their baby and we are so happy to be able to pay them to care for Porter instead of paying a stranger or a daycare facility. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with daycare, if you find one you’re comfortable with. I personally wanted Porter to have a little more one-on-one time and also have a calmer, quieter environment as he is such an easily overstimulated baby. 

The most important thing is that you know without a shadow of doubt that your baby is in good hands. I don’t have any anxiety about the quality of care Porter is receiving which makes this whole leaving him for 40 hours a week (ok, its about 24 now that I am part time, but it was 40!) so much more manageable. If you can, solicit recommendations from friends or coworkers. Ask around and see if any stay at home moms in your social circle are looking to make some extra income.  If you can afford it, even think about looking into hiring a nanny to come to your home. There are a lot of different options for childcare,depending on your budget. Find someone you’re comfortable with, knowing that your little one is being loved on and cared for while you work.

Learn to embrace preparation, planning and organization.

The only way I can get out of the house with my head on straight is by being really meticulous and organized. I need to get myself and a little human out the door with everything we need for the day by seven AM. Just for myself, I have to remember my breast pump, extra bottles to pump & store milk, a pumping bra, my lunch , my ID badge, etc. Porter needs binkies, diapers, wipes, extra clothes, extra swaddle blankets, enough breastmilk for the day, etc. I can’t possibly get everything together + get myself + Porter ready, and nurse in the mornings so every night I pack my three bags. 

I have a specific pumping bag with all the supplies I need to pump, a work bag (that I also use as a purse because who has time for a purse when you already carry three bags) that I keep my lunch in as well as my wallet, lipstick, ID badge for work in, and then a diaper bag with everything I need for Porter.  I keep those separate so I never lose anything I need, or accidentally leave my extra bottles for pumping in the diaper bag or take Porter’s pacifier with me to work. I also left extras of just about everything Porter could need with his sitter so I don’t have to try and remember to bring extra diapers the day after he runs out. Obviously, having a supportive and helpful husband is key here-Ronnie makes breakfast in the mornings while I nurse Porter and usually packs my lunch as well.

Its okay to say no to things, even good things for a season.
The week before I went back to work, one of my best friends invited me to a concert I REALLY wanted to go to. It happened to fall on the evening of my second day back at work and as much as I wanted to go, I knew that after being away from Porter all day long, leaving him for another 3+ hours wouldn’t be good for either of us so I declined. Going to country concerts was one of our favorite things to do together before I got pregnant, and I still hope to go to many more with her. My friend was more than understanding and gracious and didn’t give me a hard time, and I think that any good friend would respond the same way. You have to know that in certain seasons, you might have to let good things go to focus on better things. Some seasons require us to sacrifice more than others, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose sight of all your freedom and self care. Just pick and chose what is most important to you and set aside times to do what you love.

We were completely blessed and humbled by the specific way the Lord answered our prayers to allow me to work part time just three months after I returned to work. I still am in awe over the way the Lord loves and cares for us. But, leaving your baby whether its one or five days a week isn't easy, and I hope that if you're getting ready to return to work, you can take comfort and peace knowing that you are just the mom the lord created for your baby. You are doing a good job, whether you work full time out of the home or stay home with your baby, you are an amazing, hard working mama and I am cheering for you!

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