How to Stay Sane as a Working Mom

I hear it all the time. "How do you balance it all as a working Mom?" The truth is, I don't think of it as balance anymore. You'll have to read on to find out why. When I first started out, I wasn't organized and I didn't have a plan for how to get through the week. I wore spit up on my shirt like it was an accessory and I was so excited when I discovered dry shampoo (my new BFF). There were toys and crumbs all over the carpet and no time to clean (thank God for the dog that doubled as a vacuum cleaner!). I didn't have a free hand for cooking and the closest we came to gourmet was Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (my childhood favorite). I often dreamed of cloning myself. It was time to get a grip and be the boss. I had to learn from all the others (the pros) who went before me. How did they do it all? I was about to find out.

I went to a retreat and a fellow photographer and Mama (Danielle) shared her secrets to running a household of three boys. Her talk included a white board and a weekly meal schedule and she made it all seem easy. The truth is, we know it's not until you get the hang of it. Until you've practiced and worked out the kinks for your own family. Until you've learned how to prioritize or what to let go of. Until you've decided to be intentional about some tasks so you can be more carefree or spontaneous on other tasks. And then I listened to a webinar by another smart woman (Jane) who challenged the idea of finding a work-life balance. She got me thinking that it really doesn't exist. Not in today's technology age where working around the clock seems to be the norm or expected sometimes. I know others have written articles about this as well, and are calling it "the work-life balance myth". The outside world doesn't have balance and there's no real equilibrium for all of the many roles that we play, so it comes down to us taking a stand for ourselves and the things that matter. I like to think of it as finding our sanity in the midst of chaos.

It is simply about choosing our priorities and creating boundaries, and acknowledging that everything or everyone else can wait. I won't lie. It isn't easy at first. And as soon as you make peace with this controlled chaos and figure out what you NEED to do (not want) and what makes you happiest... you will exhale deeply because you have found the secret to your own success.

Here are my Top 10 Tips and Tricks on how to stay sane while running a household AND a career!

  1. Be a Queen of Routine - From morning to bedtime, everyone will thank you for it as they'll know what to expect and what's expected of them. That means morning alarm clocks, afternoon homework or chore times, family meals and shower times. If you have a sitter who helps with these, make sure they stay on track so when you come home the chaos feels like it is under control after that 5pm witching hour that we all know so well.
  2. Learn to Say No - Without apologies, explanations or feelings of guilt. As much as you want to be superwoman, there is only one of you and you need to take care of YOU first. (This is an especially hard lesson to learn.) Minimize your time on activities that don't enhance your career or personal life. Saying no means that you are making time for the things that truly matter.
  3. Say Yes to Offers of Help - Accepting help isn't a sign of failure, it's a sign that you have good people in your life who generally care enough to offer. And you know that when the time is right you would gladly help them too. Do it - and let them know it's appreciated!
  4. Delegate and Streamline - Let the kids dress themselves and put their pajamas away, take out the trash, etc. Don't let your partner off the hook either. I'll wash and you fold?! You get the idea! And instead of racing to multiple activities after school or work, set up some carpools and swap turns. Keep a checklist of groceries on your mobile device so you can share it and send a honey-do list when needed too! Try the Out of Milk App, if you are looking for a great tool to do this with.
  5. Let Go of the Guilt - Having a passion for your career doesn't make you a bad mom or wife, and desiring a quality of life and balance means you are human. Choose to give priority to whatever fills you at your core or whatever feeds your soul at that time. When you feel fulfilled and happiest you'll be able to give priority to other things that are equally as important or even less. It's a constant tug of war, which is why it's important to find inspiration and meaning in each role that we play in and out of home.
  6. Get Organized on Sunday (or the Night Before) - That means you start packing the back packs, making lunches, and prepping dinners or a menu for the week! You won't have loads of time in the morning and inevitably someone wakes up late. So get a head start the night before. I like to plan 4 meals and prep my meats in Ziplock bags, so I can throw them in the fridge to defrost or in the crock pot the next morning. If you like to plan ahead too, you might find these #intentionalhome project lists super helpful (as I have, thanks Karen)!
  7. Be Present with your Loved Ones - When you clock out or shut down, do just that. Put the phone away and exhale as you enter family mode. Set your boundaries and eat with your loved ones, take the dog for a walk, read bedtime stories, cuddle, or have a date night with your spouse/partner.
  8. Outsource time-consuming chores and errands - Consider the things that can save you time and energy so you can have more of it with the ones you love. Try ordering your groceries online for home delivery! Set up the free dry cleaning delivery service, or try out the wash and fold service at the laundromat! Maybe you can splurge on the once a month house cleaning service while you work? You'll get precious time back in your life! The same goes for your business and you'd happily outsource the time consuming things to the experts, so follow this rule at home too!
  9. Set Aside Some Me Time - Do you have 15 or 30 mins for some de-stressing, hobby time, journaling or meditation? How about an hour for a workout? Clearing your mind and boosting your energy level may make all the difference in having a productive and happier day. Remember, YOU matter!
  10. Find a Community of Like-Minded Women - Surrounding yourself with hard-working and passionate people who want to mentor, support and encourage each other while fostering continued learning. Women who want to develop relationships, and who aren't afraid to express authentic emotions about their work challenges or triumphs. Research some groups in your area and comment here if you know of any great national chapters or organizations that others can join!

I'd love to hear your feedback as well. What are other tips that have worked for you and your family, and helped to keep you sane? Do you think work-life balance is a myth? What does balance mean to you? Let's keep the conversation going ladies! :-)

Sarah Lehberger

Easton, CT

Sarah Lehberger is a photographer based on the shoreline of Connecticut, just 90 mins from New York City, in the small town of Easton. She specializes in photography that celebrates working Moms and their families. She is also a Co-Founder of She Will Thrive, providing business coaching, retreats and workshops to women entrepreneurs, creatives and small business owners.

Sarah's career started in the news and entertainment industry. A storyteller at heart, she began photographing weddings in 2003 while also working full time at Getty Images, NY in their editorial department. Sarah enjoyed the fast-paced and glamorous events she would collaborate on, yet deep down she was craving more purpose driven work. In 2005 she decided to leave the corporate world to launch her full time wedding business, which received numerous awards and features throughout the industry.

In 2013 Sarah rebranded her business so she could continue her mission to celebrate women, with a new focus on mothers. She feels strongly about empowering women and creatives to succeed, and has been a speaker at conferences such as ShootDotEdit's Unlimited Happiness Tour, Inspire Photo Retreats, as well as a past coach and mentor for Team X Academy.