I've been back from my second mat leave for over six months now, but I still haven't found my working mom routine. Actually, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m, I feel like I'm flailing. I'm not making it click at home or at work (and I definitely don't look like the eerily perfect working moms in stock photos—see above). I have a hard time focusing on my job and I barely get to see my kids. When I do, there is a lot of ordering everyone around and stressing about getting somewhere on time. Is this what a working mom's life is like?
I needed to devise a better strategy, so I rolled up my yogurt-covered sleeves and canvassed some fellow working moms for their magical life-hacks. I asked, "How do you make the day happen?" and their answers came out more like confessions. Here's how 15 moms make it work, for better or worse:
1. "I bribe my kids with food." Snacks in little packs are crucial to luring children in any direction you need them to go in a timely fashion (not at all like trained seals—nope, not at all). We are not above putting candy in lunch boxes if it means they will get in the car and go to school with 10 percent less whining.
2. "I dress them in their school clothes the night before." Picking out an outfit for a toddler can be like presenting a spring collection to Anna Wintour. It doesn't always go over so well. Save yourself a fight, dress them in comfy, school-appropriate clothes before bed and have one less thing to do in the morning. Joggers and tees are pretty cozy pajamas anyway.
3. "I don't go to the gym (and I don't need to)." Fitness—often a source of guilt for many over-worked mothers—doesn't usually make the cut in my daily schedule. But guess what, wrangling a rag-dolling preschooler totally engages the core! Count those park dates, grocery runs and the squats you have to do to buckle your kid into her car seat as workouts. Hot tip: You can sneak a little fitness in by doing pushups on the side of the tub during bath time. (It may be slippery, but you get bonus points for stabilizing.)
4. "We don't always eat dinner together at the table." There's a lot of pressure to get a home-cooked meal on the table while asking those burning questions like, "What did you learn at school today?" (insert cricket sounds), all within the two or three-hour window between pickup and bedtime. Inevitably, the meal takes longer than expected, someone poops their pants and someone else spills spaghetti on the dog. It's all good. Gathering around the kitchen island totally counts, and a Friday dinner in front of a movie is the best thing ever.
5. "I feed my kids packaged food and takeout." Who actually makes everything from scratch, seven days a week? They certainly don't have kids, let alone hockey/ballet/trombone practice. The occasional night of fast food will not hurt in the long run—throw some steamed broccoli beside the chicken nuggets. Get a little extra sushi at lunch and save it for your toddler's supper. Stir frozen peas into that boxed mac and cheese and buy a bagged salad. There are also plenty of delicious dinner cheats at your local grocery store, from frozen quiches, chicken and fish fingers to jarred sauces and instant grains.
6. "Laundry? Not happening." No one told you how much laundry came along with having kids, right? Designate that chest of drawers to hold all your lost hopes and dreams and just use two big buckets instead: clean and dirty. Done!
7. "I put myself last." Get dressed last in the morning to avoid booger-smears. Shower at night when the kids are in bed. (You get the bathroom all to yourself!) Keep your makeup bag at the office and put your face on during company hours (someone should pay you for that effort). Same goes for deodorant and toothpaste/toothbrush.
8. "I buy everything online." Time is precious and standing in line to go shopping with a screaming toddler in tow is not the best use of it. Buy essentials like diapers online (subscribe to automatic deliveries—they come right to your door). The internet is a wonderful place abundant with choice from toiletries to Halloween costumes, or last-minute birthday gifts. I mean, I once bought a broom online at work and it came the next day, when I was ready to clean. You can also try grocery delivery or a click and collect program. Then, turn all those cardboard boxes into cool forts. Major mom win.
9. "I lie to my children." Here's another hot tip: little kids can't tell time. Use this to your advantage. Announcing, "The bell is about to ring!!" might just shave 15 minutes off your two-hour drop-off routine. A couple of fibs may be your ticket to a successful day (and we won't tell if you don't tell).
10. "My kids get a lot of screen time." Kids have packed days, too. A little afterschool TV may help them wind down and give you time to make dinner. Just don't make it a crutch, and be mindful of what they watch. Nature docs on Netflix are totally educational and a great screen time secret weapon.
11. "Someone else cleans my house." Outsource, outsource, outsource. If you can afford it, getting some household help can be life-changing—it lifts the mental burden, cuts fights with your spouse in half, and it just feels so damn good to come home to a clean home that you had nothing to do with. If a bi-weekly or monthly cleaning isn't in the budget, lean on your village. Maybe you do a play date swap, or borrow a neighbourhood teenager to act as a mom's helper for a few hours so you can conquer the clutter before it buries you.
12. "I send my kid to school/daycare sick." Before anyone starts a troll mob, we aren't talking about sending a really sick kid to school. But there is a big, murky grey zone. "You're not barfing and you don't have a fever? Off you go!" We have all been in that pickle when you have an important work day and no childcare backup.
13. "I encourage child labour." There is a certain age when those tiny tyrants can actually take on small tasks and learn important life skills at the same time. Even a four-year-old can wash apples and put lunches into her and her siblings' bags in the morning. If you make a job seem important, they will do it. (It's all in the art of the sell.)
14. "We don't bathe regularly." Two words: Dry. Shampoo. And kids don't need a bath every night (dirt is good for them!). A really thorough face wipe is sometimes all they need. But if someone at work leaves a stick of deodorant on your desk... it's time to rethink your plan.
15. "I give zero f*cks." That Frozen song, "Let it go," is actually about parenting. At the end of the day, survey the damage, embrace the chaos and stop punishing yourself. It's time to lose the guilt and lower your expectations for everything. Yes, everything. You can't do it all, and you shouldn't have to.
This article was originally published online in February 2017.