Doing it all… almost

I have to laugh as I get this post started. I’ve been interrupted so many times that I wonder if it is possible to even address the topic of “doing it all.” That’s when I realized, I do it all, almost. I definitely don’t do it all, all the time.

For example, it’s tax season and Jon and I each own a business. We felt good that we got our papers in order and to the accountant in mid-January. At that meeting, the nice man with the mustache, calculator and friendly smile gave me a “to do” list of items and numbers he’d need to finish our taxes. I’ve almost got it done…. since mid-January. It will probably take the pressure of March to make me put aside some other task to get that one task completed.

Some weeks homeschool gets the lion’s share of my attention. Other weeks, my business does. Some days, I give in and make spring crafts for hours (like yesterday) and let the whole kitchen go to heck. On those days, we eat pizza for dinner. Other days, I make a wonderful chicken stew and set the table with candles, but don’t wash any clothes. Some months, a writing deadline (like my MA thesis last April) means the family has to pick up my slack in the meal-making, food-shopping, clothes-washing department so that I can write unfettered.

I heard Carol Burnett say on Oprah a few weeks ago that at the height of her fame when she had the weekly “Carol Burnett Show,” she only worked 30 hours per week. Oprah asked her about her family life and she said, “We were very organized.” Oprah thought she was joking, but Carol was not. She went on about how the family had a system and that enabled her to work only those 30 hours.

I wish I could hand you a similar system. All bets are off when your business and your kids’ education are both at home and both fall on you! That’s a situation few people in your life will know or understand. There really is no time when you are all alone and free from the competing pressures of dogs with vet visits, phone call polls, television drone in the background and the eternally hungry tummies of children, teens and home-working husbands.

The truth is, I’ve put my family first in every way I can. That means that homeschooling and watching reality TV, going to sports games and plays, listening to my son’s saxophone, and rehearsing lines for a scene all take priority over the other stuff. It means I have deliberately curbed the growth of my business. I’ve turned down opportunities that would cause me more exposure, I’ve resisted speaking commitments that would take me out of town, I’ve avoided advertising. I give my business time, but I’ve chosen a slow growth model deliberately.

When the business has begun to crowd into family life, I’ve hired to my weaknesses (a shipper, a registration manager, an accountant, more teachers). Still, there are days when I get overwhelmed by the self-made demanding schedule that involves family, business and education. And it’s those times that require me to ask myself the questions again: How can I minimize the impact of work on family, what can I do to relieve me of the burdens that take me away?

I have never believed in making my kids work for me or expecting that they will care about orders being fulfilled or classes being taught. They didn’t start a business. I did.

Perhaps the best “advice” I can give to those who wonder how they can add work to their lives is to be as certain as possible that your whole family can handle the increased demands on you. When I began graduate school, I really was asking everyone to compensate for my being gone once a week at night, for the hours on Saturday mornings when I’d have to write essays. We got into a rhythm that worked for us. I would never have added graduate school to my life if we had toddlers or babies.

The bottom line is that more and more of us need to work to pay for life in America. College tuition alone drives many homeschooling mothers back into the workforce after fifteen years of fulltime mothering. If you are at this place in your life, your family can handle it. You just need to be sure that you continue to give your heart and energy to your kids when you are with them. That’s the only way to balance it all out.

And as Jon likes to say when I have my doubts, “It’s great for our kids to see you work. They get to know that there is a meaningful life ahead of them as adults that extends into the community, beyond the family, but that includes the family.”

3 Responses to “Doing it all… almost”

  1. JoVE says:

    “It means I have deliberately curbed the growth of my business. I’ve turned down opportunities that would cause me more exposure, I’ve resisted speaking commitments that would take me out of town, I’ve avoided advertising. I give my business time, but I’ve chosen a slow growth model deliberately.”

    I’ve done this, too. And I think this is key, particularly given the pressures for fast growth these days. The fact is that this is probably good for our businesses as well. I remember my dad telling me (many years ago; he ran his own business) that growing too fast was a major cause of small business failure. And I find it much more satisfying to work for clients that come by word-of-mouth recommendation anyway.

    I also think we can “hire to our weaknesses” for other parts of our life. At the end of the day it is more important to spend time engaging meaningfully with our kids than washing floors. Ordering pizza, hiring a cleaner, or whatever, might be the solution for some people. And as long as you keep in mind the financial costs, it can work out. Also doing less is okay for some things.

    And while I agree that the kids didn’t decide to start a business, they are part of the household/family. So as they get older, it is reasonable to assume that they should take on more of the responsibility for maintaining the house. That could lighten the load enough to make room for your business but they aren’t doing it to support the business but to support the family.

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    Excellent comments as usual JoVE. I agree that they can and do often pitch in very willingly to help me get the things done I need to get done. In fact, one interesting benefit to working and schooling was that my kids saw me face and meet deadlines and they saw their work in the house as “helping” me rather than as being a coerced requirement from me. I can’t tell you how many times one of my kids has said, “You go to bed Mom. I’ll get the dishes” or “Finish what you’re doing Mom, I’ll clean up the family room for our read aloud time.” There is a sense in which pitching in is *real* because I need their help, I’m not just telling them to do it for their own good.

  3. Michelle O says:

    Hi Julie,

    I want to thank you for this post. I am one of those who kept asking you how you “do it all”.

    Reading your blog over the last few weeks gave me a little glimpse of the day to day reality of your life. I realized that you cope with all the same realities that we all do and I could somewhat sense your priorities by what you chose to share.

    One of the things I enjoy and appreciate most about the way you run Bravewriter is your willingness to candidly share who you are as a person.
    It is a wonderful gift to all of us as we walk this path; sometimes skipping gracefully along and at times stumbling.

    Waiting to hear your “advice” about how to do it all I’ve had a bit of time to think about it…One of my challenges, I think, is simply that I do have a child who is old enough that I could easily let go a bit and begin to contribute financially, but I also have the surprise and joy of my life, who is barely three yrs. old. Being tugged in two directions causes some confusiion in my “vision” and my commitment to a business wavers with every sweet and fleeting 3 yr. old request. Ah well.

    The way you “do it” seems to be very much in line with your approach to homeschooling; being flexible and acting out of love. Pretty good philosoply, if you ask me!

    As you shared your experience in this post, it confirmed for me that maybe I can do what I feel compelled to do just by beginning. Beginning to homeschool was kind of like that…I mean you can’t really figure anything out, you just have to start doing it, learn while you go and act out of family priorities.

    Thanks again for sharing.