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How I'm Managing Part-Time Work Without Steady Childcare By Neha Ruch

Originially posted on her blog Mother Untitled, linked here.

March madness took on a whole new meaning in my home this year. With one week of norovirus, another week with a babysitter on vacation, the next with three of four grandparents with COVID, and three weeks of a staggered spring break schedule, my perfectly crafted puzzle of childcare coverage fell to pieces. But shockingly, I didn’t follow suit. In fact, I can say I’m still standing, and quite enjoying this strange period.

As I’m phasing into more work out of the home–working on our forthcoming book and growing the Mother Untitled platform and team–I’m transitioning from a career break to part-time work in real time. It is a learning curve for everyone in our household as we divvy up responsibilities and expectations. But most importantly, it’s been a reminder to hold dear the perspective I gained from five plus years of full-time caregiving: That above all, our health and contentment are most important to me and my family. I didn’t pause my career and make major life shifts only to wind up unhappy. So, I choose every day to navigate this next stage–specifically this year of book writing and growth–with joy and ease.

And yet, life happens. When it does, I’m learning that running your own business or working for yourself at any scale, has to bend. Here’s how I’ve been navigating the ups and downs of parenting while self-employed

How I’m Managing Part-Time Work Without Steady Childcare

1. I prioritize ruthlessly

Irrespective of unforeseen sickness, I knew March would be a doozy. Quite like September’s back to school transition, there’s a shuffle built in with spring break. To stay grounded and maintain a semblance of balance during this rocky period, I kept the mantra “low lift, high impact” front and center for my team. Looking at tasks through this lens has helped us decide which areas of focus were absolute essentials–and which we could shelve for later. I unapologetically moved anything non-urgent to May. As an added bonus, intentionally slowing down lets me reexamine ideas and strategies and ensure everything feels truly aligned to where we want to go.

2. I keep evenings clear

Like everything in parenting, this phase will pass, and so I’m OK letting go of what’s not possible right now. For this time around, this includes personal socializing. During this past month, I have kept my evenings clear to play catchup and get organized after bedtime. Knowing I’m not getting more than three hours during the day, block scheduling 7:30 - 9:30 gives me a dependable two hour uninterrupted window to get independent work done, freeing up day-time work windows for meetings or calls. As an added bonus, staying home has ensured I could also eat healthy, forgo a cocktail, and go to bed early during a period in which I could use the extra energy.

3. I focus on simplicity at home

I decided ahead of time these would not be the weeks to push myself to arrange playdates and museum outings. I mentally committed to leaning on TV as needed if an afternoon phone call or to-do cropped up. I coached myself on setting boundaries with my kids and encouraging them to play independently instead of feeling pressured to entertain them all the time. I shelved grand plans of introducing new foods to my picky eaters and decided to stick to the house favorites for this month. I even decided that little worries that have been nagging at me for each of the kids could wait until next season to be over analyzed. Finally, when people offered to help, I let go of any ideas on how our days should go and jumped at the chance.

4. I give myself grace

My calendar was a series of misses. I overbooked podcast recordings and missed calls I was meant to be leading. Instead of scrambling to fit in unreasonable to-dos, I apologized clearly, and punted any obligations to later this spring. It’s amazing how generous and forgiving people are when you’re honest about your limits. Sometimes it takes someone else showing you how. For example, a podcaster I was scheduled to record with asked for more margin in her day and to reschedule. I felt such a relief, not just because I got back an hour in my day, but also because I realized how easy it is to be the one to ask, and how totally fine it feels on the receiving end.

5. I reflect out loud

Instead of sitting in the guilt and worry by myself, I would find times with my kids to talk about doing hard things and being flexible. Usually this would come up in the mornings as we prepared for the day, but also at the end of the day when we do our dinner, Rose, Bud, Thorn exercise (a moment to share the day’s highlight, low light, something we’re looking forward to). Tonight I asked, “Things are feeling different for me, are they for you too?” and then I added, “But even when things change, I’m always here for you.” Once in a while, like just now, I get from my son, “Things aren’t that different mom,” which reminds me just how much more resilient our children are than I give them credit for. But even on the days I don’t get much back, I like to think these conversations remind them we’re on the same team.

6. I know the kids are alright

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, a mom with no outside help, a mom with some outside help, a mom working part-time from home, a mom working part-time out of the home, and every version in between. I can say with certainty that the kids are alright as long as they know they are safe and loved and the center of your world. For a mom who thrived on setting routines and keeping everything predictable, letting go and leaning into simplicity and flexibility has been challenging. But I like to think this is just another season shaping us into who we’re each meant to be.

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