Moms Make it Work: Katie | Full Time Working Mom in Alaska

Today on the Moms Make it Work series we have Katie, a full time Special Education elementary school teacher. She and her family moved to Alaska from San Diego, and Katie transitioned from being a SAHM to a full-time working mom as well. I really love this series for so many reasons, but Katie's post really highlighted how situations can change and 'making it work' will look different over the years. I enjoyed this post so much and hope you do, too!

Before I introduce myself, I want you to imagine that it's currently about 40 degrees outside, and that you're starting to get nervous that it may snow soon. There! Now we're on the same page.. have I made you want to move to Alaska yet? My name is Katie and I have been married for 10 years - half of them spent in San Diego and half spent in Alaska. I have three kids, ages 8, 7, and 5, all of whom will be in elementary school this year (yay!), and I am fortunate enough to work at a job I love right there at my kids' school. In my spare time, I've blogged for several years over at Simply Clean Living about organization, parenting, detangling doll hair, and the like. As fitness and the outdoors have become more a part of my life lately, I have recently started a new blog called Run Wild In Alaska, where I blog about what I'm training for and how I'm fitting it in with our busy schedule, along with the activities we do with our kids in beautiful Alaska to keep them healthy and moving. Many gratuitous pictures of gorgeous Alaskan scenery are involved. Come on over to the blogs and say hello!

At this point in my parenting journey, I've spent about half of it as a stay-at-home mom, and half of it working full-time as a teacher. Both before and after my transition back to work, I've spent lots of time thinking about and discussing motherhood, so I was excited to do that here as part of the Moms Make It Work series! 

What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

I met and married my husband in San Diego, and we spent the first six years of our marriage there. Before we had kids, I was an elementary school Special Ed. teacher and my husband was a pastry chef. Then once I had my first baby, I stopped working to stay home with her. Being a stay-at-home mom was initially quite challenging for me, as I had given up a job I loved and felt good at to be at home all day with a creature who just screamed at me. I was grateful to be home with my baby, but it was uncomfortable to me to have absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was without a car, without a clue, and feeling like an outsider among more experienced moms.

But over the years, I found my rhythm, and with the addition of lots of playdates, Target trips, and Diet Cokes, managed to stay very content and satisfied at home with my kids. I found that I was a mom that needed to be out and around a lot, and as long as I kept busy with the kids, we were all a lot happier! One of my favorite things about this time in my life were the friends I made. I had so many great friends in my neighborhood who also stayed at home with their kids, and we would have never-ending playdates. A pool meet-up would turn into a playdate while the babies napped, which would turn into throwing something together for dinner, all the while sharing anything and everything about motherhood, marriage, and ourselves. It was a fun, fun time in my life, both personally and as a mother.

But fast forward a few years and a few babies, and our situation wasn't really working. My husband was leaving for work in the mornings right after breakfast and not getting home until after midnight, and I was going a little bit crazy parenting our three little kids by myself so much of the time. I was also getting my Master's during this time, adding to the craziness. When it became clear that his salary as a chef was not going to sustain us, and his schedule was making him miss way too many Christmas mornings, birthdays, Thanksgivings, etc., we decided some major changes needed to happen. He hated his career and was spending 60+ hours a week doing it, and I LOVED my (far less time-consuming) career, but I wasn't working. It made no sense. 

We decided to completely upend our lives and change EVERYTHING. My husband would go back to school. I would go back to work. And.... we would move from Southern California to Alaska. Luckily, our kids were little and resilient, and other than missing our family in the Lower 48, it was a fairly painless transition.

Now my husband is in his last year of nursing school, and I am happily back to work as a teacher. I am fortunate that my kids attend the school where I work, so I still get to see them a lot and be very involved in their daily lives. This year my youngest starts Kindergarten, so all three of them will be at school with me all day! I can't wait!

What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?
I feel very lucky to be in our situation right now. One of the best parts is, as I mentioned, having my kids at my school. I love popping in during the day to see what they are working on, and if I am having a really tough day, I can come and get a quick hug. I can be there (briefly) for their class parties and events, and I get to know the other kids they're hanging out with. I almost cried tears of gratitude when my oldest daughter's Kindergarten teacher sent her to my classroom instead of the nurse's office when she lost her first tooth.

Also? I LOVE living in Alaska. We get to be around extended family, and spend time in the most amazing place on Earth. We hike, we kayak, we ski, we ice skate, and just generally soak it all in. My kids are having the most amazing experiences that other people wait a whole lifetime to be able to do, and we're loving every minute of it.

The challenges?

Hmmmm... Alaska is so far away. So very, very far away. We miss our families and our friends, and of course, the sunshine.

But the main challenge in parenting for me at this moment is balance. For me, of course, between work, family time, and squeezing in exercising and hobbies. But even more, for my kids. I want them to have hobbies and stay active, but I don't want extracurricular activities to take over our lives. I want them to have time for homework, to do things as a family, to read books, to play electronics, to play outside, and to just PLAY. But it's hard to find a balance in all of that. I'm always wondering, "Are they doing too much? Not enough? Are we reading with them enough? Do they have enough unstructured time to just create and play?" It's hard to be a kid these days, and hard to raise one. There are a lot of expectations on how they should spend their time, and challenging to find a balance that feels right. I wish for more time for them in a week even more than I wish for more time for myself.

Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?
I grew up expecting that I would go to college, get a degree, have some kids, stay home with them, and go back to work in some capacity once they were in school. So, although I went back to work about five years earlier than I would have expected, things have generally gone as planned. The one thing I did not anticipate being such a big part of our lives is fitness - it's something I never gave much thought to growing up, but really enjoy and prioritize now. Also, childhood obesity is a huge problem in Alaska, since it's challenging for kids to get out and play for so much of the year, so I have to put a lot more thought and effort into keeping my kids healthy as well.

Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?
It'll be nice to be a two-income family for basically the first time in our marriage, but I really can't complain. Life's pretty good around these parts!

Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?
Teaching Special Ed. can be draining, and also pretty physically demanding. Sometime in the next five years I'd like to get my Librarian Certification, and eventually transition to being a school librarian. How awesome would that be - to help kids fall in love with reading all day? I also may try my hand at being a regular elementary school classroom teacher instead of teaching Special Ed., since I'm credentialed for that as well, but we'll see. For now, I'll stay where I am until I don't love it anymore, because I don't think it does kids any favors to have a teacher who is sick of it. But for now, I am beyond grateful to love what I do.

Tips on how you make your situation work for you:
*Lots of scheduling and calendaring. My husband and I share a Google Calendar, and we have a huge wall calendar, and we try to keep all of our events listed on both. It can be challenging to keep both parents on the same page as far as activities, so we find that we really need to communicate regularly on that. We always have a loose daily schedule as well. For instance, right now we do homework and playtime before dinner, then clean rooms, then have dinner, then after dinner is sports, electronics, and family time. Some days it doesn't look quite like that, but that's our general routine.

*Next tip - use lots of creativity with scheduling exercise! With the kids in school and sports, and myself working full-time, it can be really challenging to even work out a couple of times per week. Last year I very reluctantly made the switch to morning workouts, even though I am a total night person, and was shocked at how much I loved it. I have also done lap swimming during my kids swim lessons, run laps at the park during soccer practice, biked with them on a tandem trailer, gone on runs with them biking beside me, and more! I have had to really open my mind to when and how I can work out, but it's amazing the opportunities that appear when you think outside the box.

*One of my most helpful mental tricks I use is, when something seems like it just can't work, I ask myself, "Do other people make this work? If so, how?" That brings me from the mindset of, "I just can't do that" to, "I could do x, y, or z," and then I need to decide whether or not I'm willing to, which is a much more empowering mindset.

*Babysitting swap. On a fairly regular basis ever since I've had kids, I have exchanged babysitting on a weekly basis with 3-4 friends. When I was a stay-at-home mom, we did Monday mornings so that we would drop our kids off and have time to run errands, clean, nap, or whatever. Now that I'm working, we do Friday night swaps so that we can get a date night in. The kids love to have time with their friends, and hosting a bunch of goofballs every few weeks seems a small price to pay for free and worry-free date nights the rest of the month! This is one of the most important things we have done to keep our marriage healthy!

How do you handle mommy guilt?
Honestly, I don't deal much with mommy guilt. Every choice my husband and I have ever made for our family has been because it's best for our kids, and I just try to look on the bright side, and try to convey the positives about our situation to them when they are sad. Is it disappointing that Mommy can't go on field trips with you? Yes, but I work so we have enough that you can play hockey and buy Legos. You're sad that Mommy is leaving to go on a run? I know, but I want to have a healthy body and live a long time, and exercise helps with that. I'm in it for my kids, and they know that, so I don't let myself dwell too much on the negatives of our situation.

Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying at home is the right choice?

I guess my advice would be that both working and staying at home are really challenging and rewarding in their own ways. If your family doesn't have a choice, then just try to focus on the positives of your situation and not dwell on what you wish you were doing instead. If you do have a choice, just follow your heart. Your kids will be happy if you're happy.

How do meals work in your family? Meal planning? How often do you grocery shop? Who is in charge of this task in your family??
*This is one thing that works really well for us. We sit down at the end of each month and make a meal plan for the following month. We found that weekly meal planning just got pushed aside too often. Each day of the week has a category, like International, or Kids' Favorites, and then we just fill in four meals for those categories (you can get more details on the blog). It's way less overwhelming than trying to think of enough meals for a whole month. We also have a list of meals that we go back to when we are having trouble thinking of enough to fill the calendar. Then once a week my husband checks out the meals for the upcoming week and grocery shops. Not all of our meals use fresh produce (we do a lot of frozen veggies), so if something comes up and we need to drop a meal, it's easy to rearrange and not waste anything.

How do you keep your house clean? Power cleaning after bedtime? Staying out of the house as much as possible? Cleaning while kids are awake? Purging often? Cleaning schedule?
Ohhhhh..... cleaning! The absolute bane of my existence! The irony that I began my Simply Clean Living blog primarily as a cleaning and organizing blog back in my SAHM days is both hilarious and sad to me now. THERE. IS. NO. GOOD. TIME. Saturday mornings make the most sense, but between trying to fit in exercise, all the kids' obligations, and trying to have some family time, I'm just not really willing to fill the morning with cleaning. For this school year, my husband and I are trying to have the kids clean their rooms every night before dinner, and then he and I are trying to put in 15-20 minutes of cleaning per day during the time the kids are getting ready for bed and reading books. We are modifying my 4-Week Cleaning Schedule and just trying to fit it in that way. We'll see how it goes. We calculated that even 15 minutes a day from both of us adds up to 2.5 hours of cleaning a week, which is way more than we get when we try to squeeze it all into a busy Saturday.

I do think it's important that the kids get used to doing chores as well, so that when I expect them to help as teenagers, it won't be a sudden and unpleasant surprise. For the kids we do what we call Job Jars, which are jars that have kid-level chores on them (one jar for upstairs and one jar for downstairs, rotate between the two). Whenever we do Job Jars, the kids pick three chores out of the jar and can choose one to put back. While this was excruciatingly painful at first, I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly they learned to do the jobs, and how independent they are now. Maybe someday my dream of having three live-in maids will be a reality... :)

And that's life in our neck of the woods! Thanks so much for reading! I'd love to hear from other moms of school-aged children how you balance their time!

{Thanks, Katie! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}

October in Bloom

We had an amazing summer here in Wisconsin but I think this Fall is taking the cake for the most glorious time of year. There is just something about the pops of autumn leaves and the brightest, warmest hues peppering our landscape with color that cannot be beat. The cooler temps, the smell of a pumpkin spice candle, football on the TV, soups and chills, BEER, boots, fleeces and vests, crunching leaves as we walk down our sidewalk….it's just such a great season. I love living in Milwaukee in the fall and am so grateful to reside in a climate with four seasons. Let's not discuss what follows Fall though, alright?




Last year I took a bunch of pictures with Truman under our favorite tree in October. I've been going a little crazy snapping pictures of the leaves with my iPhone this year when we are out and about. But then Sunday was simply too perfect to ignore the pull of my real camera any longer. Nate was at a course all weekend and the kids and I didn't have plans. So I put Porter in the Ergo (where he took a fantastic nap), grabbed my camera, had Truman and Cecelia take their 'leaf collecting' bags, and we were off to have some fall fun. It was one of those moments in time when the sun is shining just right and the leaves seems to glow around us, illuminating the air like we were in some sort of dreamy bubble. Tru and CC had a ball throwing leaves at each other, jumping in a leaf pile we made over and over again, and playing Simon Says with me…all as I snapped away. Some of my favorite shots feel like photographs that I will seriously cherish forever because they capture T and C and this season so well.








big time fave:

another fave:


and yet another fave:

The weekend before this we did the Pumpkin Farm thing for our first real Fall activity this year. It was really chilly but the kids had a blast. My nice camera came out to play again. As did Cecelia's new adorable boots and vests for almost every member of the family (ahem, NATE!)




I'll be the first to tell you that this season of our life is heavy and challenging and I feel like I'm struggling to keep my head above water. But when I step back and really look at October, taking a breath and remembering that every season seems short when it's gone, I realize that life may be crazy right now but I'm embracing the crazy. I might feel spread thin and a little frazzled, juggling needs of others along with my own. But the leaves are changing, the temperatures are dropping, and that crisp fall smell is out there for us. Embrace the crazy. Soak in the season. It's sure to change before we remember to take a breath and life will feel more organized someday.

And then I'll spend too much time looking back on the pictures of this season, wondering how it could have seemed so wild when it was all so beautiful. I think my biggest goal for this Fall is granting myself some grace, cutting myself and everyone around me some slack, and riding the wave of change. Plus I want to really appreciate these pretty leaves before they blow away and the white stuff replaces them for months upon months upon months.

Thank goodness for Octobers.

Moms Make it Work: Amy | Stay at Home Mom to a Child with Food Allergies

Today on the Moms Make it Work series we have Amy, a reader who emailed me offering her story as a SAHM (who works a bit from home as well), and a mom to a daughter with severe food allergies. Amy blogs at Milwaukee Allergy Mom and I found her post very interesting, especially related to her feelings on being at home with little kids versus older kids. I always wonder how my feelings will evolve as my kids grow up and eventually attend school all day. I cannot even imagine! Nate thinks I will work full time when our kids are older but I really don't see myself having *that* much free time with homework, after-school activities, and weekend tournaments/sports. We will see. Loved Amy's post on how she makes it work and how things change over time. Enjoy!

What is your background story?
  • What was your career/schooling before you became a mom?
  • Where are you now?
I've always been a student, very academically inclined. A book lover. Seriously, my idea of fun is sitting down to research a subject, analyze it to death, and then write a report on it.

So my career pre-children was perfect for me. I was a researcher at a non-profit, good-government watchdog organization. Basically, I researched and analyzed how local government was spending its money, whether through its various programs, it was being a good steward of the taxpayers' investment.
I loved the different projects I got to work on, I loved the engagement I got to experience with different members of the community, I loved the long hours spent reading and writing.
But there was something else I loved more, and that was my husband and our plans for starting a family. My husband Jonathan and I met when we were seniors in high school. In some ways, ours was a whirlwind romance – we fell in love quickly, we knew we were each other's soul mates and best friends. We decided when we were barely 18 that we wanted to get married.
That was where the whirlwind ended. Because although we were (and still are) madly in love, we are also both extremely practical and responsible. We agreed that marriage should wait until we finished college and had jobs. So that's what we did. We were engaged all through college, and got married a month after graduation, with both of us in secure jobs, Jonathan as a software engineer and me going from my part-time research internship to a full-time research position.
Well, being our practical, responsible selves, we both knew what we wanted in terms of a family. Our mothers had stayed home with us when we were pre-school aged, and we wanted the same thing for our children.

So, when I got pregnant two years into our marriage with our daughter Alex, I told my boss that when she was born, I would be resigning to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. Although he offered me the option to have a more flexible schedule or to go part-time, I was confident that I wanted to be home full-time with Alex. So, in July of 2004, Alex was born, and I became a stay-at-home mom.
Although the overwhelming majority of my time over the past ten years has been spent with my kids, I have also maintained a presence in my career as well. But it's always been on my terms – with the caveat that I am first and foremost a stay-at-home mom and would only work from home during naptimes, or when Jonathan was home with the kids, so that I wasn't taking time away from them. I've done multiple projects for the organization as well as for another organization. That's a huge benefit of the kind of work I do, and I feel grateful for living in the time I live in technologically – it's easy to do this work from home.

Apart from keeping my skills sharp and staying on my colleagues' radar, the continued work has also given me something that I know I would go crazy without – intellectual stimulation. I can always tell when I haven't worked on a project in awhile from my reading choices. I'm always reading something – that's a given. But when I'm working on a project that keeps me intellectually engaged, my reading choices are novels and chick lit. When I haven't had a project for awhile, the post-its and highlighters come out, and I read and take notes on a stack of non-fiction books on whatever subject I'm most interested in learning about at that point. Which is fun – but there's also something less than satisfying about researching and writing when you're not getting any financial compensation for it.
I started really feeling the pressure to do something financially lucrative last year when my younger daughter Wendy started school. As long as I had a child at home with me all day, I felt completely confident in my role as a stay-at-home mom.
However, with both children in school during the day and needing less intensive care when they are home, I feel more and more as if my role has morphed from stay-at-home mom to housewife.
And that's not something I'm comfortable with. I love planning and doing activities with my kids, and even the cooking for my family and errand running with my girls. The cleaning and obsessing over minute housekeeping details while I'm the only one in my home? Not so much.

So, over the past year, I've been working on building my brand as an allergy advocate and writer, getting published here and there, and slowly but surely getting myself back into the job market – albeit a job market that's flexible enough to allow me to maintain my primary role as a stay-at-home mom.

What are the best parts of your situation?  What are the challenges?
Hands down, the best part of being a stay-at-home mom who works from home a bit on the side is all the time I get to spend with my family.

I love spending lazy summer days with my girls, planning activities with them, taking them places, and being able to share their experiences with them as they grow.
I also love that I have the time to get chores and errands done during the day while the kids are at school and Jonathan is at work.  This allows the girls and me to enjoy our time together after school before the dinner and homework rush, for the four of us to spend restful time together as a family before the bedtime rush, and to not have a rush at all on the weekends when the four of us can have fun together.
I also think that, when stay-at-home moms talk about not wanting to go back to work because they wouldn't be able to get everything done, this is what a lot of them are talking about.

I read a book recently, Leslie Bennetts' "The Feminine Mistake", in which the author posits that a stay-at-home mom's choice to become financially dependent on her husband is a huge mistake. In her book, Bennetts dismisses as ridiculous the notion that it is insurmountably difficult for working mothers to provide domestic necessities to their families such as home-cooked meals and fully-stocked pantries:  "While the job of feeding a family requires some elementary organizational skills and a willingness to plan a few days ahead, it is hardly impossible, as any number of working women can attest.  But stay-at-home mothers typically describe their domestic contributions as if there were no conceivable way a woman could manage to work and also put nutritious food on the table at night." (28)

When I read this, I felt like I had to defend my fellow stay-at-home moms a bit.  I don't for one second think I'm indispensable.  I know that if I got a full-time job, Jonathan and I would still manage to feed our kids nutritious meals, get the errands done, and accomplish all the homework and extracurriculars (although I am not promising the house would stay clean -- I have a feeling that would be my sacrifice!)

The thing is that I feel like a huge benefit of me being a stay-at-home mom is that all that necessary stuff gets accomplished without us having to rush around.  We don't have to sacrifice the leisurely pace that helps us all to recharge and enjoy each other's company.
One more advantage of my situation is that I have the opportunity to be a part of my kids' community -- I'm at their school all the time, I'm friends with their friends' parents, and I am friendly with their teachers and school administrators. This is something that's important to me because I loved my own mom being a part of my school community when I was a kid.  I feel like my presence at school helps my kids to feel confident and secure in their place there.  I love that I get to see them everyday when I volunteer at lunchtime and get the rundown of what happened in the morning -- before they forget it all by the time I pick them up at the end of the day.  They love that they get free reign of the school even during non-school hours because they're there with me setting up for a breakfast or closing up the book fair.
I also love being part of the girls' school community for a very practical reason -- Alex's food allergies.  When she started going to school full-day in first grade, I didn't feel comfortable that she would be able to keep herself safe at the lunch table surrounded by peanut butter sandwiches and carrots with ranch dip (She has severe allergies to both peanuts and eggs.).  So I took advantage of the school's accommodating volunteer policy to be at lunch everyday.  In exchange for cleaning tables in between lunch periods, I got to keep an eye on Alex when she was eating lunch to educate her as she learned how to stay away from her allergens. The fact that I'm at the school everyday also makes me very approachable.  Alex's teachers know I'll be there at lunch and often seek me out to ask me questions about buying safe treats for a classroom ice cream party or the principal will ask for my input in EpiPen storage or the advisability of a peanut-free lunch table. Being a stay-at-home mom allows me to gain experience and credibility in something that has become a key part of my identity over the last few years, both as a mother and as a career focus -- a food allergy advocate.
Now, onto the challenges of being a stay-at-home, slightly work-from-home mom. I've already touched on what I feel to be my number one challenge -- my identity is tied too much to my housewifely duties.  Just because I'm transitioning from being a hands-on stay-at-home mom of little kids into a mom with more time on her hands during the day while her kids are at school, I sometimes find myself focusing too much on things that don't contribute to being a parent per se, but more to being a housewife -- obsessing over what foods I have in the pantry that need to be eaten, making sure to rid the house of clutter every morning and to make all the beds.  And because the nature of cleaning dictates that there's always more to do, I find myself getting so involved in the chores that I don't give myself enough time to write. At base, my challenge is that I feel like I need to be doing something all the time to compensate for the fact that I don't have a paying job and that I don't have kids at home to care for.  So I make myself busy cleaning and obsessing over house details because I worry that sitting down and writing would be a waste of time because I'm not getting paid for it. A related challenge that I find from being a stay-at-home mom with kids in school is that being alone in the house leads to me becoming too inward-focused and introspective.  As a result, I think about how I'm stuck at home cleaning while my family is out having more interesting adventures.  I get resentful because I feel like I'm sacrificing my intellectual pursuits to make a nice house for my family, and I'm just not appreciated enough for it. Of course, I won't deny that there is some truth to my being underappreciated -- I actually think this is an occupational hazard of being a parent -- any type of parent.  However, being in the house alone makes me dwell on my role too much, and I have a tendency to forget that even though Jonathan does get to go downtown to work everyday, he is also shouldering the burden of providing financially for us, which isn't easy, and the kids are spending the day at school doing their job as well.  None of my family's lives is all roses and butterflies, so sometimes I just need to get over myself.
One more challenge is the flip side to my happiness about being able to be so involved in my kids' lives.  Even though both my kids and I love the fact that I'm in their school so much, I also am concerned that they're too dependent on me being there.  I want them to grow to be more independent, but just the fact that I'm there all the time means that I naturally do a lot for them, and therefore, they don't have to learn to do some things for themselves.

Is this how you expected your life to be pre-kids?
In terms of the roles that Jonathan and I play in our family ( me as a stay-at-home mom, him as a working dad), this is pretty much exactly the way I expected my life to be pre-kids.  And I've really enjoyed it.  I've loved being home with the kids for ten years, and I know how lucky we are that Jonathan's salary is plenty for us to live on.
As far as expectations go, I have been surprised by how my feelings have changed as my kids have gotten older. Both before I had kids and while I was in the midst of raising pre-school age kids, I was always very gung-ho in my belief that being a stay-at-home mom was the best choice -- for me.  I never had illusions that being a stay-at-home mom was the best choice for every woman, and I wasn't judgmental about other women's choices.  But I was always very confident that my being a stay-at-home mom was the best choice for me. As a result of my certainty in those beliefs, I've been kind of blindsided by how much my feelings have changed as my kids have gotten older.  I always knew they would grow up and become less dependent on me, but I think that knowledge was always a kind of amorphous, sometime-in-the future kind of understanding.  Now that my children's independence is becoming more concrete and in-my-face, I'm surprised by how important having my own career is becoming to me.  I'm surprised by the vehemence of my feelings that being a stay-at-home mom isn't enough for me anymore, that I need something outside of my family to define myself. Something that has really been hammered home for me, especially in the last few months, is that it's okay to feel extremely confident that the choice you're making is exactly right for you and your family at the point of life you're in, and then a few years later to feel that a different choice is absolutely right for you and your family.  Just because I was confident that my choice to be a stay-at-home mom was right for me when I had two young children doesn't mean that it's wrong to want to be a working mom with older kids.
Is this your ideal situation?  If not, what is?
Being a stay-at-home mom while keeping a toe in my career from home was absolutely my ideal situation for a long time. Now I'm at a point where I think the ideal situation for both myself and my family would be for me to have more of a real job, but a job with enough flexibility to be there to take the kids to and from school and still maintain a strong volunteer presence at school -- basically changing my focus while the girls are at school from doing chores and errands with just a dab of work to doing intellectually stimulating work with a little bit of house maintenance thrown in. A pipe dream?  Could be, but I'm working on it.

Do you see yourself making a career change in the next five to ten years?  Or is this current setup for the long haul?
I hope it doesn't take five or ten years for me to achieve the transition I'm looking for!  I hope to find a more comfortable role for myself and my family in the next year.
What are your tips for how you make your situation work for you?  How do you handle mommy guilt?  What advice do you have for new moms struggling with returning to work outside the home, or struggling to decide if staying home is the right choice?

As my thoughts and feelings about being a stay-at-home mom have changed over the past year, my most profound moments of mommy guilt have been as a result of worrying that I'm planning on moving the goal posts on my girls. My life has revolved around them for their whole lives, and I've been fine with it.  Now, all of a sudden, I feel like I need something more, and I worry that such a change isn't fair to them. As a result of this guilt, for several months, I didn't even entertain the idea of taking on a more traditional job; instead, I've been focused on trying to build up my own brand and doing more from-home things that would just work around my main focus of being a stay-at-home mom. But, recently I had a serious discussion with both girls about what the most important things in their lives are for me to a part of.  Both of them were very mature and told me that their bottom line is that they want me to be there to volunteer at their lunch periods, they want me to run the book fair, and they want me to be there at bedtime.  They're both okay with occasional deviations from the norm -- I can miss a lunch period here and there if I have a meeting, for example. Jonathan has also stepped up to the plate.  It's important to him for me to be happy, and he has shown in words and actions that he's willing to take on more of the home responsibilities in order to accommodate me working more. These discussions with my family have made me feel so much better.  They understand that writing is important to me, and they want to accommodate me because they love me.
So, my bottom line when confronting mommy guilt is that it isn't something you should confront alone.  Don't just sit around dwelling on how what you do will affect your kids.  You aren't the only one who makes choices that affect your whole family.  If you wouldn't begrudge your talented child from taking on a sport that takes up huge chunks of family time, or your husband from taking a few graduate classes to better his career prospects, don't begrudge yourself opportunities that come along for your own improvement. Your family will adjust, you will adjust.  You all love each other, so work together to figure it out.

How do meals work in your family? One may not think that there are benefits to your child being diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies, but there are.  One huge benefit is that Jonathan and I have become foodies; we've had to learn to read labels, become creative when cooking (Peanuts aren't hard to leave out of recipes, but try baking and frying without eggs!), and really pay attention to different ingredients and recipes.  As a result, we love to cook now.
During the week, I typically cook two dinners, which we then eat on those nights and for leftovers throughout the rest of the work week.  Then on a weekend day, when Jonathan has more time, he will cook one of his specialties. Some of the meals that are crowd pleasers for our whole family: 1.  Tacos -- We either have regular tacos or a nacho bar; both are big hits with the girls.  We usually do chicken tacos since we all love them, but sometimes we make ground beef tacos too, when Jonathan or I get a craving for them. 2.  Chicken Pot Pie -- This recipe is seriously addictive; we all drool over it.  I make two of them, and the four of us polish them off in two meals.  Since the crust is made with buttermilk, I will usually also make buttermilk chicken the same week, as well as a batch of waffles and pancakes.  We either eat the pancakes and waffles with bacon, fruit, and muffins as a breakfast for dinner meal, or I let the girls have them for breakfasts for a few days and then freeze the rest to thaw out for special breakfasts for the kids. 3.  Pizza -- Jonathan makes wonderful grilled pizza, which he customizes for everyone.  He and Wendy like cheese pizza, I like either margherita or feta and spinach, and Alex (She's a little strange in her tastes) likes no sauce, no cheese, just bacon or chicken, broccoli, and she has been known to have french fries on her pizza as well.
Check out my website for more allergy-friendly recipes; Jonathan and I have perfected quite a few!

How do you keep your house clean?
  I don't.  Just kidding!  (sort of). I am not a fan of house cleaning, but I am a fan of having a clean house.  Basically, I make sure have a reasonably clean house every morning (beds made, toys and random clutter put away where it belongs, clean kitchen, and swept floors).  After breakfast in the summers, the girls and I will go through the house doing those chores, and after I drop off the girls at school during the year, I will do these chores.  Then I have a reasonably clean house to live in throughout the day. The more deep cleaning stuff, we do when we can see it needs to be done.  Alex and I do the laundry three times a week. Check out some of my day-in-the-life posts if you're interested in more of the day-to-day details of my cleaning schedule. Thanks to Julia for this series and for showing interest in how I "make it work"; I hope I've been insightful!

{Thank you, Amy! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}
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