Moms Make it Work: Erin | Work from Home Farming Mom in Canada

Today on the Moms Make it Work series, Erin tells us about her life as a Canadian farmer. This is another reason that I love this series---because how cool is it to peek into the life of a mom in a different country, working at a completely different kind of job than my own. I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I did, whether you can personally relate to Erin's story or not!


Hi everybody! I’ve really enjoyed reading all of the stories in this series, and hope you enjoy reading mine.

My name is Erin, I am 31 years old, and I live with my husband Ryan and our daughter, G, on a farm in the province of Québec, Canada. Although we’re in Québec (which is francophone), we are very close to Ottawa (anglo!), which is a city of almost a million. My husband is finishing a PhD in Geography and moving on to a PostDoc in the new year, and while we both share in the work of the farm and raising our girl, I am the “main farmer”, and the main caregiver for our daughter.

We’re a bit camera shy…Here we are taking a peek at our flock of Icelandic sheep.

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

I grew up on a farm in Alberta but left home to see the world and get an education. In 2007 after some traveling and some schooling, I got my BA in Canadian Studies (for me this meant a mix of Women’s Studies, History, Politics, and Environmental Studies) at a small university north of Toronto. My husband and I met there in 2003 and have been together ever since. We got married this past December on our 10-year anniversary.

For a few years after my degree, I worked in government and the non-profit sector. I enjoyed many aspects of having a more typical employment situation – the regular pay, semi-regular hours, having colleagues and working on issues that are really important to me – things like poverty and inequality, food security and sustainable agriculture. But like many others in the non-profit sector, I was burning out incredibly quickly, in the last year of my employment I was constantly stressed out and itching to leave. All throughout my time living in the city, I kept in touch with my farming childhood by working casually/seasonally on different types of farms (often in exchange for food!)

We knew we wanted to start a family, and when my daughter was born in the summer of 2012, I began my year of maternity leave excited about the change of pace, with an open heart for motherhood, and with a determination to NOT return to typical out-of-the-home employment – if we could manage it financially. We get 50 weeks of paid parental leave in Canada (and in Québec, my husband also gets 4 additional weeks of paid leave, supposedly to encourage bonding between the second partner and the baby). During my mat leave, I took the opportunity to plan how I could generate an income for myself from our farm, and I prepared to go from having a farm just-for-us to a farm that actually pays some bills.

Trying out an antique tractor at the fair

Today, we have a small organic farm where we raise sheep for meat and wool, and pastured pork (these are the commercial aspects of our farm), as well as chickens for our own meat and eggs, a cow and calf for our own milk, and a big garden for our own vegetables. It is a thriving small farm and I am making a small income for myself, producing the majority of our own food, and keeping our daughter at home. In the future when our daughter (and hopefully, a sibling or two) are school-age, I’d like to grow our farm big enough to generate a full-time income for myself. I always wanted to be able to stay at home with my kids, and I’m a real homebody – so home on the farm truly is where I want to be.

-Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

Overall, our situation really works well for us. I don’t like living in the city and my husband can’t be too far away from it. We both like our work – mine in the home and on the farm, and his in academia – and enjoy having different things to do at different parts of the day/week/year. For sure, this kind of setup relies on us both being equally committed to our lifestyle and our work and family choices. We’re on the same page, we’re willing to change if things get un-workable, and we’re committed to helping one another reach our own personal goals, as well as our family goals. And, we talk about these things a lot.

So this is what the day-to-day usually looks like for us:
Springtime swimming lessons…

In the mornings, I head out to do the chores while my husband gets my daughter up and ready for the day, and makes breakfast. Milking, feeding the animals, checking the sheep, letting the chickens out, and taking the cow and calf out to pasture take me an hour or more. My husband filters the morning’s milk and does the milk dishes. Generally when I get back in from chores there is breakfast (mmm, eggs!) almost on the table and a clean or semi-clean kitchen to start the day. My daughter has a bit of cartoon time in the mornings. If my husband has to go to town to work for the day, this all just happens earlier.

After breakfast he will head to his office (in our home) to work for the day, and I will switch to mama-mode for much of the day. In the mornings me and G hang out, do a grocery run or errands in town and make a stop at the playground, spend some time in the garden, walk to the creek to throw rocks and look for berries - and always, every day, the sandbox. My daughter is an amazing napper (thank goodness!), and on most days I take advantage of her 3-hour nap to work in the garden or do some farm work. My husband working from home on some days is essential to this, because he is there in the house if she wakes up. But, on days when he has to go to town, I use that time to get stuff done in the house and yard where the baby monitor is in range. This is also very seasonal – in the winter, those few hours are for stuff in the house – I do a lot of our marketing/advertising, networking, learning, and reading for our farm in the winter. And baking….and sewing…and having a clean(er) house…and now and then being just plain, gloriously, lazy!

An autumn walk in the field.

In the early evening, my husband will finish his work for the day, and we will tag-team everything from that point on. If the weather isn’t horrible, we’ll take our daughter out with us to do the evening chores. As she is getting older it’s been easier and easier to have her tag along while we’re working outside, and, she likes being with us and feels proud of being our helper. We split up all of those miscellaneous things that get left to 5pm…the load of laundry that never did make it to the dryer or the clothesline, getting supper picked and planned and on the stove, or an extra little farm task that really needs attention. If one of us is away for the evening, the other one just makes it work, doing the most important things and leaving the rest for another time. On days when we both have in-town commitments, we’ll either bring our daughter with us (like, for a sports team, if its nice out), or drop her off at her Auntie’s or Grandparents’ house for the evening. While I was still nursing, my husband would do bathtime, and I’d do bedtime, but now that she’s fully weaned we switch off bath and bedtime – whoever didn’t get much time with her in the day will do the majority of the bed-and-bath routine. (Or, whoever can’t bear the thought of cleaning the kitchen gets to do bedtime.)

Friends helping to make hay, and a successful climb to the top!

We try to plan the big farm jobs – things like making hay, sheep-handling days, fixing fence, big garden projects, building things, and fixing the many things that break – for the weekends when we can get friends and family to help and babysit. But this doesn’t always work out (like the time I broke my haybine before I even started cutting hay and had to call the hubby down to help me fix it….after a sheepish phone call to my dad, 3 hours of filing and hammering and grinding, and a lot of grease all over everything, I was up and running, but he was stuck with our by-now awake daughter and a work day that had never really got started...)

With a farm and a garden, what keeps me busy changes a lot throughout the year. In the spring, we are preparing and planting the garden. The sheep get shorn. They need a lot of care as they get ready to lamb and in lambing season it’s around the clock periodic checks and the odd assist. The new lambs, though, are a joy to watch. Once the lambs are all on their feet and the grass is growing well, all of our grazing animals go out to pasture, and for the rest of the warm season they will be moved every 3-5 days to fresh grass. We get our pigs as weaned piglets in the late spring and throughout the season they eat more, and more, and more… A few times in the summer we make hay: cut at the beginning of a sunny stretch, then a few days later bale, haul to the barn, and stack. A big, fun job out in the sun but also really stressful wondering if the dry weather will hold. The summer also means lots of time in the garden: weeding, mulching, harvesting, preserving veggies for the winter to come. In the fall this reaches a frenetic pace, and almost every day includes a batch of salsa in jars, a haul of onions set to dry, or a batch of veggies blanched and into the deep freeze. At this point we’ll wean the lambs and the sheep are shorn again. In late fall the pigs and the meat lambs (those who have not “made the roster for the season”) are sent to the butcher. Customers come to the farm to pick up their meat orders and all of the remaining animals come back to the barn for the winter. The winter is quiet. Everybody is close to the house and easy to watch. We’re feeding hay stockpiled in the loft, so chores are a bit easier. All throughout the year there is milking, and making cheese and yogurt, keeping the chickens happy and fed and clean, and eating all of those glorious eggs.

My husband’s schedule changes a lot through the year, too. Being in the academic world, he may have a semester with lots of teaching or no teaching at all and lots of research, or he may have a few conferences all back to back and out of town. There are stressful times and much more normal-paced times, it all just depends on where things are at with his various projects and commitments.

We’re working in the barn…and she’s getting stuck in a bucket.

-What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?

Well, let’s start with the challenges. One of the biggest ones is that with a farm, it’s hard to ever leave! We have animals that need to be cared for 365 days a year. Sometimes we do get friends to stay for the weekend so we can leave, but it’s not easy, they need to be trained, and if a problem occurred while they were here it could be a disaster. So, we rarely leave. The spring/summer/fall is amazing and beautiful, but it is so much work. I’m often so tired at the end of the day that I’m ready for bed as soon as my daughter goes to bed. If my husband is having a particularly stressful or busy period with his work, or if he’s away for a few days and I’m in the middle of a busy time with the farm, it can be quite hard. And it’s also challenging to juggle a toddler and the occasional farm emergency – like the time I had to lock my toddler with an iPhone in a little lambing pen while I helped sick lamb. My daughter was technically happy with the iPhone, but I do not feel good about hypnotizing her with technology – you can’t predict those situations and you just have to deal with it when it happens. Another challenge is that we’re not in a real farming area (with farm stores and machinery stores and people who make their own feed), and my family is scattered across the country. Farm ‘situations’ are really way easier to deal with when you are surrounded by other farm families (ideally, your own). But, having a super-supportive family and an amazing group of friends really makes everything a lot easier. Even if they can’t always be there to haul in the hay with us, knowing that they’re on our side and pulling for us makes the challenges a lot easier...and often, more fun!

Throwing rocks in the creek, but really, I’m trying to go check the sheep with my little helper.

The best part of our situation is that we’re living a life that we love. I am so happy to have my daughter at home with us and my husband working from home quite frequently, it’s wonderful how much time we both get to spend as a family and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. My husband is pursuing a career that he loves, and I love our little farm. I am truly grateful to be back on the farm and I love being able to share those values with my family. I also love feeling that direct connection between my work every day and the food that we – and others – get to eat. I feel great that my daughter knows which berries are good to eat and which ones she should ask about, that she calls her milk “Fanny Milk” (the name of our cow), that she knows that eggs come from the chickens and that she tries to pick the weeds growing in the driveway (“Mama I’m weedin!”). Sharing these tiny experiences with her are invaluable and precious.

-Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?

I guess I always hoped that I would be able to find a way to stay at home with my kids and have a farm, so yes, basically this is what I wanted pre-kids. Having my daughter was the incentive to truly live the life that I believe in.

-Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

We are pretty close! I feel so, so grateful for my family and the life that we have. Ideally, I think we would be co-farming with another family. That would ease a lot of the vulnerabilities and stresses, allow us to get away once in awhile, and allow us to scale up significantly. Plus, it would be nice if there were other kids nearby, since we aren’t within walking distance of any other kids. These are things that we will look to do in the future. Also, ideally my husband would have a permanent job – he’s so far been paid to do all of his schooling, but it’s always 2 years of funding here, a 4 year grant there – which can make long-term financial security quite stressful. He’s just not quite there yet in terms of his career track. It will come with time, and will mean a big transition (and very likely a move), but that will ease a lot of financial planning worries.

On a walk when G was still tiny!

-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?

I do not forsee changing this lifestyle, but if things stop working for whatever reason, then of course, we’ll go with the flow. If I need to take on more work, or get a job in town, I will. If we need to move to a city for awhile, we will. But in the long run, this is the place and the life for us.

-How do meals work in your family?

My husband and I share the cooking pretty equally. Things are super-easy when I meal plan, but I only do that about 1 week per month. I just can’t get it together to do it on a regular basis. In the summer I meal-plan for the day based around what’s growing in the garden. Which means some weeks we eat a lot of green beans. We grocery shop about once a week, and I stick to a list, but most of our groceries actually just come from home – the challenge is always using things when they are fresh and ready. In the winter, we love having people over for a big farm supper once a week or so and I truly love making a big Sunday feast!

-How do you keep your house clean?

Uhhh…….First off let me say that before we had a kid and a farm, my husband and I had pretty dang clean house. These days, we have a nice and clean house in the winter, and a dirty house in the summer. I have resigned myself to that fact, although I don’t like it. Our kitchen is always clean, that is non-negotiable. We handle raw milk in there, and fresh eggs, and veggies straight from the garden. It must be cleaned. Otherwise, stuff gets tidied up every day and true cleaning happens once in a while. My daughter is responsible to pick up her toys every night, though it’s mostly me steering her from one thing to another and helping her put them away. She’s getting better at it. She’s also surprisingly good at putting things away while I vaccum. (Although I’m pretty sure she does this out of fear that I will vaccum something up, and I feel a little bit bad about using that to my advantage, but I do it anyways). Everything else we tackle when we can, which is, sadly, not that often. I actually can’t remember the last time I washed the floors. The bathrooms are on an as-needed basis. Laundry is my nemesis. I can get my daughter’s clothes washed, but my own? It ain’t pretty, folks. Ah well. Maybe we’ll find a better solution for this in the future.

My little helper, doing the dishes.

-How do you handle mommy guilt?

To be honest, I don’t really feel mommy guilt. I used to, right after my daughter was born, but as I started to gain a bit of confidence, I stopped feeling pressured to meet up to others’ expectations. The way I see it, there are a million amazing ways to raise a child and be in a family, and we’ve found one of them that works for us. Sure, I make a gazillion mistakes and I have many small regrets, but that’s just part of life. My daughter doesn’t get to do very many toddler activities, like music class or playdates, but she’s learning and growing and she’s going to be an amazing person anyway. I feel good about that, and about the choices that we’re making as a family, even though they’re different than the choices that lots of other families make.

At the lake on one of those rare hot days this past summer…

I also try to speak up and get involved in the things that matter to me and my family, although I don’t do it as much as I feel I should, or as I used to. I think that it is super important – we have the power to change our communities – and being even a tiny bit involved makes me feel a little bit better about the situations that happen in my community and my society that I don’t feel good about. So, I’m trying to get back to doing more of this kind of activist community work.

-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 don’t know that I have any advice, but I will say that having family-friendly social policy (like 52 weeks of partial-pay parental leave, universal healthcare, and $8-per-day childcare available to all) really makes a lot of these decisions feel less pressurized. I really wish that everybody had access to these kinds of supports; I feel like they are good for all kids and our community(ies) as a whole.

I guess all I can say is just try to do what your heart tells you is right. Do whatever works for you! You can do it! And if you try something and it doesn’t work, you can always change it up later.

Thanks Julia for hosting this terrific series! I think it’s so great to read about how other moms are making it work.

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

Life Lately, Vol. 2

Hi. It's quiet around here, no? I suppose that is completely expected during this head-spinning-adjustment of being a working mom to three. But blog, I just can't quit you and feel the need to bookmark life's happenings lately. It's like I can hear these days whoosh past me in a giant blur of highs and lows and emotions. This whoosh always makes me want to stop, breathe, and type it all out a bit--even if blogs are 'out' and I've barely made time to read one myself. I still feel pulled to make the time for these updates. Not 'find' the time but make it. Right?

Things are good, kids are good, Nate is good, work is good, life is good. It's just a freaking roller coaster and that feeling of being TOTALLY FRAZZLED is currently a 7 out of a possible 10. Yes, I'm plastering a number to make my overwhelmed-ness objective. You'd expect this of me, I hope. Yesterday I was rocking a 2/10 with self-professed frazzlement because it was a great day at home, kick-butt productivity with my To Do list, especially happy children, and extra fun times as a mom were had. I mean, Porter laughed for the first time and I almost died from the cute and almost cried from how amazing that sound was to my ears. Emotions. Not short on those around here lately. Also, Truman took a nap on the couch after his first field trip at school, and I cannot remember the last time he napped. Not only that, but he happened to snooze at the exact same time as his younger siblings. Triple nap for the win, because that hour in itself was enough to stamp yesterday as a major success.

Seriously? We made these kids? How are we so lucky? Triple smiles. OMG.
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Also, if baby flannel is wrong then I don't want to be right.
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So anyway, today is less of a 'I can conquer the world as a mom' feeling and more of a 'holy man, I cannot possibly stretch myself any thinner. Gumby doesn't have anything on me.' And stuff. Defeated mommy rears her ugly head.

Sleep (or lack thereof) and also Nursing (or lack thereof) are the main sources of my 'on the brink of disaster' feelings. Let's discuss. SLEEP: The other night, I decided to try a dream feed for Porter with a big bottle of milk right before I went to bed. I mean, waking up 3+ times per night is becoming torture, although not a shock seeing as how I just really don't breed good sleepers. The first night it worked great, as he made it from bedtime at 7:30 (nursing down), bottle at 10:30, and then didn't peep until 2:45am when I nursed him (and again at 5:00). Two wake ups = good night by my standards. And a 7 hour stretch is ideal.

Last night I gave him the bottle at bedtime because he was NOT having the boob, so then I pumped and went to bed without a dream feed. He woke at 11:30, just an hour after I laid my bagged eyes to rest. I nursed him then and also every 1.5 hours there after (ugggggghhhhh) until he fa-REAKED at 4 am and I gave him a bottle. I slept on the couch from 5-6:30 because Nate was snoring and it was just a rough night of (pathetic) sleep. And then it was a work day and pretending to be professional running on a few hours of very broken sleep is a game I will surely lose soon.

Little sleep and dwindling nursing are a potent combination, guys. A combination that can send me straight to the depths of 'what am I doing wrong? You must hate me, children.' Followed up by 'whatever, I'm just rolling with it. Look at me being all zen and non-control-y.' Because Porter is seriously the best thing ever, and I refuse to let this nursing drama/lack of sleep tarnish my time with this quickly growing babe. MY LAST BABE. Sob.

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(how can anything in life be bad when he is so cute?)
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We are doing bottles during the day to solidify a routine of sorts and take some of the weight of the unknown off my shoulders. I pump when I can, even on days at home, and usually end up a cow hooked up to my udder sucker 3-4 times every day. It feels like 40 times per day, for real, because every time I'm pumping I have three children that need all of my arms plus an additional appendage I have yet to grow. It's a lot but whatever, I can be stubborn enough to do it. Plus, I gave Porter his first formula bottle at home yesterday, although I'm still *mostly* keeping up with his intake pumping. The world did not end. Go figure.

(New bottle and pumping gear to make it more fun and less awful. Retail therapy DOES help, my friends)
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Wait. Are you counting the 'firsts' in this post so far? First triple nap, first laugh, first formula bottle I've ever mixed. Big timers! {Pausing to re-fill my wine glass here}

I'm like an exclusive pumper who still nurses before bed (most of the time), during the middle of the night (begrudgingly), and first thing in the morning. The LC had the fab idea of making 'pajama time' nursing time, since he does nurse the best when sleepy. But otherwise, it's his beloved bottle. And this set up is really working well for us since we both seem to crave routine and less wavering about whether or not to attempt nursing and have him freak. I honestly do feel at peace with nursing him just at night and doing bottles otherwise. It doesn't have to be all or none and hopefully he WILL continue to nurse a bit for me but if not, I just want him fed and happy. And to have no regrets but that may be asking too much from this crazy time of life. I want our breastfeeding journey to be a positive one and somehow end on a high note, without either of us crying. Crystal ball anyone?

Other updates not related to the boob or zzzzzzs: Cecelia seems to be leveling out her intense emotional peaks and valleys. She still neeeeeeeds me quite often but she is also showing signs of becoming a comedienne and has us rolling on the floor in laughter. She's just a goober and might be growing up a bit, which is alright if it means she's not trying to kill us with her meltdowns. Love my entertaining girl so much. Even when she is the queen of pout.

(This was during her re-telling of her day at Lori's, when she was only allowed one cup of juice. Was very distraught, obviously).
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New sweater leggings on her rival my love for Porter in flannel, FYI.
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Germ sharing...
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(I'm not sure…)
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(little princess balancing on daddy's hands)
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Truman is also rocking school's face off. We had our first parent teacher conference weeks ago and it was a pride-filled meeting while we discussed our rule-following, people-pleasing first born. The teacher said he is a joy to have in class and he's her big helper, her example of good behavior, and her great listener. I mean, come on----can parents bust open from being proud?

(his teacher emailed me this picture of Truman and his 'mat man.' Talk about pride---look at his face!)
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(napping mid-cookie takes talent)
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Work days are actually falling into more of a routine and are less jarring to the delicate balance of life with three kids. It's a given that work day mornings are n-u-t-s and work day evenings are r-i-d-i-c because we are all exhausted and ready for bed by 6pm. But it's getting better. And work itself is still enjoyable and rewarding and a place where I can actually be on top of my organizational game a bit. Nothing like bossing around helping my patients to make me feel like I'm making a difference in the the lives of others.

It's especially nice to hear positive affirmations that I'm doing a good job with my PT role, because the mom role is severely under appreciated as we all know. It's not like my children look me in my eyes and thank me for wiping their butts, making them food they will likely refuse to eat anyway, helping them sort out their feelings, exposing them to super-fun activities with friends, etc. Now more than ever, being a mom feels especially thankless but it feels like the best job in the world, too. Such a paradox and worth it, times a million. I think having three children and working outside of the home three days per week has simply amplified my over thinking about both roles.

What else? Nate will be traveling all weekend and into next week, but my mom and Memaw will be coming for a visit. PERFEC TIMING, ladies. ;) Seriously cannot wait. The kids, and especially that little Porter P, are changing at record speeds so the monthly visits from The Ladies are a must.

OH, and remember Henry? He was once the sole focus of blog fodder and of our lives. The old mutt turned nine last weekend. We still love him lots even when he's acting a fool (like the rest of our crew).
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To end this randomness, I will summarize in saying this: I'm stretched thin but I'm soaking in the beauty in being so incredibly needed by various aspects of my life. We are juggling. We are surviving and even enjoying the chaos in the process. I'm a giant cliche right now but I truly would not trade this time in my life for another….unless it somehow included more sleep and less of the 7/10 frazzlement rating I feel buzzing behind my eyes. Or maybe that's just my beloved coffee with the buzz. Either way, I'll take it!

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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}

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