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}


  1. If you're happy, your kids will be happy. So very true, love it. And I love that you realized things just weren't working so you made a huge change in your life!! Good for you. Enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing!

  2. I loved reading about what life is like with 3 kids in school - it seems so far away to me now, but I know it'll happen before I know it! The job jars is a great idea, and I also like the monthly meal plan and themed weeks. We already are great about doing weekly meal plans but a theme week would help us when we're feeling stuck!

  3. Thank so much for profiling me! What a great series to be a part of!

  4. Look forward to reading your post about monthly meal planning... Heading over to your blog. Also the job jars... great idea!!

  5. I'm a Cali girl myself and ended up in Alaska for three years. Now that we've moved on to the next duty station, I miss certain parts of it so much! It was fun to read your perspective.


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