How do you brainstorm for tomorrow’s presentation, think about what to make for dinner and make a mental tally of baby’s diaper reserves at home, all at the same time?
That’s the million-dollar question for many working moms and dads.
And here’s another essential question: How do you make sure you’re sharing the load equally?
Day after day, resentment over whose job it is to take care of the minutiae of household work or child rearing can slowly leave cracks in any relationship.
Then there’s the matter of how everyone should get to have some down time — a basic human need that many parents have come to think of as a luxury.
Global News turned to an informal Facebook poll to see how today’s moms and dads manage to get it all done. We also spoke to Allyson Downey, founder of weeSpring, a startup that helps new and expectant parents buy baby gear, and the author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.
It turns out there are four key strategies to juggling jobs, children and house work without losing your mind:
Cook loads and do it on Sunday
For most of the Canadian couples Global News spoke to, front-loading the cooking on the weekend is key.
Several said they prepare huge meals in advance and eat leftovers for several days after.
One couple who invested in a large freezer goes so far as to have a cooking marathon of three or four days and live off homemade frozen meals for up to three months.
Many also mentioned cutting up onions and garlic, as well as produce, on Sunday.
On a weekday night, being able to grab a handful of chopped onions from a resealable bag in the freezer rather than weeping over a whole one can make a huge difference, noted one couple.
Cut up veggies can be easily steamed for dinner every day, said another mom. And chopped fruit will be ready to “grab and go for all meals needed,” she added.
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Divide responsibilities, not chores
Most couples understand that managing two careers, one household and however many children requires lots of planning. But having a to-do list and splitting that in half isn’t enough, said Downey.
Instead of dividing chores, parents should focus on dividing responsibilities, she said.
“Sit down and think about everything that needs to get done, but break it down by theme,” she said.
For example, instead of “cooking,” start with a headline like “feeding the family,” which encompasses cooking, doing the groceries, washing the dishes and — crucially — coming up with meal ideas.
Splitting up the load by responsibility accomplishes three essential things, according to Downey.
One, it ensures that both the planning part and execution part of household work and childcare are divided equally.
Things such as cooking, getting the kids dressed in the morning and driving them to school are all time-consuming tasks.
But thinking about what the family is going to eat, whether the kids need new clothes and what school they should go to can be even more exhausting.
It’s mental work that infringes on one’s ability to focus on the job when at work and to truly unplug when at home — and it must be shared, Downey argued.
Second, this strategy allows parents to develop expertise in their respective fields, she noted.
As any businessperson knows, that tends to create efficiencies.
But dividing responsibilities also prevents mom from becoming the authority on anything to do with child rearing, a pattern couples tend to unwittingly fall into, Downey told Global News.
Women generally take the lead in child care right after the baby is born, “so mom becomes the expert, and it doesn’t shift back,” said Downey.
And sometimes, mom “doesn’t want to relinquish control,” she added.
Rebalancing the load takes deliberate action and careful planning.
“Going with the flow generally leaves a lot on women’s plate,” even if dads have the best intentions, said Downey.
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Play to your respective strengths
When deciding who is going to do what, parents should play to each partner’s strengths, said Downey.
For example, a couple Downey knows has divvied up child care duty based on the fact that he is a night hawk and she is an early bird.
If the baby wakes up crying at night, until 2 a.m. it is dad who will get out of bed. After that, it’s mom.
Taking up the tasks that one is good at also “reduces the feeling of hating the chores,” one mom surveyed by Global News noted.
Plan for time off, too
Among all the planning, make sure to build in some time to rest and have some fun that doesn’t revolved around the children, advised Downey.
One mom-and-dad team Global News spoke to said they each try to take one night a week off to do “whatever we need to maintain sanity.”
Downey herself has a similar arrangement. She and her husband have one date-night per week, plus one evening each that is their own.
The latter is precious time they can use to pursue hobbies or unwind with friends. But it’s also important for their professional lives, she said.
“Knowing that the other parent is on duty means you can grab a drink with your colleagues or attend an industry event.”
And sometimes, all you’ll want to do is lie on the couch with a good book and a glass of wine.