It should come as no surprise that having children while attempting a career at the same time is quite the juggle. As a single mom of six, Heather MacKenzie knows this all too well. The most surprising part of Heather’s story might be just how successful she’s been — as co-founder of SheEO Colorado, as a consultant and keynote speaker, among many other things — while raising six happy, thriving kids at the same time.
So, what’s her secret? A few select members of the Ladycoders Conference held at The Commons on April 7 were lucky enough to find out. Heather called her session “Motherhood: The Juggle is Real,” and the women who attended left with some actionable advice that will hopefully help drive their own co-success as a parent and an employee in the stressful tech world.
Here are a seven ways Heather helped master her life as a working mother of six.
- Schedule sleep like you schedule anything else. Women aren’t great at it, because there is always something else that needs to be done, but Heather suggests setting an alarm in your phone for bedtime, just the way you might for young kids, or for a meeting you need to get to at work. One other rule she lives by: no screens for at least an hour before bed. “It’s tempting to scroll through Facebook,” she admitted, “but it’s best to leave it aside.”
- Let go of perfection – it does not exist. Although Heather admits that it’s probably a bit more difficult to do this in a world full of Instagram and Pinterest perfection (her kids are older now and didn’t grow up in the world of social media insanity), it’s still important to try. “Let go, or you’ll make yourself crazy,” she said. Not everything needs to be perfect for it to still be wonderful. In fact, Heather admits that when her kids were younger, there were often days where she counted it a victory if they made it to school with shirts and pants on — even if those shirts and pants happened to be pajamas.
- Skip the multitasking. Instead of trying to do 1,000 things at the same time, Heather suggests being fully present in whatever it is you’re doing at the moment. That means resisting the urge to schedule pediatrician appointments while you’re at work, or checking work email when you’re hanging with the kids. More often than not that just leaves the kids feeling cheated and you feeling guilty. “It’s not always possible, but whenever I did this, I always felt I was getting more done and that the people had my full attention in whatever task I was doing,” she said.
- Empower your partner to feel like an equal at home. Although she’s been a single mom for many years now, when Heather was married, she admits that she was often tempted to just take tasks over and do everything herself. As the mom, we often think we know best how to care for our kids, and it can be hard to let go. Instead, Heather highly suggests letting your partner know they have equal responsibility and letting some of that responsibility lie elsewhere.
- Involve the kids. As soon as Heather’s kids could reach the buttons on the laundry machines, she had them doing their own laundry. “Let other people handle their own responsibilities,” she said. “My kids emptied dishwashers, made beds, all that. And it’s the same thing at work. Don’t be a, ‘I’ll just do it myself’ person.”
- Remember self care. Just like the airlines remind parents to always put on their oxygen mask before they put on their kids’, if you don’t take care of yourself, then you won’t be able to rightfully (and healthfully) take care of your kids. At one point Heather admitted that she was sleeping three hours a night and living off of Ambien and Red Bull. At some point, that type of life had to stop. “Just like scheduling sleep,” she said, “at whatever frequency you can, schedule your self care, as well.”
- Find your tribe. Support is so important in the mom world, so find yours. Oftentimes you may find that you’re becoming friends with the parents of your kids’ friends, just because that’s easiest, but Heather suggests cultivating a tribe of women who support you and who have each other’s backs, instead, whomever that may be. In fact, when Heather leaves for a month-long work trip to Australia in a little bit, she knows her tribe will be there to take care of her one daughter who is still living at home.
Women don’t often make it a priority to take care of themselves, and it’s our natural tendency to put the needs of others ahead of our own. Sitting in a room with a group of soon-to-be, would-be or current mothers, though, and hearing that our needs are almost all the same, was unifying. Motherhood really is a juggle, but Heather’s tip will hopefully help make it just a little bit easier.