the work-life balance, revisited

Thanks so much for all of your feedback and ideas about toddler beds! We’ve definitely given the subject some more thought and think we have a good solution in the works…

I’ve written about our work-live balance before, but now that we have two kids it seems timely to bring up the subject again. I reread our original post and think the main talking points are still relevant, so I’m including them again here.

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+ Flexibility

Having a second kid is anticlimactic in many ways – we’ve already made the big life change, we already have most of the stuff, we’re already used to spending a Saturday night in the company of Netflix. In a way, a second baby feels very comfortable and makes me wonder what all the fuss was about the first time around. (I have a group of girlfriends who all have a toddler and an infant and we joke about how relaxing it is to go somewhere with just the baby – like a vacation almost!) And while the baby phase seems easier this time around, I absolutely believe that the biggest challenge is not one child or the other but the combination of the two, namely – the sleep-deprivation of the infant plus the mental exhaustion of the toddler. It’s a potent mix, let me tell you.

Therefore, flexibility remains critical. Two kids means more unknowns and less predictability, especially during those first months. We seem to have settled into a schedule that works fairly well now, but we also know that at best, it will stay this way for a few months before we’re recalibrating again. And then there are days like last Monday, when you realize you have a client meeting that afternoon and someone has just used the last of the toilet paper. And although both kids had just gone down for a nap (i.e. – I should have been working) I jumped at the chance to run to the grocery store sans children and pick up some essentials. When I stopped for an iced coffee first, the barista asked what I was doing this afternoon and I told him, “oh, y’know…buying toilet paper – we work from home”.

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+ Schedule vs. Non-Schedule

The work part of the balance is somewhat of a moving target but we feel like we’re in a pretty good groove at the moment. The biggest challenge has been finding a childcare solution that works for two different kids with two different needs. Avery is an adventurous toddler who benefits from social interaction and lots of active play, while Lillian is a baby who naps twice a day and is relatively immobile. We’ve had a mix of childcare since Lillian was born (our previous and much-loved nanny moved out-of-state shortly before) and while finding childcare is a whole other topic (one which should probably include a bottle of wine), we’ve learned to accept that there is probably not a perfect situation and that yes, that might mean committing to different arrangements for each kid. For now, we have awesome childcare for 4-5 hours most mornings and then our girls nap in the afternoon. (Avery still naps 2-3 hours and I sincerely hope she never stops!) This gives us around 8 hours each day, but we’ve made a practice of at least one parent being “on call” in the afternoons in the event that one or both naps end early. We used to also do more evening meetings after bedtime, but have really scaled back on that.

And because our profession is project-based, we’ve accepted that some weeks are crazy busy with deadlines and site visits and meetings and other weeks are a slow simmer. Instead of relying on a solid 8 hours a day, we each have monthly goals that we try to hit and after nearly three years in business we’ve been able to figure out a healthy number that is reasonable and realistic. That said, we’re still vulnerable to the downsides of working from home – including working nights and weekends. It’s tempting when y’know, our offices are a few feet away and it’s work we’re excited to be doing but lately we’ve been really focusing on unplugging more. When Avery was a baby I did a bulk of my work after she went to bed but these days I’m lucky to make it to 9:30.

Part of our reason for the DADU project is to create an even healthier divide between home and work. We love the convenience of working from home and not having to commute, but having a dedicated space for our business will be a huge plus and affords us the flexibility to grow our business when the timing is right (see “Let it Go” section at the bottom).

+ Divide and Delegate

We’re officially pros at this now. Aside from childcare and housecleaning, we’ve hired out a number of other tasks, including dog-walking, landscaping care and a myriad of business-related consultants. We also order a lot of things online, reducing the need to run errands. (My one exception is the grocery store because it’s something I actually enjoy!) They are small (or infrequent) expenses that have a big psychological impact and free up time to focus more on our family.

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+ Make Time for Yourself and Each Other

This one is still tough. I think we’ve gone on two date nights in the past seven months. I know some people have a standing weekly or bi-weekly date night and I applaud you for that. At this point in our lives, we’re aiming for a weekly or bi-weekly date lunch – an opportunity to sneak out just the two of us without it being a full-blown date night. This September we’ll celebrate our ten year anniversary and we are optimistic about a whole weekend away. (Mom, I hope you’re reading this. Hint, hint.)

That said, it’s much easier and equally important for us to make time for ourselves. Now that Lillian has a regular bedtime, it’s easier to meet up with friends in the evenings. I also make a point to work out at least once a week (hey, it’s something!) and have allowed myself to indulge in the occasional pedicure or shopping trip while we’re paying for childcare. Kyle has carved out his own hobbies that allow him some guy time (probably much-needed in a house full of ladies) and we try to be sensitive to letting each other take that time when we need it.

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+ Get Out of the House!

Before kids, Kyle and I were always working on something. When not at work, we were doing projects on the house, taking exams or in some way being productive. I think we are just the personality types where it’s hard to truly relax and do nothing. With one kid in the mix, we were able to maintain that lifestyle to some extent. With two, not so much. Having kids has forced us to actually get out on the weekends and do things just for the sake of doing them, even though my brain is telling me to organize the pantry or vacuum out the car. In a sense, our kids have forced us to add more “life” to the balance. Avery is also at an age where it’s fun to go out and do things with her, to explore a part of the city that we’ve never seen or go to a new park. (Seriously, I had no idea how many parks where in Seattle till we had kids.) The novelty of a 4:30 happy hour happens less these days, but we’ve been pretty good about rallying a few times a month or at least getting out for an early dinner.

+ Focus on the Awesome

This one is still a challenge. We have two healthy kids, an awesome dog, a house we love, a thriving business and yet – it is still so easy to become focused on what could be better, what we don’t like, what’s dragging us down. To some extent I think it’s important to always question things and push towards improvement, but not if it becomes overly consuming. We’ve found it’s helpful to remind each other that we’re in the thick of it right now – two small children, our own business, probably not enough sleep. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be. And yet, it is awesome. And exhausting. And exciting. And crazy.

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+ Let it Go

Ah, a bonus section!

These last few months have been exceptionally busy for our business, fueling our need (or so we thought) to get.on.it and make the DADU happen so we could continue to grow our practice. A few months ago, we made an intake appointment for the building permit but a couple of weeks ago we resigned ourselves to the reality that we just don’t have the time to dedicate to it right now. We also started to rethink the design for the DADU (which has already changed some since our last post, based on some discussions with the City). Financially, it will be a significant project (one that will include major sewer and plumbing work) and unfortunately not something we can hire out completely. We think we could make it pencil if Kyle does the concrete and framing but that would mean he’s spending his weekends all summer working on it.

So, we let it go (let it gooooooo!). For now. The risk with putting our plans on the internet is that you inevitably feel some guilt and disappointment if they don’t come to fruition in the way you hope. But we also try to use this blog as a means of transparency and “realness” so there you go. We still want to do the project and feel that doing a multipurpose design is the right solution, it’s just a timing issue. Instead of canceling our intake appointment, we rescheduled for early July (it was the first date available!). Maybe we’ll be ready by then and maybe not. One thought is to just get it “weathered in” this year (framing, siding, roof, windows, etc.) and then finish the interior next year. Of course, this means delaying hiring employees and moving our offices out of our house (and possibly turning down some projects that we would have otherwise taken) but we can manage that. And if delaying construction means spending more time with our girls this summer, focusing on our current workload and feeling more balanced in general, we think it’s the right decision.

Comments

12 Responses to “the work-life balance, revisited”

  1. although my husband and i don’t have children yet, it can sometimes still be a struggle to get that balance just right. gald we aren’t alone!

  2. Marlena says:

    Very cool. Thanks for the “realness” and update.

  3. Laura C says:

    Great post.

  4. Ron says:

    The hardest thing about decisions is actually making them. Sounds like you have that part covered. Congrats on keeping the balance.

    I like the DADU project and the ability to allow you to get a separate place for your work though.
    Perhaps you might want to think about scaling the project back a bunch and go at it in stages. I don’t know about out there, but if you did not have employees couldn’t you get by without toilet facilities? Saving the current expense of water and sewer work.

    Making the current structure workable without a massive expensive redo might help in the short term and still allow for future expansion.

    Just thinking out loud….

    • Kyle Zerbey says:

      Hi Ron,

      Thanks for these thoughts. Yes, we have thought about that bathroom situation. We polled some potential employees and was pretty obvious that it might be uncomfortable for an employee to have to go into our house to use bathroom and given all the work we would be doing, seemed a shame to fall short without plumbing. Also the city only allows the second story if we make it a dwelling unit which means kitchen and bathroom. We looked at single story option with no plumbing and just using carport as office but then no space for conference room to meet with clients etc.. There is a slight chance that we would start construction in August after finishing some important client deadlines but for now we’re content with mulling it all over some more:) appreciate your thoughts as usual:)

  5. Lisa says:

    It is refreshing to hear about real life with two kids. Especially priorities changing and projects being delayed. While I’m excited to read about your DADU project, I can relate. We recently moved to a new home in the suburbs with two little girls and my husband and I made a deal that we would be nice to ourselves. We work on having reasonable expectations and not beating ourselves up if plans change. Hiring house cleaners also helped so much. Seriously, game changing.

    Your blog was the driving force behind retaining an architect for our upcoming renovation. It seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t something I considered before. There was a funny area of our home that had us stumped and the issues were easily resolved. Thank you for making the process accessible.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Lisa! And that’s great that you found an architect that you liked working with and was able to come up with good solutions. We may be biased, but we really believe the process is well worth it. 😉

  6. Wonderful photos of your lovely family. Enjoy life and don’t sweat the small stuff. The bigger issues work out eventually. Believe me, the part of live you’re in right now goes by very quickly. I think you’re doing an amazing job at balancing things.

  7. Joanna says:

    Guys – you rock. Seriously. You seem so organized and on the same page with each other.
    And I totally agree about that bit with “enjoying life” more with kids. It was exatly the same with us. The downsize? All those activities and attractions are kids’ related, not grown up’s. But kids are growing;)

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Joanna! I know what you mean about the kid-related activities – I think that’s why I generally take them to a park or somewhere I want to go too. Or, we’ll go to a brewery or someplace that is kid-friendly but our friends with our without kids want to go to too. 🙂

  8. Emily says:

    “I have a group of girlfriends who all have a toddler and an infant and we joke about how relaxing it is to go somewhere with just the baby – like a vacation almost!”

    Haha, it’s good to know I’m not alone in this! I always try to get all my errands done while my 5 year old is at kindergarten so it’s just me and my 3 year old. Even though she’s technically a toddler now, she’s nothing compared to her brother in terms of uncontrollable explosive child energy.

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