Making It Work
The After-Work Rush
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 13 No. 2, May-June 1996, pp. 85-7
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
The most hectic part of my day is coming home to a messy kitchen sink with breakfast dishes still on the table and no ideas for dinner. How do other employed mothers make the most of this short but important part of the day with their babies when housework and meals demand their time and attention?
I empathize with your dinner dilemma. I have a rule that a weekday dinner should not take more than fifteen minutes to prepare, although it can take a lot longer to cook. Baked chicken, baked pork chops, and casseroles don't take long to prepare, although they may take awhile to cook. Use the cooking time for baths or reading together. I also try to plan and prepare the evening meals on the weekend. Casseroles can be prepared in advance and frozen. Spaghetti sauce can be made in huge quantities and pasta takes very little time to cook. A pot roast that will last for two or three meals can cook all day in a slow cooker while you are at work. And at least once a week, I feel we are entitled to a restaurant meal or take-out pizza. Include the children in the planning and preparation of the meals.
As for your breakfast dishes, you're going to have to do them some time. If the fact that they are still on the table after work is really getting you down, it might help to get up ten minutes or so earlier in the morning in order to get them done. And don't forget that even a two-year-old can bring his plate and cup to the sink after he eats.
Pauli D. Loeffler
Edmond OK USA
Though I am an at-home mother, I empathize with your dinner-hour predicament. No matter how smoothly the day has gone up until then, the moment I step into the kitchen everyone has to have my undivided attention right now! Here are some of the things that have helped me:
- Make it a habit to get breakfast dishes off the table and to the sink. It takes only a moment to carry them to the kitchen, but having them there saves a lot of steps and distraction when it's time to clean up. If there are family members who eat after you leave, make sure they get in the habit, too.
- Make a monthly meal plan. I list the days of each week down the left side of a sheet of paper, and use the margin to note any activity that might affect dinner plans. Then I write in a meal or at least a main dish for that day.
Checking the meal plan at the beginning of each week helps ensure that things get defrosted and ingredients are on hand, but I don't lock myself into serving what's written down on any given day. If something comes up, or I have a busy day, I just look around the list until I find something I'd rather make or fix.
- Keep some healthful "fast foods" on hand. I try to use one weekend each month to cook and freeze in big batches. A lot of casseroles are easy to make in bulk, and I also like to have cooked meat and stock on hand.
You can also keep a written or mental list of emergency back-ups on hand. Stir-fry with frozen veggies, baked or boiled potatoes with cheese and vegetables, french toast, and sandwiches are common last-minute meals at our house.
- Since time together is so very important, try to find ways for your children to be with you in the kitchen. Babies can play with kitchen utensils or their own toys or be carried in a sling or carrier. Toddlers like to play with kitchen toys, too, and can start to help out a bit. (Mine like to help me empty the dishwasher and carry unbreakable dishes and silverware to the table.) Older children can do a little more, as well as catching you up on what happened during their day.
As they get older, children can learn to cook simple meals while you help them or relax!
Sherry N. Hintze
Newport News NC USA
As an employed mother, I think it is possible to "do it all," but it is not possible to do it all well. Therefore, you must decide what your priorities are and act accordingly.
Personally, I value time with my family and nutritious dinners above all else. Therefore, the house is not as clean and the meals not as elaborate as they used to be. I also no longer eat lunch with work friends, but eat in the car as I drive to my childcare provider's house at noon. The hour I spend nursing and playing with my son is the highlight of my day while helping to relieve the after-work pressure.
Depending on Jacob's hunger level, either my husband cooks dinner or I cook while conversing with Jacob. We eat while enjoying each other's company, then my husband gives Jacob a bath, while I clean up and prepare for the next day. At 10:00 PM Jacob and I head to bed. Our family bed gives us extra time to snuggle, nurse, and giggle together. While this is a late bedtime for a child, our son simply takes an extended nap after I drop him off at our childcare provider's home in the morning.
I also would recommend hiring a housekeeper twice a month for two hours per visit. The mental benefits are extraordinary! Most services average $10 per hour. Heavy duty tidying is required before each visit, helping you to compartmentalize housework to twice a month instead of an ongoing, never-ending affair. My housekeeper concentrates on floors and bathrooms, items I never seem to get to.
Killeen TX USA
I also work full-time and empathize with the after-work rush. I do all my housework with my nine-month-old daughter in a backpack. She loves it, and it's good exercise for me. My four-and-a-half-year-old son helps or plays, and we talk as we go. I try to make the necessary things fun.
I cook only a couple of times a week and take leftovers to work and have them for lunch. One day a week, I cook brown rice, casseroles, pasta, etc., and put them in ziplock bags in the refrigerator. I also cut up veggies in the bags for snacks and to add to the rice and noodles. There is always fresh and dried fruit and whole grain bread. I have a crockpot (a terrific gift for a new mother) and put it on to cook in the morning after preparing the ingredients the night before. It is great to come home to a hot cooked meal. Pour the crock contents over the rice you cooked on the weekend. Take out a bag of carrot sticks. Voila, dinner in no time!
I find that exhausting myself only makes things harder. My milk supply diminishes, and I get whatever virus is going around. Enjoy your baby and try to be as organized as you can.
Sherrill KY USA
Before my daughter was born, I spent one afternoon preparing a list of twenty dinner menus that I use regularly. I prepare foods with the same ingredients and/or side dishes during the same week.
For example, I prepare meatloaf on Monday with scalloped potatoes and green beans. I use sausage in my meatloaf, so I make extra sausage patties, which I can then use for breakfast Tuesday morning, or with brown beans, spinach, and cornbread Tuesday evening. Wednesday's dinner consists of vegetable soup and cornbread (left over from the previous evening).
If your family turns their nose up at leftovers hide them in your dinners. For example, when making hamburgers for dinner, fry up extra to use in chili the following evening. Another example is to take leftover turkey and use for turkey and noodles. Preparing meals that relate to each other will save you time in the kitchen and at the store. Good Luck!
Henderson WY USA
We muddled through the first three months of my return to work with no "game plan" for planning meals, a chronically empty refrigerator, and a baby who wanted to nurse for an hour the very first thing when we got home. More than once I would dash to the supermarket hoping to find something I could throw together "just for tonight." We went through a lot of convenience foods.
Things have changed in the last month. While I can't say I've got it all down pat, I've found the following principles to be helpful:
- Know What Your Priorities Are: For our family, especially since I'm breastfeeding, meals are more vital than housework. My priority is to have more time in each day for my family. Most of my chores (except for laundry) get done only once a week. If you're feeling guilty because you can't "do it all" read The Working Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding. There's a chapter on streamlining housework (which includes the advice "don't do them at all" for a couple of chores!).
- Streamline and Schedule Wherever Possible: I now prepare and freeze entrees on the weekends to serve on weeknights. I usually can do enough in about three or four hours to last us a couple of weeks. Doubling recipes, marinating meats in the freezer, and browning chicken breast and ground beef to freeze for quick casseroles (or a "jump start" on my next cooking day) have proven especially helpful. On weeknights, all I have to do is prepare any salad or veggies, brown some bread, and pour the drinks—which never takes more than thirty minutes. Like hospital or school dietitians, I now plan my menus ahead of time so I can plan my trips to the store instead of making those mad dashes right after work!
Yes, all that planning and cooking and cleaning cuts into my weekend a little bit. But the time I save on the week nights—at least an hour or so—is an hour I can play with my daughter, take her for a stroll, or nurse her after I throw a load into the washer.
- Ask For Help: Maybe your husband (or older children, if you have them) could put the breakfast dishes in the sink or dishwasher in the morning as soon as breakfast is finished. During really stressful periods at your job, consider hiring a teenager to come in for a couple of hours in the evening to help. (Your local high school's home economics department can supply you with names of willing workers.)
- Remember That This, Too, Shall Pass: Already I'm able to get a few more things done even after a hectic day at work, because my daughter is growing. She doesn't need me to hold her all the time anymore. She goes to bed no later than 8:30 most nights, giving me a couple of hours to prepare for the next morning, do a "once a week" chore, or collapse if it was "that" kind of day. Since she no longer wakes up every two hours to nurse, we all sleep better. I couldn't have foreseen this even two months ago, but things are getting easier as my daughter gets older. I'll put up with a bit more grime to have a bit more time with her every chance I get.
Melissa Phillips Cooper
Indianapolis IN USA
I have been back to work for two months after being off for the first five months of our son's life. I have discovered that routine, planning, and organization are critical to employed parents.
I am fortunate to have a husband who shares the responsibilities. One of the best things my husband and I have done is planned weekday meals in advance. On Sunday night we sit down with a list of dinners for the week. We try to prepare a balanced meal every night, even if it is delivered pizza. We cook large meals or casseroles on the weekend to freeze ahead. BUY a large freezer and shop for meat or poultry on sale. Cooking a turkey or roast on the weekend gives leftovers for turkey tetrazzini or stew (make these on the weekend, too, and freeze). We have also readjusted our view of what constitutes dinner—pancakes and ham are just fine!
Whoever arrives home first will start dinner, knowing the other is close behind with the baby. Dinner is usually on the table within twenty or thirty minutes after the first arrives home. This is handled by breastfeeding the baby before or while I eat. Once he is happy, he is put in the high chair to socialize with us, while we eat the rest of our dinner. If we are having dessert, we wait until the baby is in bed, so my husband and I have some time together.
Adjust your requirements for a clean home, and share dinner preparation nights with your husband or older children. Even with these suggestions, every night doesn't always run smoothly. Just remember when all is said and done, what's most important is not what you had for dinner last Thursday or how clean your house is, it's the fun times you spent with your children. Remember to create memories and be flexible.
Algonquin IL USA