The “How Do You Do It” Working Mom Survival Guide

Balancing work and life can be a challenge! This working mom survival guide is a must-read for anyone struggling with getting it all done.

Working Mom Survival GuideAfter long hours at work, five days a week, I’d get home exhausted. Still, I couldn’t simply relax. Nope, I had to clean the bottles, change diapers, prepare dinner, and pack for the next day.

Somewhere in those moments, I’d find time to play with the baby, but still felt guilty that it wasn’t enough. By the time I finished eating, cleaning, showering, and preparing for the next day, it was 9:30pm—and I was just about ready to knock out for the night. Never mind that I had to wake up at 5:20am the next morning to do it all over again.

It’s no wonder many of us working moms find it difficult to manage a job along with household tasks. How can you feel inspired to keep going with your job without neglecting your home or feeling guilty for working?

No matter the circumstances we find ourselves in, I learned that we can feel organized and ahead, not frazzled and frustrated. By being mindful of how we focus our time and attention, we can balance work with spending time with the kids.

Here’s how:

1. Be efficient with your time

Here’s the deal: no working mom “does it all.” Every one of us has a finite 24 hours in the day—we just need to make sure every minute is spent wisely.

One of the best ways to do that is to be efficient with your time. To start, limit or get rid of distractions, both at work and at home. Break errands throughout the day, like going to the bank during your lunch break or the store before school pick up.

And drop anything that isn’t helpful or doesn’t make you happy. How might you better spend your time? What are the activities that suck your time and leave you right where you started? What can you do so you can get more done?

A few ways to hack your time include:

  • Shop online. If you don’t have time to go to a physical store, look online. Read reviews and avoid those not rated well. Try them on at home to see whether you like them or not. And buy from stores with free shipping so you can return those you don’t like.
  • Bring your baby with you around the house. If you saw my home when I had babies, you’d find a gazillion ways I toted them with me. I’d have infant seats in one room and a swing in the other. They had their cribs and bassinets and blankets galore for tummy time.
  • Keep meals simple. I’m talking an hour max of active cooking time. Slow-cooker recipes work well, as do those that sit in the oven or on the stovetop and don’t need your constant attention.
  • Cook just one dinner for everyone, including the kids. Once your baby has advanced to eating solids, don’t cook different meals. Prepare a milder or simpler version of the recipe, or blend it for her. And don’t cook a separate meal for your older kids just because they’re picky—they’ll learn to eat the food you offer.
  • Keep your baby items simple. If you’ve ever had complicated bottles with a zillion parts, you know how difficult those are to clean. Stick to items that don’t need a ton of washing or maintenance.
  • Get organized. Whether you use online calendars or paper planners, staying on top of everything is key.

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Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom

2. Kids first, chores second

Do you prepare dinner, wipe the table, take out the trash, and fold laundry, all while wishing you could be spending time with the baby? Ease the guilt by doing tasks you can do after she has been asleep or settled so you can devote the time she’s awake to being with her.

For instance, stick to the essentials, like putting your milk storage bags in the refrigerator. (Don’t even worry about washing pump parts—stick those in the fridge for now.) Clean in the evening after you’ve had dinner with the kids, and fold laundry while you watch television or listen to a podcast.

As kids get older, getting chores done gets easier. For now, save anything you don’t need to do right this moment for later so you can spend time with them first.

3. Change your work schedule

By far, this is one of the biggest reasons I was able to balance work and family.

Ever since my eldest was born, I’ve worked a flexible schedule, starting with part time when I reduced my hours from 40 to 32. I also worked from home, both full days or a few hours in the afternoons and evenings. I’ve had schedule shifts, where I came in and left work earlier.

Flexible schedules don’t work for everyone—you need the right job, a willing employer, and the discipline to work from home. But you can adjust your schedule in so many ways. Job sharing, working one day at home, and reducing your hours are a few examples.

4. Get your partner on board

If your husband doesn’t help with the baby because he works, you may start to feel resentful (not to mention exhausted).

He may need to make the life changes necessary to accommodate the changes that parenthood brings. Maybe he can wake up earlier to prepare the milk and breakfast or come home earlier to handle bath time with you. He can work from home for a few days or handle daycare drop offs.

We need to stop assuming that childcare falls only on our shoulders. Let your partner handle responsibilities as well so you’re not delegating duties, but parenting equally.

Husband Doesn't Help with Baby Because He Works

5. Hold realistic expectations

I stopped bothering with the guilt of a messy house. As we speak, I still have chores to do and my home is not as clean as it once had been before I had kids. I also don’t put as much time into my daily beauty routine. I stick to the basics and save the glam looks for special occasions.

Learn 6 reasons you can’t keep up with cleaning your home.

Can't Keep Up with Cleaning Your Home

6. Make the moments count

“Birds!” my 2 year old said while I changed his diaper. The changing table sat near the window where he liked to point out the birds he saw outside. We’d talk about them and anything else, from how his day went to trading sweet smiles.

Quality time isn’t just about doing brain-enhancing or baby-bonding activities. Any time spent with your baby is a gift, so make the moments count. Reconnect with her while you feed her dinner, sing songs in the bath, and sneak cuddles when changing her into pajamas.

Time spent with her is time you’re with her, from changing diapers to stimulating activities. Quality doesn’t depend on the amount of time you spend or the activities you do. Rather, it’s your intention and purpose when you’re with her.

Read more about how to spend time with the baby when you work long hours.

Spend Time with the Baby

7. It gets easier

The proverbial advice, but I have to say it here: it does get easier. Older kids, while they have their challenges (ahem: tantrums), are also more independent.

You won’t lug a heavy car seat because your child will be able to walk to the car. She’ll sleep through the night, leaving you with a blissful stretch of uninterrupted sleep. You may not be pumping anymore, so there’s no need to bring the pump and all its parts and bottles to work.

Not only is she more independent, but you’re also learning and improving. You’ll find better ways to manage your time and know how to soothe her to sleep. You’ll learn to laugh at the chaotic moments and put things in perspective. However challenging you find your circumstances, know that it’ll get easier.

8. You’re not a bad mom for working

We hear about working mom guilt, that feeling of being away from the kids, of handing their care to others, and the pull to be home instead of at work.

We don’t always hear about the other kind of guilt, one where you go to work—and like it. You feel accomplished for being able to provide for your family and find time for yourself. But you’re not a bad mom for loving your job because you’re…

  • A better mom because of your job. You’re contributing in ways in addition to raising a child. You can interact with other people and spend long stretches of uninterrupted time for yourself. You can come back from work refreshed, not drained.
  • Providing a better quality of life. The extra income allows you to choose healthy homemade meals over junk food, save for college funds, or provide craft supplies at home. It’s having that breathing room knowing you’re not one paycheck away from missed bills.
  • Contributing to your community. We all do important work as mothers, but we can also make an impact through our work.
  • Breaking stereotypes. Working at a job you love shows your kids that women are as capable of working outside the home as men. Forgoing work you love out of guilt sends the wrong message. Instead, show them how women and mothers contribute to and find meaning in their work as well as support their families.


I’m still amazed I was able to pick all three kids up from school and survive the evenings with them, alone. If you had painted the scenario for me when I first returned to work, I wouldn’t have believed it.

That said, we can all agree that this is still hard. Juggling work with parenthood is a challenge for even the most organized of moms.

Thankfully, it’s doable. Find those hacks that will make the most efficient use of your time. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Save non-pressing tasks for later, and maybe even change your work schedule.

And make every moment count. You don’t need to be in a mommy-and-me yoga class for your time with your child to feel special. Just a simple conversation about the birds outside the window during a diaper change will do.

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  1. It’s hardest for me to show up when I’m coming home after a night shift and the only thing I’m dreaming about is my warm bed. Instead, I come into a messy house, arguing hungry kids, and they haven’t seen me the whole night, so naturally they need cuddles, playing etc. And of course, they are ready for their breakfast. I can barely keep my eyes open walking through the door, let alone make breakfast, clean up enough that I won’t trip over things on the floor and send them off to school.

    Similarly, when it’s time to get ready for bed at the end of the day. I’m exhausted because I worked either the whole day or evening. Now the kids are tired too, but their tiredness manifests as being hyper, mine as being sluggish. My patience is low.

    I can barely keep my eyes open as they are still chasing each other around the house and ignoring my instructions to stop and get washed up.

    Both times, I’m exhausted beyond belief and it’s hard for me to maintain my composition. Then I tend to lose my cool and I get snappy with them, then I feel bad when they fall asleep.

    Thank you for all kinds of pointers. Any information coming from you is greatly appreciated.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      No one can be expected to be on her A-game after an exhausting shift, likely an extra-long one, too. Still, we also can’t just give up on our kids, either. After a while, the lack of intention can take a toll on them.

      If it’s possible, see if you can schedule a day off, or use your already-scheduled days off, to reset and catch up on lost time. You won’t always be on your A-game every day of the week, especially on long work days. So on those days, give yourself a pass. Order in pizza, let them skip a bath, snuggle in extra long in bed. When you do give them a pass, do so as if they’re a part of the team, that you will all get through this eventually.

      Then, when your days off happen, use this as a time to recharge, to plan a fun outing, or to simply do nothing and be in one another’s presence. Catch up on sleep, eat a big feast, enjoy your time together. That way, when the seesaw tips the other way again, you’ll feel better recharged to face your day.