The 9-to-5 challenge
[TOUT_IMAGE "/specials/stress_makeover_jennifer.jpg" "150" "200" "Jennifer Avila: Chris Hartlove" "left"]
Mom of Jessica, 3, and Alexandra, 9 months, Alexandria, VA
A typical day
Jennifer Avila doesn't get to the gym much, but she knows all about treadmills as a business developer and mom of two young girls. Every weekday she's up at 7 a.m. to get the girls ready for daycare. They're out the door by 8:00, and she's at her desk by 9:00. She spends her lunch hour on the move, doing the many errands every mom has to check off her list: grocery store, birthday-party presents, post office.
Her workday ends at 6:00, when she leaves to pick up her kids. Her husband, Robert, does shift work as a delivery driver from 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and picks them up once a week, but she often has to pressure him to remember, and they aren't fed until she gets home.
After dinner it's bathtime, followed by bedtime at 8:30. Once the girls are in bed, she cleans up the kitchen, picks up toys, does some laundry. Robert is in bed by this hour.
Only when these chores are done does Avila have time for herself. She works on quilts, or plows through a novel. "I do enjoy alone time at night," she says. "But the more frantic I am during the day, the later I stay up." Often she doesn't get to bed until 1 a.m. And getting moments for herself doesn't make up for the fact that she hasn't spent time with her kids except to feed and bathe them, and can't fit in any socializing or exercise.
1. The second shift: having to do housework and care for the kids after a full day of work
2. Lack of help from Robert
3. Not having any time to work out at the gym or go out with girlfriends
What the experts say
Ask any athlete -- when you're on the treadmill, every second shaved off your time is worthwhile. And so it is for the mom who works full-time. Easy changes such as these can help her better organize her workday, says Maria Gracia, author of Finally Organized, Finally Free and founder of Get Organized Now! in Watertown, Wisconsin:
* Cut her lunch hour into two half-hour slots.
* Spend the first half doing errands and the second half eating a nutritious lunch and relaxing. If you don't eat right or rest -- even if it's just for 30 minutes -- you'll be exhausted, which will affect productivity.
* Leave at least one day a week open for lunch with girlfriends.
Time at home can be streamlined as well, if the family operates as a team, says Benson Strick. "If every player shows up at 110 percent, they'll succeed." Perhaps Robert can play with the kids and get them ready for bed, or heat up dinner three times a week."What's his biggest strength as a father? Figure it out and get him to do more of it!"
As for Avila's not being able to fit in going to the gym or seeing friends, what about combining them with the time she spends with her daughters? "On weekends, can Jennifer invite friends over who have kids?" asks Gracia. "That way her kids get a playdate and she gets to catch up with her friends." She could also go for a walk in the park with her kids so she can squeeze in exercise.
And even though it's tempting to stay up at night so she can be alone, getting enough sleep will help her feel better during the day. "It's important to take care of yourself," says Benson Strick. "When you're operating with your batteries fully charged, you'll have more quality time for your kids."
One month later
"It's amazing how you can get into a rut and not realize you're empowered to get yourself out," says Avila. Going through this process made the couple realize some fundamental changes were in order. Most dramatic: Avila's taken a three-month leave of absence from her job to see if it'll help get her family's life back in balance.
Robert now puts Alexandra to bed, and one night a week Avila takes a "girls' night out" with her friends while he bonds with his daughters. "What a huge de-stressor!" she
says. She's scaled back her night-owl ways, staying up only one or two nights a week instead of five. "I really do feel more energized during the day now," she says.
She's also started combining exercise with daughter time. She pumped up the tires on her unused double jog stroller and goes for a brisk walk three or four times a week. "If it rains, I turn up the radio and dance around the house with the girls. Acting silly makes everyone happy."