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The Passage of Time

Two years ago I wrote a post in my blog about Time Management.  It centered mostly around the time constraints of a new relationship, so today I’d like to talk about time management in a family situation.

Time can be one of the hardest aspects to master in any marriage.  Between work and personal interests it never seems like there is enough of it to get everything done and spent quality time with all the people we love.  This can be a sensitive topic in a poly relationship and the one I find leads to the most emotional discussions we have.  At times it seems like juggling knives would be less tense, and often less risky, but it’s not something that can be avoided.

Our family full of independent people with jobs and extracurricular passions that take up a lot of our free time.  Add in commutes, differences in shifts, and household chores, and this leaves very little to work with when it comes to spending time together.  We have a pretty colourful Google Calendar, which I will mention again and again as a poly family’s best friend, but finding space between the motley array of prior commitments can be frustrating.  Making that time healthy rather than stressed and rushed can be even more so.

My piece of that pie comes with the fact that Hubby and I have household responsibilities that generally fill up the two days a week I’m home from work.  This may change when I’m home every day or when we all live in the same house, but at this time that’s the reality.  It’s also the only time we have to see friends and family, so even that together time is rarely the one on one bonding time that keeps an intimate relationship healthy.  We can go months at a time without a day spent alone together doing something relaxing or fun together, and this causes a lot of stress on our marriage when it starts to seem like all we do is visit friends and do chores.  From my perspective, Hubby’s nights with A are still considered “planned”, so he won’t plan a night with a friend or another hobby during the time he’s with her, and I admit I get a little flustered knowing my time gets filled with those things because we live together.  While I may have more time on the whole, very little of it is quality time even spent in the same room, while they get to go to dinner, movies, and wine tastings.  Hubby is trying to make sure we balance that better, and we try to have a “planned” date once in a while, but sometimes nothing can be done.

On A’s side she worries about our responsibilities completely filling Hubby’s schedule and pushing out her time.  Hubby likes to sleep, so unless there’s a planned activity he will lounge and sleep or play games on his computer.  This often frustrates her, because she wants to be doing something, even if it’s just cuddling or making breakfast.  Because I’m often only home on weekends, that’s when we’re usually busy, so she doesn’t get a lot of time with him that doesn’t involve a work schedule in some way.  This can be stressful having to factor in bedtimes and work responsibilities, and if he gets held up at work she misses out on what waking free time she has.

Now let’s add a new development, just because things weren’t stretched thin as it was.  Hubby just started a job that will sometimes have him out of town a few nights a week, which means the only time he has consistently available is the weekend.  This means our schedule changes somehow.  It also means that all the personal activities he had reserved for weeknights also now can only happen on weekends.

We have discussed options that will make everyone happy.  I have no problem with spending a weekend or half a weekend alone.  My concern is that all Hubby’s personal time, all our time with his friends, and all our time spent as a family will come out of the now abridged time he and I have together, especially over the summer when events and outings pick up frequency.  Last year we had a few incidents with time management and things that were really important to me getting pushed aside or family time that left me feeling like a third wheel.  Some of that is internal, but some has been identified as something we all really need to work on to be a happy, healthy family.

Right now it’s all very up in the air with me out of work, and I will be returning right about the time our Google Calendar lights up again.  I won’t say I’m not a little worried, but we’re all adults, and I’m sure we can work out a solution.  It might take a few rounds of discussion and trial-and-error, but I feel like we’re headed in a positive direction.

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Someone told me once that polyamory is not for a hopeless romantic like myself.  While I don’t completely agree, I do see where the sentiment comes from.  When things are falling into place polyamory is a great environment for a romantic like myself, but this is real life, and where there are glitches in any relationship there are exponential glitches in a poly situation.

The images and definitions you get when you look up “Polyamory” on Google look like a lot of fun, but none of them quite grasp what it takes to keep the wheels turning.  A Corvette is beautiful, but if the engine stops all you’ve got is a pretty piece of yard art.  Here’s a look under the hood.

Polyamory means:

Being a tribe, not a room full of chiefs.  We are a family of strong-willed, smart, leaders, but working as a team means each of us giving up a little control to support the whole.  There may be areas where I’m a little more experienced or have better solutions, but working together means not trying to dominate every aspect of our lives together.  It also means listening and forming ideas together, using the collective brain to fix problems and make plans, and not being too proud to step back and let someone else take the wheel.

Being a Time Lord.  If none of us had jobs or lives outside of this family time would never be an issue,  Fortunately, we are all more well-rounded than that.  This means there’s a lot to keep track of.  Not only do my plans have to consider my busy schedule, but Hubby’s and A’s as well, which ripples into their extended circles and those schedules.  Sometimes it feels like all of our time together is spent figuring out when we all have time to have more time together.  The answer?  Every poly family needs a blue police box. Or Google Calendar.

Being comfortable alone and in a group.  By the very nature of poly we are a large family.  This means a lot time spent as a group, which can be daunting for a hermit.  On the flip side, there will be times when everyone else is busy.  This alone time can be healthy.  It’s integral to me that I not let my whole self be absorbed by the collective.  I need to own my identity, which means learning to appreciate and utilize my rare alone time as much as I appreciate and utilize my intimate one-on-one and family time.

Being a communicator and a listener.  When I get nervous, frustrated, tired, anxious, or uncomfortable I talk.  When I feel overwhelmed, out-of-place, stupid, wounded, or slighted I get quiet.  This talking and not-talking, however, does not equate to communicating well or listening, and that’s something I have to remind myself constantly.  In groups, or when we feel like we’re losing something, we tend to speak however we think people will hear us.  Oftentimes we are more concerned about having a chance to make our points heard that we merely sit and wait to talk instead of actually listening to the person talking.  This doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  It just creates more chaos and heightened emotions.

Being an adult who can act like a kid.  Let’s face it, we take ourselves to seriously.  We are all professionals, parents, activists, anachronists, writers, and intellectuals.  It’s all very serious business, but we can easily lose track of the fact that we started doing a lot of these things because we enjoy them, and this leads us to take life and ourselves too seriously.  With all that rigidity something is bound to snap.  Sometimes it’s just as important to let loose and be ridiculous.  Alone, together, as couples, it’s all an important part of the bonding experience and, in my opinion, one of the secrets of life.

Being able to get off your own rollercoaster to help someone ride his/hers.  There’s a meme going around that says “Everyone is going through something,” and it’s true.  Whether good, bad, or just plain important, everyone has something happening.  In a poly family you tend to have a lot of this happening at once.  I may be starting a great new relationship, but Hubby might be having a rough time with one ending.  It is important that we each not get so wrapped up in our own feelings that we disregard the other’s.  I can be supportive of him without ignoring or trivializing my NRE (new relationship energy), and he can be happy for me while still processing his grief.  It just takes both of us being able to emotionally multitask.

Being open and optimistic.  We live in a society that teaches us to learn from our mistakes, which can be great, but sometimes taken out of context.  In poly we trend to forget that real relationship snags happen.  Just because we’re both poly doesn’t mean we’re compatible.  Just because the last guy with those stats was a jerk doesn’t mean this one will be, unless the stat says “jerk”. Poly requires an open, fresh heart every time we enter a new relationship no matter what happened “last time”. This can be one of the hardest lessons in love, the ability to let go and move on without forming a whole new litany of issues.  When I found Hubby I was overjoyed to never have to go through the dating process again, and dating as a poly woman can be discouraging and frustrating.  I encounter people who just want sex, people who think they don’t have to treat me like a real girlfriend because I’m married, and people who use me as a fill-in until what they’re looking for comes along because they think I shouldn’t require any commitment beyond now.  Add all this to the normal dating mishaps, and it’s a wonder anyone falls into place, but it’s a beautiful thing when it happens, and it will only happen if we stay open to the possibility.

Being a romantic realist.  I love surprises.  I love coordinating surprises.  I love sweet moments and little things to make those I love smile knowing they are loved.  I love surrounding myself with people who find creative little ways to do the same for me.  This is where polyamory is perfect for my inner romantic. It’s also the part of me that gets disappointed and a little pouty when we have to accept that sometimes things happen.  Intimate moments are interrupted.  Time is hectic.  This year Hubby and A went on a trip the weekend before our first wedding anniversary.  I agreed to it.  They needed the time.  We never got to do anything special for our anniversary.  Life took over, and we just never had time.  The romantic in me screamed and stomped, but the realist in me had to accept it knowing it wasn’t the last anniversary we’ll ever spend together.

Being able to wear the big kid britches.  I have needs.  Everyone does.  Physical need.  Emotional needs.  Sexual needs.  They all need to be addressed and tended to, but sometimes having a need means prioritizing.  It also means learning to tend to some of these needs ourselves.  When we form a family, especially a large family, we get used to being taken care of, but we have to remember that we’re all adults who took care of ourselves at one time or another.  None of us lost that ability when we found each other.  It’s nice to be taken care of when I need it, but if someone else’s need is greater I have to be willing to asses whether or not what I have is a need or a desire.  If it’s a desire, it can wait.  If it’s a need, can I find a way to satisfy it on my own?  Once that’s done I need to be able to not take it personally that I had to do it myself.  This can be the hardest part of all this adult behaviour, not forming resentment.

Being able to hold your tongue.  I hate to say it, but there’s no rule saying I will or must like everyone Hubby dates.  They don’t all have to like me either, as long as they’re respectful of our family.  This can be the hardest part of poly.  I don’t have to like who Hubby’s with to support him and be happy for him, nor does it mean am happy or relieved if that situation fails.  That’s not to say I might not be relieved, but my primary care is for his happiness and well-being. Unless he asks or there is a major conflict regarding respect or honesty, my responsibility to him is to keep my mouth shut.  It’s not my relationship; it’s his.  It may make group activities trying, but I am obligated to at least try before we discuss any overbearing issues.

Polyamory is a lot of fun, a lot of love, and a lot of adventures, but it’s also a lot of work and not for anyone who can’t handle constant change, re-evaluation, and adaptation.  We’re all learning as we go, and we all make mistakes.  It’s how we handle those mistakes, change our course, and move on as a solid unit that decides if we sink or sail.  Sometimes we improvise.  Sometimes it all comes together as planned.  In either case we do it with strong hearts and genuine faith in each other.  We are warriors.  We are wheels turning and hearts singing.  We are a tribe, and nothing is stronger than the tribe.

Ok, so in an ideal world I would have plenty of time every day to make all-natural, organic meals from scratch.  I love to cook, and I love to cook good, healthy, sometimes to the chagrin of the family, experimental meals.  However, as we all know because it has now become a household phrase, we are the 99%.  This means I’m regularly working 60 hour weeks, leaving very little time for “scratch”.  Many of you out there are, surprise with logic on top, also part of the 99%, so I thought I’d share some of my cheats.

1.  Crockpots are a girl’s best friend.  This one’s pretty much a no-brainer.  After years of stuffing my two-person Crockpot to the brim, we were blessed on wedding day with a shiny new family sized pot, complete with digital panel and time and temperature setting options.  I also was gifted the mother of all Crockpot cook books.  Expect reviews once I’ve had a chance to test it out.  The Crockpot allows for all-natural ingredients and as much creativity as you can cram into it.

2.  Augment the ordinary.   Sometimes I forget things.  Ok, so a lot of the time I forget things, but sometimes I forget things like taking meat out of the freezer or buying more veggies.  Sometimes I just plain don’t have the time, or we don’t have the money, for the good stuff.  This is when real creativity comes in.  Tonight, for example, I thought we were going to be out of town, so I was completely unprepared to make dinner.  My arsenal included a few boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese, a few cans of Campbell’s, and sandwich supplies. Feeling like the drizzly day called for it perfectly, I decided on grilled cheese and soup.   For Hubby,  I whipped up some Tomato Soup, made with milk instead of water, added some basil, and melted a layer of mozzarella cheese over the top.  With his sandwich I added some fresh basil, dried oregano, and some sliced tomato.    My soup was Cream of Potato.  I added a slice of pepper jack cheese, some Italian sausage, and some kale.  I added a few bits of pepper jack to my sandwich as well.  Yum.  I learned this trick in college, where most of my cooking was limited to the microwave and a tiny fridge, and I had extremely limited income.  I quickly learned to add broccoli and chicken to my instant rice and veggies and spices to my Top Ramen.  It may not be as healthy as I’d like, but it’s palatable and slightly healthier with real veggies, meat, and spices than with a flavor packet.

3. Cook for an army.   Hubby used to have what I saw as an impairment; he’s unable to cook for any less than a small village.  There are times when our family eats like a small village, but many times we have more leftovers than space in the fridge.  Recently I’ve learned the value of freezing small portions of these feasts and taking them to work with me.  It keeps itself preserved on the commute and microwaves nicely, with the added benefit that I don’t have to buy expensive food for lunch or live solely on fast food.  At home this means I can grab a dinner-pop from the freezer, pop it in the oven, and Huzzah! Quick, homemade dinner.  Just because it wasn’t homemade that day is besides the point.  

What I’m saying is that we can’t always be June Cleaver.  Sometimes I forget my pearls on the sink, and sometimes I don’t have time to be super-wife, so I’ve learned to cheat.  Yes, ladies, cheat.  It’s ok.  You may even have time after all that to read a book.  Do it!  You deserve it.  I won’t tell.

Go now….do it quickly.

I haven’t mentioned this before, but I have been out of work for a little over a month now due to an injury to my right knee.  This gives me a lot more time on my hands than usual.  Today I got a little too type-A and organized the wash on the line by type and owner.  It wasn’t until I brought them down that I realized what housewench genius this really was!

The extra time it took me to sort through the basket as I hung the clothes was minimal compared to the time I saved folding them all later.  As I took each piece down I folded it and set it in a second basket.  As I went down the line I finished each pile, and when I was done I had neat stacks for each person ready to be put away.  No sorting or refolding of any kind was necessary, and by the time I headed inside I was done with the part of doing laundry I hate the most.  While it probably didn’t take much less time, I got to enjoy the sunshine and break up the monotony by hanging up my second load.

So there you have it..my useful tip of the day.

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