(CNN) — I was lying in bed on a recent night when I heard a familiar rustle from my son’s room. I knew the routine — the quiet whimper would soon become a wail for Mama or Dada.
Pick Dada tonight, I thought.
As the whine turned into words, my toddler made a different plea.
“iPad! iPad!” he cried.
So what did I do next? I gave him the iPad, of course.
I tried to justify it — I had worked 10-plus hours and gone to school for another three. I had to wake up early.
The truth is, it was 3 a.m. I just wanted to sleep, and if the tradeoff was letting my son watch another 30 minutes of monster trucks on the iPad, so be it.
Like many moms, I often get asked how I “juggle it all.” For me, “it all” includes working full-time, going to law school four nights a week, raising a toddler and preparing for the imminent arrival of Baby No. 2.
Honestly, it’s not always perfect. And while my lifestyle might not work for a lot of people, it works for me. That’s been the key to keeping my sanity — prioritizing what works for my family instead of focusing on whether it would work for anyone else.
All parents are busy. It’s the nature of raising another person. As my husband and I find our rhythm in an unpredictable schedule, I remind myself of a few things that have helped us make it work.
Organizing my time
If multitasking is a skill, compartmentalizing is an art. There is no way I can give 100% of myself to everything I do 100% of the time, but I can give 100% of myself to one thing at a time.
I’ve carved out my schedule so I have time to focus on my priorities. I get up before my son does so I can focus on schoolwork. When he wakes up, I close the books and focus on him. When naptime comes around, I get two to three solid hours to study. The babysitter comes early enough so I can get in another hour of reading.
When I’m at work, I focus on my job. There’s nothing I can do about looming school assignments or piles of laundry during that time, so there’s no point in worrying about them.
To help keep these “lives” separate, I keep three separate to-do lists. One is for home, one is for work and one is for school.
Compartmentalizing doesn’t come naturally to me and it doesn’t make things stress-free. It just helps me to limit that stress to one manageable area at a time.
Share the load
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about “leaning in.” I’ve been focusing on improving my ability to “lean on” — my husband, family and friends for support.
It’s hard to ask for help, but it is impossible to balance work, school and family life without it. My husband and I work opposite schedules, and he picks up most of the chores that other couples usually share. My son has lots of sleepovers with his grandparents. Learning to say “yes” when people offer to help has been one of the toughest lessons of parenthood, but one of the best things I’ve done.
It’s not a competition
In many ways, mommyhood is more competitive than law school. When I first became a mom, I felt a mostly self-inflicted pressure to be the perfect mom instead of just me. I saw pictures of elaborate parties on Facebook. I saw moms planning meticulous arts and craft sessions. I looked at my son’s latest drawing, doodles on my textbook.
My cupcakes will never be worthy of Pinterest, and my son doesn’t know baby sign language. But even if I had all the time in the world, that would still be the case.
I don’t think any mother would ever claim to know exactly what she is doing, but I am learning to recognize the things I’ll never do well.
Find time to unwind
I watch “The Bachelor” and “The Walking Dead.” I eat dinner with my husband almost every night (usually around 10 p.m.). I try to squeeze in a mani-pedi every few weeks.
I am the happiest when I am productive, so even my version of unwinding might be foreign to others. I watch TV on my phone while I am taking a shower. (Trust me, I’ve figured out a setup that works.) I fold laundry while I watch TV. This type of multitasking doesn’t give any of my priorities less than they deserve.
When I don’t prioritize a few hours to refuel each week, I can tell, and so can the people around me.
The best advice I got before I got married was to know when to lighten up. Not everything is a big deal. I like to think of myself as persistent. My husband would probably choose another word. But I am learning to loosen up and deviate from my plans.
I’m at an advantage. The reason I’m busy is not that I am working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Part of what makes my schedule manageable is that I enjoy the things that take up my time. Motherhood is one thing that makes me happy. So does work. So does doing well in school.
A happy mom means a happy family. And when that fails, grab the iPad.
By Kristi Ramsay, CNN.
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