WIXII-ISM™ FROM ALEX:
“My fresh start starts right here …One intentional moment, day, month at a time.”
(Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right In Front of Me)
Meet our featured Wixii™, Alexandra Kuykendall. She is a skosh past 40 and mother to four daughters ranging in age from four to thirteen. She studied Spanish and International Affairs at the University of Puget Sound. She currently works as a writer and speaker with her newest book Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right In Front of Me releasing the first week of May.
Once she was at the Denver Zoo with her daughters and got a call. Within a few hours she was on a plane to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America about staying home with kids.
ALEX’S CAREER PATH:
I have worked fulltime, part-time, from home, in an office, at a high school, on a construction site and as a fulltime, at-home parent. It has been a back and forth and round about journey. Before having children, I worked in a variety of non-profit and public sector jobs. I ran an academic center for high school students who were the children of migrant farmworkers. I worked with mothers coming off of public assistance during the Welfare To Work reforms and I did community relations in connection to mass transit construction. Whether translating from English to Spanish or translating from construction speak to lay verbiage, I realized I was good at communicating and transferring messages across groups.
I knew I wanted to be home fulltime with my kids, so when motherhood arrived fourteen years ago, I quit my day job and was home fulltime with my baby. By the time my second child was a year old I felt the need, both financially and personally, to go back to work part-time. I’d been involved in a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group as a volunteer here in Denver. The organization is also based here so it was a natural place for me to re-enter the world of work. I found I was doing it as much for love of the organization’s mission as for the paycheck and I naturally fell into roles that required strong communication skills. I was at MOPS in a variety of part-time capacities for nearly ten years. I had two more children while there. I am now self-employed managing different writing and speaking projects and appreciating full control of my schedule.
ALEX’S MINDSET AND WORK-LIFE MIX:
My current mindset: A few years ago I realized I was not living a sustainable life. Instead of saying “no” to some opportunities in order to say “yes” to the best ones, I was trying to say “yes” to everything. As a result I was drowning. This unending cycle of always being behind collided with the reality that my oldest child was starting middle school. Suddenly I could see the countdown of the years with her at home in front of me. I knew something would have to change or the years we had left with her would fly by and I’d miss them. So I pulled back at work and moved to contract status with MOPS which allowed me to work strictly from home.
I wrote about this process in my book Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right In Front of Me. Here I tackled a nine-month experiment of figuring out how to make my mix work better so I could enjoy the daily more.
My current work-life mix: I now try to get the majority of my work done when my kids are at school or when I’m waiting for them at practices. This allows me to drop off and pick up my four daughters from three different schools and take them to various sports practices and games. I do a lot of driving! If I need to travel I try to take one of my children or husband with me then it can double as one-on-one time, something that is rare in our family of six.
Work: how do you “think outside the box” with respect to your work-life potential and opportunities?
I don’t have strict work-life boundaries and I like it this way. The co-mingling of parts of my life is due in part to working from home where laundry stares at me as I reply to emails. And in part to my work being an extension of who I am: what I care about and my talents. I love my family. I love my work. They both occupy my heart. And just like parenting multiple children, you don’t take love away from one for another, your heart expands. So I don’t feel guilty about working on a Saturday afternoon if it means being able to be in my daughter’s classroom on Tuesday morning. I see taking a work call in front of my girls as modeling working out of passion. I can’t compartmentalize, it’s not how I’m wired. So I’ve stopped trying and instead embrace both parts of my responsibilities while being much better about saying “no”.
House: how do you maintain order/status quo and/or how do you “manage it all” just a bit better?
As part of my nine-month experiment I tackled our morning routine as a family. I realized if we could start the mornings well there would be a trickle-down effect for the rest of the day. And so I found a few tips that help get six people up and out the door, often to as many as five different locations. These include:
- Whatever can be done the night before, should be done the night before. This includes: laying out clothes, making lunches, packing the car, showering, putting the coffee grounds in the pot! Anything that can be checked off the list the night before is one less thing that requires time in the morning.
- Get up before the rest of your house. Though this is easier for some of us, it helps to have a few moments of quiet before the whirlwind of people wake up and join you. Use it in a way that refreshes you. Whether exercising, reading, praying or drinking coffee on your front porch, if possible start the day alone in a way that centers you.
- Stock your fridge and pantry with quality breakfast ingredients. If you don’t have to stare in the cupboard or the fridge and wonder what to feed your children, the better off you all will be. Good food means good energy to tackle the day.
- Have a staging area for leaving for the day; a place where all members of your household can grab what they need in the (likely) case you are all running out the door quickly. This minimizes the “Where are your shoes?” questions (though no amount of organizing can completely do away with those.)
- Tidy up as much as possible before walking out the door. Whether you return home in an hour or in eight hours, finding the kitchen counters wiped clean and the beds made will feel like a better welcome than a hurricane-blew-through-here state which may be it’s natural tendency.
What advice would you give an earlier version of yourself?
Oh there are so many things I would like to tell her. First, to stop and notice. All of it. The good and the hard. To relish what was right in front of me. When my kids were smaller I’d hear the phrase, “The days are long, but the years are short” and I’d roll my eyes a little. Because all I could feel was the “days are long” part. As I enter the phase of parenting teenagers I’m realizing how true the “years are short” part is. So I’d tell myself to stop and pay attention to every phase, no matter how difficult, because my babies are no longer babies. I’ll never get those years back.
I’d also tell her it’s okay to change her mind. I learned that along the way, but it was a painful letting go of my expectations, of how I “should” do things. Once I gave myself freedom to change my mind (especially in regards to going back to work), I found life easier to manage and my friendships richer because I wasn’t so absorbed in how everyone else was doing things. I not only gave myself freedom, I gave others more freedom to manage their mix as they needed to.
The last thing I’d tell her is to pay attention to her husband. It’s easy to get swept up in the demands of work and kids and extended family. We respond to the loudest cry and often our husbands are on the sidelines silent while we respond to the calls on the phone and from the crib. We stay in the realm of what needs to get done and forget to check in on how we are all doing in every realm. My husband has had his own mix he’s been trying to manage. I’ve learned, again sometimes in painful ways, that we are better off as a whole, as a family unit, if everyone’s needs are prioritized. There were a number of years where I could have done a better job of supporting him in the stresses of his mix.
Is there anything you would like to share about work-life mix?
I love that Women In The Mix is not about balance, where all parts of your life get equal time and attention, because that is neither realistic nor sustainable. I also love the emphasis that every woman has her unique mix that is constantly changing. Yes! When we grasp these truths into our hearts we have a freedom to make a life that works for us and truly love our actual lives.