May 8, 2017
A Mom's Guide To: Time Management in Japan
As a mom, we are always being pulled in all directions, everyone needs our time and everything needs to be fixed right now. I often joked that when my kids are on their holidays, I don’t even get a chance to get my feet off the floor, until they are off to bed and that is TRUE.
Being a mom in Japan is a new ball game for me. Back home I was used to having my parents, friends or some form of part-time help to come to my aid on occasion. Childcare centers had flexible times for me to drop off and pick up my kids. Granted my kids were little back then and had no after-school activities. Take out food or home deliveries were readily available for when I couldn't manage to make a meal. Supermarkets always delivered and I could even shop online. Upon starting my life here in Japan, I quickly realized that I had been spoilt. Very spoilt.
Once in Japan, I was totally on my own. I had to do everything by myself, and with my kids growing up I still, in fact, have to do a lot more than I used to. It really doesn’t make a difference whether I work or not. Being a full-time mother is indeed a job by itself, especially so in Japan. I notice that on my days off, I still find myself racing from place to place and from chore to chore, eventually collapsing right after the kids sleep. By then, my body and brain would cease to function and the work that I had planned to finish or that cake that I had been planning to bake would have to wait till tomorrow and then tomorrow again, and so it goes on.
The 'time management' that I had known and done so well from the days before I had kids has morphed into a whole new level. It is now something I need to relearn and put my new time management skills to the test and remind myself of again and again.
Over the years as a mother in Japan, I think I have unveiled a few tried and tested tips to managing my time and I will share with you here.
When you have a kids, suddenly food becomes the first priority in your everyday life. Regardless of how much time you have or if you have any inspirations of what to put on the dining table, you need to provide at least three meals a day, on time. Going to the supermarket sometimes becomes a challenge when I am just running around dropping off and picking up kids or running some kind of errand to keep the household in order.
These are some of the thing I do so I ensure there is always ample food at home and those hungry stomachs always well fed.
1) Prepare certain food in bulk and freeze them
Meatballs, hamburgs, pasta sauces, raviolis and gyoza. These things are more economical when made in bulk. So go ahead and make as much as you want and just freeze them in ready to use portions and you will be set for any emergency meals you would need to make.
2) Weekend cookouts
It is only during the weekends I get an extra pair of hands to keep the kids occupied. As much as I would like to sleep in and watch all the dramas I had missed, I spend that time going to a supermarket and cooking instead. Potato salads, blanched vegetables, niku jaga and pasta salads. These things can go into their dedicated tupperware and served as side dishes during meal times, thereby cutting down your cooking time and stress levels.
3) One pot dinners
These recipes are amazing and also very delicious. The concept is to cook everything in a single pot and be ready to serve your family a piping hot and freshly cooked dinner. They can range from pastas to rice dishes. Top that up with a fresh salad and you have a healthy meal going. For inspiration, a simple Internet search for “one pot recipes” and you will be hit with a whole list of ideas.
4) Make Depachika Your Best Friend
This is actually the best thing to happen in Japan. Not the most economical of choices but when you are running around trying to make everyone's schedule and have absolutely no time to cook, the food halls in the basement of Japan's department stores (depachika) offers maybe the best solution for a complete meal with variety. Get the kids to choose their own dinner and you don't even have to worry about cooking at all. Almost a win-win!
Ok, the house may never be completely clean if you have kids. That I am still struggling to come to terms with. This being Japan though, we have a much a smaller space to deal with than before and it's one that can quickly become cluttered and really messy if we are not consistent with cleaning up. There are things that should be done daily and things that can wait till the end of the week and others revisited with even less frequency.
Laundry and picking up the mess must be an everyday chore. This is to make sure that things go back to the space they belong and nothing is just hanging loose, making the home messy.
The floors can be vacuumed, surfaces and windows wiped only weekly. If you have a garden, weeding and pruning can also be a weekly chore. If you have a car, then washing the car can also be done on the weekends. Also, this is a good time to send the clothes to the dry cleaners and pick up those that have been done.
Sure there is a lot to be done at the end of the week but the tip is to delegate the vacuuming, wiping, gardening and car washing to your husband and kids so you can be free to cook during those idle weekend mornings. With these weekly chores done, you would only need to attend to emergencies during the week.
Bedsheets, cushion covers, carpets can be cleaned once a month. Other deep cleaning chores such as dusting the ceiling fans, light fixtures, cleaning the AC, changing the filters, cleaning the walls, dusting the ceiling and de-moulding the bathrooms can wait for a month.
Swopping your closet, changing your upholstery and bringing out appliances according to the seasons can be planned out right before the weather changes. (Find a list of Japan's 'seasons' right here.)
The most important tip for managing a clean home is to draw up a cleaning schedule for your household and religiously refer to that set schedule. You will realize that your home can be systematically cleaner in time to come. Another tip is to make this calendar public at home so anyone can pop the items into the machine should you be too busy or tired.
Moving the kids
It is not so much about physically moving the kids but making sure you have the kids where they should be at the right time. It is a challenge, especially if you have kids with different interests and activities and some requiring the attendance of the parent(s). In Japan, because being on time and having the right attire is so important, it puts extra stress on the parents to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Have a written calendar set on your fridge or your kitchen wall. Again, make sure everyone has visual access to this calendar so they (especially your significant partner) know where the kids should be at any given time. Also make sure you manually put down every event and whose attendance it requires to avoid any conflicts.
The next thing is to plan transportation for these activities. Do they have (free or cheap) parking? Where do I need to go afterwards? Would it be easier on a bus or cheaper by taxi? Can I just take the mamachari? Run through the route in your head a few times and it will be surprisingly less stressful during the actual event. Stick to this routine a few times and you will be on the roll!
Time For Yourself
Now that we are done with managing the time for everyone else in the family, here comes the most important thing - planning time for yourself.
Always make sure to include time to relax and make yourself happy. You can choose to go shopping, exercise, go for a haircut, do your nails, steal a nap or just stare at the walls. Put this time down on that family calendar and highlight it with the most luminous color. Make sure everyone understands that that time is holy and can’t be touched unless you yourself decide to move it.
Remember, if you don’t take an opportunity to recharge yourself and reboot your system, you may not be at your optimal to service all your family’s needs.
Any input of wisdom on how to manage your time as a parent here in Japan? Feel free to let us know!
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