Off the Clock

My youngest, now 7, has fought sleep since the day she was born. The other night she was up to her usual antics, coming up with every reason she could possibly think of to not go to bed and all the things she needed done for her, even after we had tucked her in. At the same time, my oldest suddenly remembered she had a math test the next day and asked my husband to run off a practice worksheet for her.

I was especially tired that night after a 12-hour workday, and I was desperate to crawl into bed. Realizing that it was nearly 30 minutes past my kids’ bedtime, I decided to implement a new rule. Recalling an article, I read years ago about a mom who told her family she was “off the clock” after a certain time of night, I told my kids that moving forward, if they had not taken care of their business by 8 pm, they would be on their own. We have the same routine every night; they know what needs to be done and they simply weren’t doing it because they didn’t want to go to bed. My kids were surprisingly receptive to the idea, and though the institution of it has not gone perfectly, it’s been mostly effective at getting them to think about what they need to get done every night and to accept that they must handle things like getting water or finishing their homework on their own if they dawdle. Of course, there are times when it’s not reasonable to apply this rule, but most nights, it shouldn’t be a problem.

But this new rule has extended beyond my kids.

A few nights later, I was up late grading papers. I knew when I became I teacher that I’d be bringing work home with me, but it has become increasingly impossible for teachers to get most of their work done within their contract hours because of all that is required of us. I spend at least one hour after school every day and several hours every weekend working. Even with an additional 10 hours of work every week, I can never get it all done, and I always feel behind. This year especially, I’ve been driving myself to exhaustion, and as I sat there, grading papers, I realized that I needed to apply the “off-the-clock” rule to everything, not just my children who are avoiding bedtime.

I decided that I would do my best to start clocking out from everything at 8 pm. Not only would I be “off the clock” as a mom, but I would also be off the clock as a housekeeper and off the clock as a teacher. After 8 pm, I will do my best to focus on myself and my husband. I can read a book or watch an episode of a show with my husband; I can paint my nails or crank out an article for New Orleans Mom if I’ve been inspired; I can even straighten the junk drawer if it’s been driving me crazy because organizing things relaxes me, but whatever I do after 8 pm needs to be something I am doing for myself and my wants and needs, not for other people.

It hasn’t been long since I instituted this rule, but this simple shift has had a positive impact on our night-time routines. And while it hasn’t really reduced my stress level, I have started to feel more like myself than I have all school year.

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here