As a single, full-time working parent, I often feel caught up in a juggling act. The balls in the air represent my various identities—mother, friend, daughter, employee, community member—and each of them demands time, effort and attention. More often that not, a ball or two drops and I am left scrambling to get it back into the air. Then the act starts up all over again.

Life is busy and time is finite. As I walk along this parenting path, I realize more and more the importance of prioritization, self-discipline and self-kindness. I simply cannot do it all. Some things need to be set aside and let go. The question then becomes “What is most important to my family and me; what do I need to live my best life?”

Recently I took time to evaluate my jam-packed weekend routine. After a full work week, I jumped right into a schedule of to-do’s on my precious days off. It left little time for being fully present and engaged with my daughter. I finished each weekend depleted and without rest, and my child was often asking for more of my attention. The worst part is there was no end to it all. As a wise friend once told me: “You will die with an unfinished to-do list.” Amen.

So I asked myself, “Why am I doing this? What is most important to me?” After some reflection, I identified the following:

1. To be an engaged and loving mom

2. To ensure that we are eating healthy and well

3. To keep us safe and protected

4. To savour the time that I have with my daughter while she is young (and still wants to spend time with me)

5. To cultivate more joy and fun

Then I reviewed the activities I did most weekends and it turned I spent a lot of time on chores. I considered my list and decided other than laundry, budgeting and keeping the house generally tidy (for example, changing sheets), much of it could wait.

After deciding what chores to prioritize, I decided to create a standard two-week, rotating meal plan. While not as exciting as providing new meals on a weekly basis, it removes the guesswork, and it saves creative cooking for special occasions like when we host friends and family.

I picked healthy meals both my daughter and I enjoy. I also tried to choose ones that produce multiple servings and allow for portion freezing. When I take the time to cook more labour-intensive meals, maybe Shepherd’s Pie, I also save time and money in the long run (ending up with two to three dinners). On a busy weekday, there is nothing better than pulling a well-balanced meal out of the freezer and putting it right into the oven.

I also started to online grocery shop, rather than drive to the store. Many stores offer this option now. Not only can you shop in the comfort of your own home, you can set a time to pick up the groceries for free, or have them delivered to your home for a small charge. I place my order mid-week and I track the grocery bill costs as I shop. It is much more efficient than walking up and down the aisles of a store and my monthly grocery bills have decreased since I started.

Lastly, I asked my daughter to help me identify more fun activities that we can enjoy together over the weekend. She likes to play school, build forts and dance to “Just Dance” videos on YouTube. I enjoy taking her on walks with our dog to Mt. Doug Park, Thetis Lake and through our neighbourhood.

Although weekends are still busy at our house, we talk, share and laugh a lot more now. The same is true for those weekday evenings when I am not scrambling to cook a meal. Even though it is still a juggle, my life is also a work in progress; and I am doing my best to evaluate, streamline and adjust as I go.

Lora McKay is a Victoria writer and mother to an amazing nine-year-old daughter and a rescue dog named Lucky. You can read more of her work at breath-by-breath.com.