I have a secret that I am almost too nervous to say out loud…….we don’t have any scheduled plans this weekend! No games, no practice, no birthday parties, no commitments – nothing! It’s like finding a rare, nearly extinct animal - you’re excited to discover such it but at the same time, you’re not quite sure what to do with it. Of course there is always a long list of things that need to be done around the house, trips to the grocery store and laundry, but aside from the must do’s there are blocks of hours that can be filled with almost anything. The possibilities are endless.
Where do we start? What should we choose? I’ve still been thinking a lot about Work Life Balance. Often the discussion revolves around work versus what I’ll call non-work balance. The first step is to find a way to balance the work side of the equation. The next step is to look at the non-work side of balance. At this point balance becomes unique and specific to each person. What is the ideal way to spend your time? Only you can really answer that. Of course there are chores that must be done, but after that, what is the next most important thing?
Authors Elizabeth Gilbert, Shefali Tsabary, Brene’ Brown and Christine Carter all stress the importance of finding time for play and creativity. There are scores of scientific studies that have been done relating happiness and fulfillment to the amount of time spent creating things. I think the word “creative” stirs up anxious feelings in many people. Often we are held back by fear that what we create won’t be good enough, so we avoid creating it all together. Or maybe it’s that we don’t think we have the time to dedicate to it, so we resist starting something. Creativity can take the form of art, but it can also be expressed in photography, music, dance, gardening and cooking. There are so many options. A few weeks ago we started a family art project, each person with their own canvas. We each chose a word that described family (trust, love and faith). Each person chose their own colors, layout and font style. Though the end results may not look exactly like they originally did in my head, it turned out better because it more accurately represents each person. It’s their own work and their own vision for how they wanted it to look. In The Gifts of Imperfection Brene’ Brown writes “Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared.”
I realize you all may not have the unscheduled weekend that I have, but I hope that you can find a little sliver of time to do something creative. It doesn’t have to be gallery worthy, it can be as simple as snapping a picture on your phone (like the one I took above of the trees yesterday while out of a walk) or making your favorite meal. Brene’ Brown goes on to say “Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed.”
Journal on this: How are you going to express your originality this weekend? What can you do to encourage your children to make something that only they can create?
P.S. Are you struggling to find work life balance? I can relate! Let's meet up for a 30-minute session (free of course)! We'll talk through what's throwing you off balance and figure out the best steps for you to regain your footing. Comment below or send me a message and we'll get started!
Have you ever had a week where it seems like you are faced with a challenge everywhere you turn? Have you ever had a few days at work where it seems like no matter what the topic, you’re on a different page than everyone else? How about a time where you were just hoping that one thing could go right, because you just didn’t have the bandwidth (or energy) to take on one more thing if it went wrong? That is how my work week started. My days always involve jumping from project to project, that’s what keeps things interesting, but this week it seemed as though each project had an urgent matter that needed resolving. In years past I would have allowed the individual events to build up, not realizing the added stress I was feeling or the impact it was having on me. This time was different, I recognized I was stressed out. I tried to do things throughout the day to diffuse the stress by allowing myself mental breaks, like reading a personal email or getting out of the building for a shortened lunch. It appeared to be working. I still had a ton to do and felt the weight of those deliverables, but I thought I was managing the stress of it fairly well. Little did I realize, under the surface, the waves were growing. Late in the afternoon on Wednesday I was multi-tasking, as usual, when I received an update I had been waiting three weeks to receive. The update was not the answer I had been hoping for and I would have to wait longer to receive a final resolution. Though disappointing, it should have been a situation that was easy to handle however given everything else that had gone on over the last three days it was the final straw. My first instinct was to get away from the situation as quickly as possible, to call it a day and start again tomorrow. But I knew I couldn’t do that, so I sat down at my desk and took a couple deep breaths. It was not enough. The wave of stress and emotion that had been building for days swept me up and came crashing down. The tears came and I was unable to hold them back any longer. In the moment I was feeling defeated, hopeless and a million other feelings, including the desire to just disappear. After a few minutes, I pulled myself back together, finished what needed to be finished and headed for home.
What happened next is what makes this story different than the times before. Driving home I was sullen, tired and still stressed out. It would have been easy to go through the drive through for dinner and let the kids watch TV while I opened a bottle of wine and replayed the event over and over in my head. But I didn’t do that, I couldn’t do that. I refused to let the stress of the day ruin my night. I chose to focus on everything else. When I picked up the kids I was happy to see them and asked them about their day. Before starting dinner, I hung up some pictures that I had received in the mail the day before. Looking at the pictures and having them out in the open for us to see was an instant mood lifter. As the night went on I continued to focus on those around me. I reached out to a couple of friends, spent some time journaling and started a new book I had been wanting to read. I didn’t let the events of the day derail me like they had done so many times before. I chose differently.
I am passionate about work life balance – I work very hard trying to maintain my definition of balance - but obviously, it’s not always enough. We all have days where balance sits firmly on one side. It reminds me of a teeter totter with the heavier person stuck on the ground while the lighter person has their feet dangling in the air. What I realized this week is that it is always easier to stay stuck on the ground. It feels impossible to move. You feel helpless and hopeless. But like the teeter totter, the only way to shift is to slowly start adding things to the other side. Each little thing helps – time with your kids, looking at pictures, reaching out to friends, reading a book. One at a time you start stacking small things on the other side and little by little you start to lift up. You may not even realize that you’re no longer stuck on the ground. Too often we feel like balance requires big measures and for this reason we believe it is too hard to achieve. But don’t overlook the impact of stacking up lots of small actions.
Journal on this: How’s your balance? What small actions can you take to shift more in your desired direction?
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Last weekend I had the great fortune to attend Super Soul Sessions, an all-day event on the campus of UCLA produced by the OWN network and hosted by Oprah herself. It was as if someone had looked at my bookshelf, Facebook and Instagram accounts and picked out an all-star line-up of people I admire. Dr. Shefali Tsabary the author of The Conscious Parent. Marie Forleo business woman extraordinaire. Kris Carr advocate for healing through healthy eating. Rounding out the list were authors Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Shaka Senghor (Writing my Wrongs), actresses Kerry Washington and Amandla Stenberg, singer India.Arie and luminaries Carline Myss and Eckhart Tolle. They all spoke for about thirty minutes each sharing their stories, themselves and their vulnerabilities.
It would take me pages and pages to try to provide you with all of the highlights, powerful quotes and ah-ha moments from the day. I’ve spent all week thinking through the best way to write about this wonderful experience. Do I talk about how Kris Carr said “Don’t let your fear become your fact.” Or do I use Marie’s mantra of “Everything is figureoutable” and apply it to parenthood? Or how about India.Arie and her “Songversation” had the audience singing in beautiful harmony with her? Or Kerry Washington’s parenting perspective that she views herself as an ambassador to her daughter?
Sure, I could write on any or all of those, but my true answer came to me last night. Yesterday when I picked the kids up from school, I could tell that my son was tired. It was one of those things as a parent you just know regardless of whether he realized it himself. We’ve had a long week with multiple late nights at the baseball field, so it made sense that the week had caught up with him. We got home and had a normal Friday night, playing outside for a while before going inside for dinner. When we all finally sat down to eat, it happened, melt-down city. His sister was chewing just a little too loudly for him and it sent him over the edge. I had anticipated this moment would happen at some point in the night so I let him leave the table and go off to cry/pout/be angry. After we finished our dinner and cleaned up, I went to him and suggested we play Xbox. I was met with a little resistance but he came around. We had a good time playing together, the earlier incident all but forgotten. After about an hour we stopped for a Friday night treat – ice cream. I scooped it into a bowl for him and as I walked over to give it to him he said “Mom, I’m really sorry I got mad earlier.” (Reminder, he’s eight.) My heart swelled. I looked at him and said “Thank you for saying that buddy. I knew you were tired and that’s why you got mad. But I am most proud that you would say sorry. It’s ok.” He gave me a little smile and started eating his ice cream.
You may be wondering what does that story have to do with Oprah? Or you may wonder why would I leave my family for a weekend to go listen to a bunch of people talk? The reason is for that moment right there. You see, I was not always that mom. As a parent it’s tempting to want to dig my heals in and make my point about manners, staying at the table and asking nicely. It has taken a lot of practice and soul-searching for me to not only change my ways but more importantly to be able to meet my children where they are at. Amandla Stenberg, the 17-year-old actress from The Hunger Games so eloquently said “Coming into ourselves is a process.” A process that takes practice. A process that is constantly evolving. A process where we need to share our stories, learn from and support each other. A process that is not talked about a whole lot. It’s a deeply personal process yet it impacts everyone you come in contact with and might just start to rub off on those around you.
Journal on this: What was fascinating to me was how most of the speakers talked about how they used journaling to work through various challenges in their lives. By getting their thoughts out of their heads and on to the page, they were able to make it through whatever they were faced with. Take a few minutes today to jot down your thoughts. What comes out may just surprise you.
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Originally posted 8/23/14
This week at our after school care program, a mom came up to my husband, we didn’t know this woman well, but our son’s had been on the same baseball team a few months ago. She said “I just wanted to tell you that your son has been so nice to our son. We really appreciate it.” Their son was new to the school and a year younger. Our son had helped make the transition just a little easier by being nice to the little guy. What a simple, yet wonderful, compliment. The fact that she took the time to tell us means even more and we’ll remember for a long time.
It’s no surprise really; we’ve always known our 6 year old was a thoughtful boy. He can run, throw, catch and play hard just like any boy, or he can also sit and color or watch Dora or act silly to try to make you laugh. Last year he asked me why couldn’t help in his class like the other moms? The guilt ate away at me and though I was able to go a couple times, it didn’t feel like enough. This year I was determined to make it work and signed up for an hour a week. The first week Dad volunteered in the classroom. They had a wonderful time reading in centers with their “guest’s” help. When the hour was up and it was time for him to go, our son’s eyes filled with tears. He didn’t want him to leave. Dad stayed for a little bit longer, ate lunch with him and eventually left a smiling boy in his classroom.
After hearing the story, I was unsure I would be able to handle the tears as well as Dad did. My first reaction was to talk to our son. To explain to him that we made special arrangements to be able to help out and that us being there should make him happy, not sad. We talked about how he wasn’t sad when we dropped him off every day. I continued to try to explain the situation in a way that I thought was patient and helpful, but I could see that the sad feelings were still lingering.
When the morning came for me to volunteer I was a little nervous. How was he going to react when it was time for me to go? To take my mind off it I continued reading “The Conscious Parent” by Dr Shefali Tsabary (which I’ve mentioned before). I started reading a section called “Do you validate your children’s behavior, or their being?” I’d quote all 3 pages if I could, it’s that powerful, but this sums it up nicely:
“We think we need to teach our children not to be afraid, not to be angry, or not to be sad. But why shouldn’t they be scared if they are scared? Why shouldn’t they be sad if they are sad? Why would we ask them to dishonor their feelings? We help them most not when we try to banish their emotions, but when we equip them to navigate such emotions.”
Wow, powerful words and I know that we all do this. We have the best intentions trying to help our children, friends, or family through hard times by telling them all the reasons why they shouldn’t feel that way. We try to help push the emotions to the side so they can get over it faster, when what they really need to know is that it’s okay to feel this way. There is nothing wrong, or bad, or weak or (fill in the blank) with feeling the way you are feeling right now. We do more to help them through it when we let them know their feelings are valid. Heavy stuff, but worth thinking about….
So what happened? When I went into the class, he proudly introduced me to his classmates. I helped with the spelling test, stuff homework folders and then it was time to go. The class thanked me for coming and I even got a few hugs. My little guy gave me a quick hug and a smile, saying “see you later” as he ran to catch up with the class as they went to recess. My worrying was for not, he had worked it out himself.
Children have a wonderful imagination. I was reminded of this yesterday while I was watching my son play basketball in our front yard. As he dribbled the ball, he was talking through the action that was unfolding around him. He called out the team names, player’s names, fouls, timeouts and a basket by basket score. It also made me think of how I used to watch the boys in my class do the same thing – imagining you are part of a big game, making the big plays and taking the winning shot.
We don’t teach children how to play this way. It happens naturally. What starts out as a form of imitation, grows into so much more. While one child may imagine themselves in a big game, other children are in the “kitchen” making an elaborate meal, while others are gathering the clues to solve a mystery. Anything can happen during these times of creativity and usually does. There are no restrictions based on what could actually happen. The sky is the limit.
Slowly, these times of imaginative play start to slip away. Children get older. Their schedule starts to fill up with activities and friends. They no longer have long stretches of time to fill. They learn more, develop their own opinions, which in turn influences what they believe is, or is not, possible. Invisible boundaries are drawn and limits are set. The sky no longer endless.
As adults, imagination is not a word that we often use. If we do, it’s usually translated into “where do you want to be in five years?” And while a question like that gives us the opportunity to be imaginative, few of us will take it to that creative, boundless level. We have responsibilities and commitments. We think about consequences and draft a realistic five-year plan that is possible. The more I think about it, the more it feels like there is an unwritten rule that adults don’t get to or shouldn’t have an imagination. Am I the only one?
Let’s change that today. Make time this weekend to channel your inner child and let your imagination take control. Visualize where you would love to be – maybe a beach, with the warm sun on your face, the sand between your toes, the sound of the waves and the smell of salt as the breeze comes off the ocean. Let your imagination fill you with joy and happiness in that moment. Or find your child and go on an amazing imagination adventure with them. Abandon all reality and let fun be your guide.
Journal on this: Write out the most imaginative vision you can think of for your life. When you are done, look over your vision and see which of these things are already present in your life today? Which ones do you wish were present? What would it take to get there?
p.s. Not sure how to take your imaginative vision of your life and turn it into reality? I can help! Comment below (or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s get started.
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.