I’ve been reflecting recently on what it is like to be a new Mom. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 11 years (what!), since my daughter was born, but the feelings seem like they were happening just yesterday. You spend weeks and months preparing, reading books, talking to friends, family and getting unsolicited advice from everyone who crosses your path. Everyone tells you how wonderful it is going to be, but then when the baby arrives, you realize it is so much better than anyone could have described. I remember coming home from the hospital that first day, settling in and thinking now what are we supposed to do? Day by day you figure it out. What worked one day to calm her crying does not work another day, so you just keep trying new things until something works. The days go by and slowly you get into a routine (however odd the hours might be).
I was fortunate enough to spend three months at home with my daughter before having to go back to work. I knew it was going to be hard to go back, but financially I had to work and I was looking forward to having adult conversations. So on her three month birthday, I dropped her off at the daycare center, in the arms of a near stranger and went off to work with tears in my eyes. I was able to pull myself together on the drive to the office and what happened next was surreal. As I walked into the office, it felt like I had never left. It looked the same, smelled the same and the same familiar faces were walking around in the hallway. Mentally I knew I hadn’t been there in over 90 days, but when I sat down in my chair it felt like it was just yesterday. It was weird. I picked up right where I left off. It was comforting to be able to jump in, take my mind off my baby and feel like I was getting something done. At the end of the day, the anticipation and excitement of seeing my baby was unlike any I had felt. It was fun to leave work with a surge of energy, instead of feeling tired and worn down from the day.
Even though my job was the same, I was different. “Problems” at work no longer felt like the end of the world – it was really hard to get spun up about something when I was surrounded with pictures of a peaceful, sleeping baby. My world was now bigger and the minutia of what happened at the office seemed less relevant.
After a few months of being back, I started to think about my “career”. I had always had my next goal clearly on the horizon and now for the first time I wasn’t so sure about those goals. My priorities had shifted, I didn’t want to work 50-60 hours a week to get ahead, but on the other hand, I wanted to feel like I was moving forward and not staying stagnant. I felt like no one ever talked about this side of becoming a new parent. It’s easy to talk about choosing the right daycare, getting into a routine and doing things in your new role as mommy. But no one ever talks about what happens to your old role as career woman…..
It took me many, many years to get to a place where I felt like I had figured it out. I read a lot of books, did a lot of soul-searching and journaling. My perspective and expectations changed dramatically along the way. One thing I also realized was that I wanted to help other moms get through this, whether it’s in the form of this blog or one-on-one coaching. This is a topic we need to start talking about on a larger scale. We are one of the first generations of moms that feel they can have it all – a rewarding, successful career AND a rewarding, successful family life. The fact is there are still only 24 hours in a day and juggling both priorities is not something that comes instinctively. It takes conscious effort. It’s difficult. But when you commit yourself to defining your priorities and allowing for flexibility, work life balance is something we can all achieve.
p.s. Does this sound familiar? Are you struggling with work life balance? I’d love to help by offering you a free 30 minute consultation. On this call we’ll talk about what balance looks like today, what you’d like it to look like and what actions you can take to get there. Let’s get started, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time.
“We should be like lighthouses for our children – beacons of light on a stable shoreline from which they can safely navigate the world. We must make certain they don’t crash against the rocks but trust they have the capacity to learn to ride the waves on their own.”
If I told you to walk across a tightrope, I’d even give you one of those long poles for balance, would you do it? No, you don’t get to practice. Yes, it might start raining. Yes, objects could be flying around while you are going across. Ready, set, go! What? Does it seem like it would be impossible to keep your balance through all those obstacles? You’re probably right. What if I rephrased it to say, as a parent you should be able to achieve balance - are you ready to walk the tight rope now? Here’s the thing, if you don’t find balance you’ll be followed around by the guilt that there is more that you could be or should be doing.
How did we get here? Research has shown that parents are more involved with their kids today than any other generation. No, that is not a typo; we are MORE involved with our children. So why do we have these expectations that there should be more that we are doing. Pinterest has upped the ante that having chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream is no longer enough for a birthday party. No, you have to have a specially decorated cake that matches your table-scape, which goes along with your theme, games and party bags. Do anything less and the guilt starts to creep in.
We strive for balance that we know is impossible, but yet we drive for it anyway. We feel as if we are the only one who is unable to do it. You look around and think that they have done it, why can’t I? But in reality none of us are doing it, no one is achieving the perfect balance that we all perceive we should be. Where did this definition of balance come from anyway? The next time you find yourself feeling guilty about how you are spending your time take a minute to figure out where that expectation came from. What is it that is making you feel guilty? Don’t stop at the first answer that comes to your head, really think about it and get to the root of the belief.
Balance is something that only you know what it truly means for you. There is no right answer, only the definition you create for yourself. The challenge is that many of us don’t take the time to create that definition for ourselves. We let life happen and by doing so we accept whatever definition comes our way. Trust me it’s not as daunting as it sounds. If you take the time to decide what is really important to you using your heart as your guide, you will never go wrong. It will help you prioritize the things that really matter. It will help you see the value in taking time to do the things that fill you up and bring you joy.
Achieving balance is something that may change day by day or even hour by hour. What looks like balance today, may be the complete opposite of what balance looks like tomorrow. And you know what, that’s ok! It will never be perfect and will never look exactly like someone else’s balance, so give yourself a break J.
About two years ago, my daughter and I had a conversation that eventually led to me to start writing this blog. I wanted to take a minute to retell the story of that conversation and follow it up with something that happened last week.
“It starts within your heart” began as a phrase I started using with my then 8 year old. Her 5 year old brother had gotten angry, yelled at her for something she didn't do and she was mad. When I went in to ask her something, she got angry with me. It would have been easy to get mad back, and in many previous situations I had, but on this day I didn't. I took a deep breath and tried something new. I put the back of my hand on her chest with my fingers pinched together. I explained she had all these feelings in her heart, and I started wiggling my fingers. Sometimes those feelings are so strong that they stretch out through your body, fly through the air and hit the people around you. In this case, her brother’s anger had hit her, made her angry and now that anger was coming out to me. I asked her if she was really mad at me. She thought about it for a beat and said “No”.
I knew at the time that this was not a one time, set it and forget it, miracle cure. However it did establish a visual context within which we could talk about her feelings. (The thumbnail of the heart with the different colored lines that you see associated with the blog was a painting I did to further help visualize the concept.) I started asking her if those were the feelings from her heart or was she bouncing off someone else’s feelings. We were able to start a dialogue on common ground that made her stop and think twice before reacting to an emotion.
Over time the analogy and description has grown and transformed. In addition to those feelings “flying” through the air, I also like the image of your heart being like a still pond. When different emotions are “dropped” in the center of your heart, they create a ripple outward. Bigger emotions create bigger ripples that are felt by more people. Smaller emotions may create smaller ripples, but the impact can still be felt throughout your body. The important thing was that we kept talking about emotions, how we were feeling and how those feelings were making those around us feel. Don’t get me wrong, we still had many days where flying emotions landed everyone in a bad mood. But on the flip side we also had days where we were able to talk about the real reason they were upset and getting mad at each other. Needless to say it’s a process - an hour by hour, day by day, process of just trying to handle things a little bit better each time.
Fast forward to last weekend. It was Sunday afternoon and the kids were playing nicely together in the back yard (or so I thought). My now 10 year old daughter came in the house and said to me “Mommy I need your help. I’m about to get really frustrated and I don’t know what to do.” In short, her brother was getting frustrated because he couldn't do something as well as she could and that frustration was causing him to get mad at her. She was trying hard to get mad back at him but as his anger mounted it was getting harder for her to hold back. Wow! It took everything I had to hold my smile back (because obviously this was not something to be happy about from her perspective). I said to her “First I want to tell you how proud I am that you came in here to ask for my help in fixing this before you got mad. It makes me so happy that you did that and I’m so proud of you. Now, let’s think of a good way to handle this.” We came up with an idea where she could help him to a point, but then hand it over to him so he would feel like he completed it on his own. She went back outside and told him about her idea. A few minutes later, she came back in with a smile from ear to ear. “Mommy that was a great idea! It really worked!”
It starts within your heart has become a reminder that every mood, attitude and reaction is within our power to influence. It’s easy to let surrounding emotions bounce off of us and impact our own feelings. With practice we can be more aware and stay true to the feelings that make us unique. In the beginning I wasn't sure if the concept was too complex for a child to grasp. Happily I can say I was wrong, they totally get it. Not only that, but they are also mature enough to apply it and use it to make a difference. Never underestimate the power of the heart!
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.