Some days I think you have to have the incredible steadiness of an Olympic gold medal gymnast to find work-life balance. But I recently discovered that even Dominique Dawes struggles on occasion.
I originally met the gold medalist when I was around 7 years old and she was on a gymnastics team with my sister. And I had the pleasure of reuniting with her when I was invited to join First Lady Michelle Obama and several other Babble writers at the White House last month for a conversation about the health of our nation’s kids. Ms. Dawes is the co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. In her engaging remarks at the event, Ms. Dawes spoke of the challenge to do it all, referring to motherhood and work. She remarked that if you think she’s mad at you, don’t worry — she’s just tired!
It’s not easy, but I’ve found that the trick to finding this elusive balance is to give up trying and just jump into what works in the moment. Once you’ve taken the leap, you can then stop and reflect. If it’s not working, then change it and stop worrying about the balance.
While we had gathered to talk about the health of our nation’s kids, we soon found that much of the information and advice we discussed applied to parents as well. We all work hard to help our kids gain confidence and self-esteem, yet most of us worry and routinely doubt our parenting skills. After all, as parents we’re responsible for the most important things in the world to us: our child’s safety and happiness. Now try balancing that with your day job.
We encourage our kids to learn from their mistakes, but we often forget to take our own advice. When I went through my teacher credentialing and training, we learned about reflective practice — a terrific principle that asserts that you know you’re going to have both good days and not-so-good days. So why not use those experiences, both good and bad, to improve your confidence in your own teaching?
My thought was, if this works in the classroom, why not in parenting?
Using this practice, I try to turn my fear and worries into confidence. It’s not magic; it actually takes a lot of work. And I find that it works better in very small steps rather than in large strides. Go ahead and take just a small step to improve your life and your parenting. If your tweak doesn’t work, simply try something else. Making small changes is easier than a complete overhaul, and even the tiniest change can make a big difference. It’s certainly better than doing nothing and being constantly frustrated. There’s no arguing that parenting is a hard job and one in which you find yourself questioning and doubting your decisions, sometimes daily. It’s easy to say, “focus on the positive,” but very hard to do that when we’re caught up in doubt and fear.
Recently, I was feeling very tired and short-tempered (beyond the usual). I complained to my husband but couldn’t seem to fix the problem, finally accepting it as my new norm. As the weeks progressed, I realized that my nightly complaints were all circling around the same topic: work. I love working and the more engaged I was, the more I was willing to give. However, increased engagement means devoting more hours each day. It’s exhausting.
I admit, it’s great in this day and age to be able to work at odd hours. Many a working mother loves those sleepless nights where she’s able to get through her inbox in peace and quiet. But, staying up late to catch up, waking up early to get a jump on the workday, and then dashing off straight after dinner to “take care of just one more thing” begins to take a toll.
I realized that my nightly complaints were actually reflections of where I was — maxed out. And it was up to me to fix the situation. So, I decided to start small and make just one change. I turned off the ringer on my phone. I didn’t swear off late night emails and I didn’t say I would never work late. I simply turned my ringer (and the “silent” vibrating mode) off. And it helped. I know that it can be annoying to my family and friends now that I rarely pick up the phone when they first call, but it’s made a huge difference in my daily life. When I am working, I am focused. When I am with my kids, I am not as easily distracted. Honestly, did this resolve my exhaustion? Not really. And did it address the fact that I want to be a full-time mother while working a full-time job? No.
But it was one small positive change that improved my life.
Did you have a good day? If so, take a moment to think about what went well. What made it a good day? Can you recreate the rhythm or the activities?
Did you have a terrible day? Can you trace it back to any pressure points? Did you eat late or did your kids have a lot of homework or drama and suck you in?
Take a moment and think about how you can avoid some of these pressure points next time you see them coming. I can say that it definitely helps when I take time to reflect after the fact. And I have to be ready to forgive myself for whatever part I played in the dramas when I’m angry or frustrated.
I wouldn’t say I’ve got it all figured out, and there are definitely days I’m tired and unsure. But I would say I’m doing what I love most and trying hard to make it all work. I feel fulfilled knowing that the most important things come first: family, family, and family. The days where family does not come first are the days when I need to stop and reflect and sometimes put my own needs first. You have to take care of yourself or you’re not much good to anyone else.
It’s not a perfect balancing act — in fact it’s usually heavily weighted to one side or the other depending on the day, the hour, or the minute — but it’s an act I can pull off and feel good about as I’m finally able to close my eyes and get some much needed sleep.