When I came out of the fog of my first son being born I had what felt like a very short period of time (but probably average by US standards) to contemplate the immense task of returning to work, pumping, childcare, commuting. It felt like an impossible task with impossible choices such as leaving my infant in someone else’s care just to start.
I also knew before having my son that I was going to keep working. Being the daughter of a 60’s era feminist, the privilege of choice in my career was not lost on me. I took my time choosing and investing in a profession that felt meaningful to me. I was not about to surrender that just because I wanted kids.
However the actual logistical nightmare of two working parents, childcare and life was a whole other ballgame to be figured out. All while being flooded by intense attachment and bonding hormones. Keeping a foot in reality was hard. Sometimes I pumped milk while driving home after failing to keep my perfect pumping schedule I had written for the day.
When I see mothers in my practice I hear this complicated and layered story of all the pieces we are trying to hold on to, all the values we are trying to make sure we are honoring. It’s so intense sometimes we can’t even wade through it all while at the same time taking care of our family.
The idea of work/life balance sounds like a moving target that you can never actually hit. It’s a destination you can’t ever arrive at because its always changing. One day you have it all figured out on paper and then next day you wake up with a kid with a fever and are deciding who calls in sick to work.
Let’s not forget about how you can’t remember the last date night you had or the last time you got to go to a yoga class at an actual studio, not a video on YouTube.
It’s hard to get grounded in all this constant movement.
When I see mothers in my practice I realize what a difference it is to be in the midst of it all, blinded by the chaos, versus being the one listening to it and the vantage point that offers to really understand what needs to be addressed first.
There is a metaphor that I go back to over and over again. It’s that annoying but needed reminder you receive when flying on a plane with kids. The air steward reminds you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then your kids.
When we are overwhelmed by the demands of family and work we tend to keep plugging away, ignoring our need for oxygen until it reaches critical levels. This can show up in many ways: drinking too much; feeling uninterested/detached from your kids, partner or the work you use to enjoy; getting sick, (like chronically sick); turning to food for emotional needs instead of nourishment. I see it all. These struggles are usually what bring people in to therapy. They just can’t survive with that little oxygen anymore and something is telling them they need to take a big deep breath.
So how do we get a chance to take this big, needed deep breath when life keeps on going? We are running a marathon, we can’t stop and meditate. Yet, there are options available to us . When we get a moment, a pause to step back from it all, connect with our own wisdom and take a mindful look at our day, our week or our life. It could be 1 minute, or 5. It could be one hour. It isn’t about how much time but more the intention of tuning in, of listening to ourselves.
These days I am intensely grateful for 15 minutes of sitting on my porch to journal with my coffee and hear myself think. It doesn’t need to happen everyday but I’ve learned to pay attention to oxygen deprivation and not wait too long before I take a pause. I use to have the luxury to journal for much longer, even going on retreats just to journal. Ha! Who has the time now!
What I love about supporting Moms is helping them to discern what needs attending to first. Helping them to listen to what is needed right now versus what can be planned now, but take place in the future. Sometimes our depressed mood, or our irritability is telling us we need more time with the people and places and things we love, but we can’t leave tomorrow to go backpacking. However, we could ask a friend to go for a hike this weekend. Then we might talk about planning a longer trip over the summer where we get a break from kids and go for a daylong hike.
Being present for ourselves means making plans that are doable for this life, this wonderful complicated life, without giving up on our needs, without holding our breath.