I’m in a meeting with my colleague in my home office (more accurately coined the “cloffice,” closet/office) and despite the noise-canceling air pods, I can hear both the distinct sound of fussing, turning to yelling as well as the oh-so-pleasant “music” from a recorder. Two kids, two ways to create total havoc.
I would say most days of remote learning crescendo into a loud meltdown right around 2pm. Whomever the parent in charge is at that moment certainly has their hands full, but being in a work meeting at the time is also no picnic.
Never has my life been so chaotic. Usually the stresses of work don’t mix with the stresses of home. But here they are, one big jumbled mess.
It’s exhausting and a bit embarrassing. But there are so many of us right in the thick of the chaos soup. We are not alone.
Last month I started a Working Moms Support Group. Talking with fellow working moms, we discovered that although there is no magic wand, no way for this time in our lives to not be difficult, there are some ways to carve out some literal and figurative space for ourselves.
We wise women made some discoveries. Here are three big ah-has.
We aren’t using the breaks we have
Most of us have some support from partners, friends, babysitters, or family. But when we got a break, we noticed we weren’t really using the time in the way that led to feeling recharged.
Guilt, scrolling, and the need to “be productive” led us to squander what little respite has been available.
Feeling that we should be cleaning, working, or doing something for someone else led us to not meet our own needs, which are often to rest or find pleasure in wasting a little time. It turns out, it’s called downtime and it’s not really a waste at all. It’s 100% necessary to feel better.
Scrolling the internet doesn’t usually cut it either. That’s more of a numbing out response, or an attempt to find connection where there usually is none.
Most of us from our moms group have decided to be more aware of our true needs, to make a cozy space in our home for ourselves, and to do a little less, with less guilt.
This practice of making space for ourselves and doing less with less guilt is likely the key to getting through the pandemic and indeed pacing ourselves on the long road that is parenting.
We can drop some balls and things won’t go all to hell
Turns out a lot of us women feel that we must hold up all the things at home and work.
We must be so absolutely all important. Certainly responsible women tend to feel this way, but when we step back that does sound a little egotistical.
While we are vital to the success of home and work, we aren’t the only team member and we don’t need to be the MVP every single day. And as my dad likes to point out, batting 500 is excellent in baseball. So let’s aim for that.
At a time where doing it all is no longer possible, we have to really prioritize. Ruthlessly prioritize.
On social media, author Jennifer Lynn Barnes recounted a Q and A with Nora Roberts. Roberts is reported to have said, “the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic and some are made of glass.”
What us moms have found is that there are more plastic balls than we realized. There are a lot of things that can be dropped with no harm.
For some, this was swim lessons. For others it was managing their middle schooler’s homework. One mom said, “if it’s been on the to-do list for two weeks, maybe I’ll just take it off.”
We can do fewer things. We can do some things less well. And, gasp, other people can do some things including our children.
At the end of the day, the things we do spend our precious energy on have to be glass, the really important things. Our own well being in one of these glass balls. As all of us moms in the group eventually agreed, “when we are better, things go better.”
It’s time to lower our expectations of ourselves
The truth is that we are our own worst critics. Pandemic parenting has made it clear that our sanity is tied to our ability to recalibrate our expectations.
Lower them. Now lower.
Perfectionism and a sense of self tied to high standards on everything will make us lose our minds. We can’t do it anymore, maybe we never could, and maybe letting this go will be the best thing to come out of the pandemic.
If the old way of doing things was to excel at everything, the new way needs to be to excel at only a very few things.
If the old way was to tie our identity to accomplishment, the new way needs to be to have our identity encompass all of who we are as a full, real, and fallible person.
We are people who are working, parenting, co-teaching, and trying to maintain some normalcy at a very surreal and scary time. Everything we do that maintains our well-being, that helps care for our children, that contributes to our work, is enough.
Good enough is the new excellent.
And we are not the outcome or the achievements, we are real, breathing, tired, and vulnerable beings.
Being with each other, it was clearer for us moms to see: we are awesome and we are enough.
Changing our expectations of ourselves is really facilitated by seeing other moms as “enough.” Having the compassion and grace for them, helps us internalize this compassion and grace for ourselves.
Hannah Curtis, LCSW is the owner and founder of New Approaches, an emotional health and wellness practice based in Falmouth, Maine and on the web state-wide (and beyond). Hannah is passionate about helping you be your best self because she believes healthy, resilient people build happy families, communities, workplaces, and societies. She is the creator of Beat Burnout, a program to support wellness at work, as well as the facilitator of the online Working Moms Group, Resilience-Boosting Group (and more groups in development). To register or learn more, email Hannah at [email protected].