Did I ever tell you about the time when I had a baby and refused to take a maternity leave? Yeah, I did that.
It was my second baby and I was working on my MBA. I was also teaching an online class for the community college. Oh, and I was trying to build my consulting business. I just didn’t see how I could possibly stop. Besides, it was all online so I could just get it all done while the baby slept, right? Right.
The first month was amazing! She was an awesome sleeper and eater and generally content. I was so productive and I knew I had made the right choice!
Around month 2, she started being awake more during the day and I started having a hard time getting my work done. And she wasn’t content to just be held in a Moby Wrap or a sling. She wanted to see my face. She wanted interaction.
I wasn’t expecting this so soon. My first baby was not like this. Little Miss S slept quite a bit for the first 3 months and even when she was awake, she was happy to just be held while I did things around the house.
And, as babies do, she got bigger, more awake, and more social. She needed more attention and I had less and less time to do the work I thought would be so easy to do.
So what’s a mom to do? Something had to give, so I gave up sleep. Instead of sleeping, I worked.
During this same time, I was a member of a networking group for businesswomen. We met monthly and shared ideas and tips for being successful in our professional lives. Since I had left my well-paying corporate gig to start my small consultancy, I felt this was absolutely crucial and could not be sacrificed. Around the time Little Miss K was 2 months old, I jumped back into the group so that I could continue to work on my business.
That’s not all. There was another professional group I had been heavily involved with for 5 years and felt very connected to. I attended board meetings with Little Miss K in tow in her carseat or a Moby Wrap.
Nope, that’s still not all. On top of the professional groups I just couldn’t bring myself to step away from, I was also an active member of Junior League. For those that aren’t familiar, Junior League is a women’s volunteer organization that focuses on the needs of women and children. Being a member comes with many obligations, including volunteering your time. And yes, I remained active during everything else I had going on. I just couldn’t walk away.
So let’s recap. I was completing my MBA, teaching online classes, building my consulting business, participating in not one, but TWO professional organizations, and volunteering – all essentially immediately after having my SECOND baby (meaning, of course, that I had another child to care for).
Because of how bogged down I was with time commitments, I was not doing a very good job of keeping up with our household. I occasionally let a due date for a bill slip by, and ended up paying late fees. I didn’t meal plan consistently, and when I did it wasn’t as effective as it could have been. Many times I didn’t know what was for dinner until it was time to start cooking! And the times that I did, I’d find myself short on ingredients because I didn’t make it to the grocery store.
The worst (and most embarrassing) part is that I wasn’t present for my kids and husband. I was always in a daze or a frenzy. Even when I was reading my girls bedtime stories my mind was on the 20 things I needed to get done once they were asleep.
Just typing all of this and seeing it in front of me, I can’t even believe I thought this was ok.
But I know how it happened. I’ve read the books and articles about how we women can have it all – family, kids, career, relationships, hobbies, etc. We’re shown these perfectly painted pictures of women who seem to have it all together and get it all done, all with a smile and perfect (not greasy) hair.
And sometimes, we can feel like if we can’t do it all too we must be failing.
Little Miss K was born in August. By the time I finished my MBA the following March, I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. But I kept on plugging away. I mean, I finished the degree. I’d have all the time in the world now, right? Right.
Nothing got better. I got worse. My mental and physical state were that of complete and utter exhaustion. And everyone I love got a dimmer version of me.
Finally, one day while I was sitting at my desk with my head in my hands on the verge of tears (which seemed to become my normal state) and feeling as if I would collapse at any moment, I looked up at my computer and typed out two emails. One to each of the professional organizations I had been involved in, explaining to each of them that I needed to step away.
I went into some detail, explaining that I needed time to focus on other things. But I did it in tunnel vision, not letting myself think about it much. Because if I had thought about it, I would talk myself out of clicking “send”.
And guess what? No one got mad at me. In fact, everyone was incredibly supportive and most people even commended me for making the choice.
That was a HUGE step in the right direction.
Then I went right to my calendar and removed all of the meetings and appointments I had scheduled for those two groups. Seeing that space in my calendar did something to me. I literally felt lighter.
The next thing I did was lessen my teaching load. That was really hard to do because it was providing me an income. But at the time, I was doing most of my teaching on campus (now I teach more online), and it was really tough for my family.
And once again, no one got mad at me. No one was let down. My program chair actually praised me for putting the needs of my family first.
Now that I had room to breath, I sat down and planned meals and made grocery lists for an entire month. Since then, I’ve experimented with monthly, semi-weekly, and weekly meal planning, but at that time planning meals a month at a time was what I needed. I actually put some thought into my meal plan, building in ways to use leftovers from one meal to prepare a “new” meal the next day and making sure I paid attention to how much time I’d have each day to prepare and cook meals.
After that, and I remember this distinctly, I took a nap. My sleep habits were atrocious (and remained so for quite a while after all of this) and I was exhausted. Did I already mention that? Because I truly was.
Those first two “Noes” taught me an important lesson and gave me room to pull myself together.
The lesson was that I was not letting people down by saying no. And when I said no to one obligation, I could say yes to something more important.
Once I got a hold of my calendar, I started working on figuring out how to use my time more effectively. I came up with a housekeeping schedule, I started a household budget binder to keep me on track, and I created a daily schedule for the kids and myself.
And one the best things I did was make a commitment to myself not to work in the evenings anymore. Unless it was something I was really excited about and truly wanted to work on, I would not allow my work to spill over into evening hours. I reserved those for lounging, reading, mindless internet browsing, watching TV or movies with my hubby. That sort of thing. My hubby and I have even spent many evenings just hanging out together on the back porch or playing darts or pool in the basement, just spending time together.
I’d love to say that those first two “Noes” started a domino effect, helping me prioritize and shed obligations until I was back to the absolute essentials.
But the truth is that it’s been more like a roller coaster ride. I landed a major project with my consultancy somewhere along the way, which added to my time constraints. I was also asked to develop several online courses for the community college where I teach, and I was super excited and said yes to those projects as well. But I was able to accept those opportunities only after giving it much thought and consideration, looking at my schedule and thinking about how much time I could commit.
So, mommas (and non-mommas), this is a long-winded way of saying, don’t fall for the “we can have it all and do it all” trap. Don’t feel like if you aren’t doing “it all” (whatever that really means, anyway) that you’re failing. You know when you’re failing? When you are doing a million things at once and doing them all poorly. And when you spend so much time doing things that don’t matter much well that you don’t have time to treat yourself well.
Don’t overdo it. Whatever it is, it won’t bring you happiness if it leaves you on the verge of tears and ready to collapse at the end of every day. It’s not success if it sucks the life right out of you, leaving a hollowed out version of you for your loved ones. And it won’t add value to your life if it doesn’t let you LIVE your life.
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