I am so tired.
So today I decided, six years into being a mom, to invest in a little thing called “self care.” I went to get my makeup done and when the girl at the counter asked me what look I was going for, I told her, “I want to look like a person who didn’t spend all night googling Coxsackie symptoms through the cries of a screaming two year old while also panicking about a big client presentation.”
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, I get it. As a working parent you experience tons of feelings you’re not properly prepared for. Sure, you’ll get the, “Sleep now while you can”, but once that baby comes, it’s up to you to figure out how to manage it all (and make it look easy). But don’t worry, the 70% of working mothers with children under 18 years old get it, too.
We get it in the way the girl at the counter did when she picked out the heaviest concealer they had.
So, remember, you’re not alone in this. Here’s how to navigate the feelings that come with this crazy, beautiful thing called parenting.
Feeling #1 Exhaustion
Yesterday, my new babysitter started. I came home at 7PM to unfed children, one with a leaking diaper, and a house that looked like my boys had used crayons and Play Doh to get vengeance for any parenting mistake I’ve ever made.
And this was after a day of back-to-back meetings and an inbox ticking towards the triple digits.
So here’s what I did:
I ordered takeout. Immediately and without hesitation.
I put my phone in my bag and stopped looking at it (work panic avoided).
I told the kids I had to go to the bathroom, screamed into the shower curtain, and then came down smiling.
I asked my kindergartener what the best part of his day was.
I did NOT clean the house. And I was OK with that.
That last sentence is very important. Sometimes, as moms, we think that we need to do everything at once.
But I’ve let this go, and you can, too. Let. It. Go. All of it. Or at least, try to. I’ve spent way too much time comparing myself to friend’s cute Facebook photos of children in matching outfits in clean houses. It’s not real. They might have gotten it right this week, but next week they will have a messy house and unruly children. And it will be OK because we are all in this together.
The truth is, I recently realized that I spend too much time thinking about how tired I am and not enough time sleeping. So, I did something I don’t think I’ve done since my children were born. After I put my boys to sleep, I went to bed, too.
And although I didn’t do any work the night before, the next morning I felt like I accomplished more. I was more focused. It was so much better.
So, relax when you can. I’ve started listening to music and reading books on the way home from work instead of answering emails. It’s for my own sanity. Cherish those fleeting moments of "you" time and grab hold of them as tight as you can.
Feeling #2 Loneliness
Being a working parent comes with a feeling I never thought I’d have, but one I’ve heard repeatedly: loneliness. Yes, you’re constantly around kids, co-workers, and clients but the connections just aren’t the same as they used to be.
Here’s my hypothesis: Parenting is hard. You often can’t do a lot of the things you used to (like those fun girl’s trips or romantic weekend getaways). Making friends at work can be difficult (it’s not exactly easy to go out for happy hour). And many of us don’t want to admit when we need help, especially if you never had to wave the white flag before having children.
Here are some ways to combat it:
Find your fellow work parents: You know who gets it? Other parents who work at your company. Here at The Muse, we have a #museparents Slack channel. Do some digging to find your fellow moms and dads.
Put yourself out there, even just a little bit: Attend activities that match your family’s schedule. Make awkward conversation, rinse, and repeat, until you find a mom or dad friend.
Pick one day a month to be kid-less: Get a babysitter once a month to do a whole day of socializing. Maybe that means seeing an old friend, taking a day with your spouse, or attending that co-worker thing that you always say no to. Just make sure it’s something that will leave you feeling good and socially replenished.
Join a networking or support group: I believe in this so much, that I started one. With my hectic schedule I never have time for more than a few minutes of socialization, but through my online social circle, I’ve discovered that plenty of moms and dads are going through the same things I am.
Feeling #3 Overwhelmed
This is probably the most common. Why? Because as working parents we have a lot of stuff going on. And there’s studies that show being a working parent is the equivalent of working more than two full-time jobs (but you didn't need a study to tell you that).
So, here's how to to keep your head above water:
Accept help: From pretty much anyone who will give it. Your mother-in-law just offered to come over for an hour so you can stay late and grab a quick cocktail with friends? Let her. Your direct report said he would pitch in so you can pick up your children from childcare? Let him do it. Bottom line: Be honest with others about what you need.
Make lists: Buy yourself a notebook or planner and write everything down. Cross it off as you accomplish it. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than manually crossing something off, but do what works for you.
Say no, but not sorry: Even superheroes need a break. It’s OK to decline when a non-essential 6 PM meeting encroaches on family time. It’s OK to turn down a work event because it is just too much this week. It’s OK to take a rain check on the girl’s trip because you can’t find sitters or can’t afford it. It’s OK to not have your child in six activities and always wearing matching outfits. Do what feels right for your family, not anyone else’s.
In short, you are not alone. I know it can feel that way at the end of one of those long, hard days. But remember, even when you think you are failing, your children see a hero... and your co-workers are likely in awe of how you do it all, and make it look easy.