By Sharmila Rao Thakkar
It’s the year my husband, my partner, the father of our children and my sounding board started traveling for work – M-F and sometimes longer every week. While we dated long distance for five years in our youth and even started our marriage living in two different cities, this time was different. We had children and I had a full-time job with a lot more responsibility, in a city where we do not have immediate family nearby.
What that meant, for me, was taking a step back to reassess my workload both chosen and given and reprioritizing my priorities. It came to mean not staying at the office late (though taking work home) and not being able to make every volunteer opportunity, committee/board meeting and function. It meant saying no or postponing engagements and catch up dinners with friends/colleagues.
It also meant loss of free time at night for phone calls, including giving attention to my immediate and extended family/framily members who are not local … but in actuality, it became a time for me to cuddle with my kids, to fall asleep snuggled up with them after reading a book, to be around to answer their curious queries, and to just “be in the moment.”
I know this is reality for many and by no means is this a comparison to anyone else’s experiences or challenges or a statement on one’s life being harder or better than another’s. I share as I reflect …
For me, in some ways, it has had to be an active choice – one I hadn’t thought much about making before. I enjoy volunteering and mentoring and doing things with and for others (including my family). Having to reduce and reuse the energy I had become accustomed to spending on these “outside activities” has been an interesting exercise and honestly a welcome and much needed “slowing down.”
I’m not sure I ascribe to the recent claims I’ve seen that “busy doesn’t always equal productive.” I have always believed that my “busy-ness” is productive. I am a high achiever by most standards and I like to be prepared, organized and think that I am putting my best foot forward always.
It was a recent 360 evaluation that sought feedback from colleagues, friends and family that made me stop and think:
Sharmila needs to strike a better balance in taking care of herself. I fear that eventually her continual hard work for others may catch up to her if she does not also take care of herself….Sharmila is always on the go and is excellent at balancing multiple commitments. At times however, I believe she would benefit from taking a breath and slowing down. There are times when she does not seem totally present, as a result of her busyness.
It hit me hard. How was I showing up? Why? When? What had been driving that emotion?
Speed. Balancing is one thing and though I may crash and fall (read: fail) at times, I had prided myself on doing the juggle successfully.
But, these past few months where I have done less, let go of the extras, prioritized differently and focused more internally on me, my children, our family– I’m no less happy.
I started going to bed when the kids did. Not accidentally falling asleep with them (remember those days?), but intentionally. I crave rest and downtime – no errands, no kids classes, just plain hanging out which could lead to making cool things with recycled materials from around the house and conversations that last an hour.
I love being around my kids, I so enjoy them right now. I can’t imagine being anywhere else on a weekend day or weeknight after school and work. It’s more important for me to be here with them, but it’s also what I want to do. And I do know that I am lucky to have that choice to make, for the support at home and work to give a little here and there to make it not only something I want to do, but doable.
Perhaps I’m leaning back, perhaps I’m taking a break, perhaps I’m pushing off my dreams to do bigger and better things. But, right now, this is my bigger and better thing. And while I doubt myself or live vicariously through others’ pursuits… I am also learning and accepting to be this content. Acknowledging that this is where I want to be right now.
I won’t say I am not conflicted. Do I ponder turning down invitations and opportunities, do I assess daily “if this, then not that,” do I still wonder how others and many I admire sit on multiple boards and commissions and manage to get stuff done – yes. I don’t know all their secrets, but I am sure that all of us as parents and children and human beings with multiple commitments and responsibilities that often tug at each other struggle with finding balance or integration as we now say.
No matter how many interviews and articles claim they do it just fine or they do this or that, something gives, a choice is always made. For me, the other recognition – more time is never going to just happen. I have to carve it out, build it, find it.
Two of my recent fortune cookie messages contained timely prompts:
If you wait too long for the perfect moment, the perfect moment will pass you by…
Do not rush through life, pause and enjoy it…
And I have enjoyed my family, my children more as a result. I am woman, mother, working mother, as well as wife, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law… roles I take as much pride and attention in as I do employee, supervisor, mentor, director, coworker, volunteer.
Both sides of my family have needed each other – and me – more in the past year than in recent history. While I always a listening ear because I’m not geographically close to them, I was often left feeling hollow, that I wasn’t doing enough. I still struggle with that, but I am doing my best in listening, comforting, advising with full attention. Something I need to accept doing from afar for now. It has meant taking a lunch break so that I can check in on a family member or do research for them, pulling over on the side of the road to catch that phone call, answering the skype call even during dinner so they can chat with the kids, or setting aside other commitments to go visit.
In this time, I rediscovered myself, I became more patient (a journey indeed), I rushed less and I learned more about the relationships that matter most in the long run. Though, I’m still working on removing “hurry up” from my vocabulary! I have had less bags to pack and more time to spend sitting on the sofa. The joke in our family is that for the past 5 years we’ve lived in our house, I’ve maybe been found “chillaxing” on the sofa twice! My goal for the coming year – to get that up to 10. The family movie nights are definitely helping with that.
I thank my husband, my children, my family for helping me realize that slowing down was the only real way for the real me to show up.
While not grounded in research or any science per se, some lessons learned for trying to stay grounded all involve acknowledging that I cannot do it all, all at the same time, to the same level I may have once done…
- Ask for help. If you are turned down, ask again… or ask someone else. This involves letting go of the need to be in charge and that I alone do it best…
- Check perfection at the door. Incredibly difficult for me – and I am still learning. But, as a dear friend reminded me: “Good parents have laundry piles, dust bunnies, and happy kids.”
- Just say no. I actually learned this at work, from my amazing supervisor/mentor. Something must give for you to give. We are constantly making choices. Slowing down made me realize that I needed to prioritize and that saying no (and not necessarily maybe, or later, but just perhaps never) is okay.
- Find time for yourself. It could be your morning tea, your commute, reading (even if it takes twice as long to finish a book!), working out, taking a walk, or even a solo grocery shopping trip. I try to find quiet in the mundane because sometimes it’s not always easy to carve it out.
- Use a calendar to mark both professional and personal commitments, as well as family or children’s activities, and tasks if you like. This helps me to remember what’s important, to not overcommit, and has become a necessity this past year in order to stay on top of life as it happens. I use an electronic calendar which makes it easier to move an item around if I haven’t completed it or to create recurring tasks and to invite others involved to the activity.
- Involve the kids not only in household duties, but also in family decision-making. It helps build their confidence and independence.
- And remember, it’s okay to fail and let our children fail; failure and messing up is critical to learning.
- Smile more often, laugh heartily, share disappointments and dreams, say thank you, hug more.
- We cannot be or raise role models if we do not model the role…. And practice makes progress!
Follow Sharmila’s journey as a mom on twitter @sharmilaRT
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