Musings on (Working) Motherhood: being vigilant at the checkpoints of your day
I’ve been in an almost full-time work/study routine for three months now and I’ve noticed that there are certain times of the day when it is crucial for me to pay attention to what’s happening, be engaged, be proactive, and generally be vigilant. They are times when I am transitioning in between work and home, preparing for the day ahead, or prone to mood and energy slumps. I find that by putting in the effort at these key points during the day and evening, my week goes much more smoothly and I experience more flow and less guilt. The rest of the day then follows on quite easily and without too much effort. I thought I would share them with you. Yours might be completely different to mine, and I would love to hear what they are. I call them “checkpoints” because they are the signposts that I need to check my attitude, what I say and how I say it, and what I do. It takes a lot of practice and I can’t say I’m really good at it yet, but I’m building awareness of what I need to do at these particular times.
Last thing before bed
A good day actually starts the night before, for me. This is one I find the hardest (well, often I just pass out after the kids are in bed, without any thought to the next day!) All the literature recommends that you spend some time planning your day just before you go to bed. Review what happened over the day, recognise what went well and what didn’t and reflect on what you could have done better. Think of your goals for the following day and your subconscious will work on it while you sleep. I find that if I do this well, I wake up in a better mood and I feel more motivated and organised. And because I need to be very self-directed with my study, it is crucial that I set out what I am going to achieve that day, or it disintegrates into a vacuum of procrastination.
It’s a bizarre thing but I used to wake up and immediately think really stupid negative thoughts like “Oh god it’s going to be a terrible day” or “I’m so depressed”. I don’t know where these came from because I most certainly was not depressed and the days weren’t going to be terrible (unless I was working an on-call shift as a hospital doctor in which case yes most days were hideous). But that ridiculous thought would pop into my head as soon as I opened my eyes, and then a grumpy morning would ensue, and a mediocre day during which I felt I was battling against all odds and “everything was going wrong”.
A while ago I realised that what I thought would come true and that I could actually change the way my day went by simply changing the way I think. Starting with that first thought on waking. So now I whack the morose thoughts out of my mind and replace them with “It’s going to be a great day”. And true enough, a great day will follow. Mornings are pregnant with so many possibilities. I find it fascinating how human beings can actually create positive experiences over the day with the right thinking. So many of us don’t realise the power we have over our destiny.
Saying goodbye to the kids at dropoff
Usually this goes smoothly, but occasionally miss Three will have an emotional outburst and cling to me, screaming “Mummy! Mummy! Don’t leave me!” This always seems to happen when I’m in a hurry. I know now that staying loving and cheerful is vital, as is a quick and decisive exit. She always has a great day and loves being at daycare, but as she says, “I like you Mummy and I want to be with you all the time”. If I get irritated and impatient at the outburst, I end up leaving feeling equally guilty and grumpy.
I know now that if I bring my problems home, everyone suffers. I know now that my mood can dictate the atmosphere at home, and that I have control over my emotions. The transition from work to home is a major one for me. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in a problem I’ve been trying to solve, and it’s hard to stop that and go pick up the kids; or I might come home in a crappy mood because of some minor mistakes I made at work. I try to do whatever I can to leave this behind – working through it in a mature fashion on the way home, taking a deep breath, taking just a few minutes extra to collect myself before the whirlwind of home life hits. Just signalling that I am now entering a different territory can help. If I’ve done this work, then when my kids clamber all over me when I see them again, I can share their joy and exuberance and feel enthusiastic about what’s ahead.
The post-dinner slump
This is by far the hardest bit of the night for me! After getting dinner ready and feeding two small children, I am often fatigued and almost defeated at the thought of baths, pyjamas and bedtime. I know I have to do one of a few things: suck it up and keep on going until they get into bed, take a short rest and let my husband deal with them for ten minutes, or go to bed myself. Occasionally, if I’ve had a really early morning with my toddler, I unconsciously end up going for option number 3!! Otherwise, sucking it up does seem to work – as does trying to enjoy the last hour or two with my kids, instead of dreading it.
There are other things that I try to build into my day or week. Scheduling time to exercise is crucial – I cannot make it through the week without this. I try to wake up early so I have a bit of time to myself to read, blog and drink tea. And on weekends we try to relax the routine a little bit – we might feed the kids finger food, or let our three-year-old watch a DVD. It helps to break up the otherwise regimented feel of the week. The older I get the more important a regular routine becomes, as well as regular departures to that routine so it doesn’t get stale. I hope this helps you and would love to hear what your “checkpoints” are.