Finding Balance as a Mom: I'm Not a Flake, I'm Focused
You don't see my name in several of the places you used to, like volunteer boards, autism organizations, and guest posts. But that's not because I'm flaking, it's because I'm focusing. After I found myself on the verge of an overload-triggered nervous breakdown a few months ago, I decided to prioritize -- to put my family, friends, and critical work first, in that order. I now get to the stuff I can get to, and I try not to lose sleep over the rest, mostly because letting myself become sleep-deprived over anything not in that top three is something else I've decided not to do. So, I'm sharing my experience and approach because I suspect I'm not the only parent trying to avoid a meltdown.
The breaking point for me came when my husband and I found ourselves witnessing several family members' and friends' nasty unfixable divorces, a few in which children we love very much became casualties of strident acts made in their names, and which no efforts of ours could prevent or even soften. These conflicts broke our hearts and made me want to spend more time with my own kids, because being with my children was something I could do.
This divorce avalanche and its resulting heartbreak also emptied the reserve tanks that had allowed me to function with chronic sleep deprivation for years; sleep deprivation anchored in too often saying yes because I am a nice person (in theory) and nice people always say yes when something important needs doing. Right?
Wrong. Not for me, not anymore. Saying yes too much leads to being over-committed. Being over-committed makes it difficult to follow through properly on every last one of those yeses, makes a persons look like a flake. It leads to being over-busy. And being over-busy is unhealthy, plus it takes time away from my family, and from the downtime I need to remain lucid and not shriek like a harpy at every minor irritation. So I've decided to prune and streamline my commitments, regain some balance. But how?
Fortunately, through BlogHer and other connections I have met many wonderfully successful women who balance their demanding professional and personal (including family) lives with aplomb. Who have their priorities straight. And the number one thing I've noticed about the women I view as role models for prioritization? Their focus.
They know when to cut things off, as BlogHer's own Lisa Stone did when she gave up email for two weeks to spend time with her family. And, like the Jim Henson Company's Halle Stanford and Babymouse author Jenni Holm (quoted), they know how to use social media productively or as a tool for keeping connected:
"There's definitely a pre-kids and a post-kids. Pre-kids, I was a late afternoon writer starting around three and going through dinner -- and now I'm done by then because it's time to pick up kids and make dinner. I've definitely become more productive with the time I have -- I think I used to waste a lot of time. [...] I actually think social media like Facebook is great for writers, I think we're on it a lot, because being a writer can be very isolating."
These women's examples have given me the resolve to draw some needed boundaries, especially around email and social media. Maintaining boundaries is not easy for a people-pleasing type, but it works. I try to respond to personal email, but I don't always. Not responding doesn't mean I like people any less, shouldn't be taken personally. But unread email now gets deleted after a few weeks. And I left my computer (and work email) behind this past week when I took the kids to a well-deserved trip to Disneyland.
I ignore or hide most non-autism-related postings or petitions people put on my Facebook wall (you've been warned). I don't do Pinterest, Instagram, or Tumblr; I have accounts on all three, but only so I can access them quickly if a logged-in action is required, and more power to you if you've been able to use those platforms in a non-virtual-quicksand fashion.