Our motherhood series continues with a wonderful collaboration with Dr. Samantha Sweeney, a licensed psychologist in Washington, DC who works with children, families, and adults in her private practice.
Balance. It’s one of those elusive things that mothers feel that we should have.We watch movies, TV shows, and read books about perfect moms all the time. They wake up looking perfect every morning (impossible), go off to their jobs and get all of their work done before coming home (who does that??), cooking a delicious, yet nutritious dinner that their kids and spouse love (this is pure science fiction), all before flopping down on the couch with a glass of wine and a perfectly contented spouse. Oh, and the house is spotless.
Um, this isn’t reality.
I believe that balance doesn’t have to look the way it does in the movies (thank goodness, because that’s not going to happen anyway). I really feel that balance needs to be individualized. Sure we all want to be good moms, but what does that mean exactly? Or being a good partner – what does that look like? Or maintaining your sanity – will someone please explain how to do that?!
I have a good start. Throw out the notion of what you ‘should’ do – as a working mom or a stay-at-home mom or a stepmom or an adoptive mom. The key to finding true balance is to work with what is right for you and your family. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Throw out the notion of one-size-fits-all. Balance is unique to every individual, every partnership, every family. Ignore what you see in the movies and on TV. And while you’re at it, ignore what works for your friends, your sister, and even your mom. Do what works for you.
- Determine what is important to you and your family. Do you love to cook or is your idea of torture having a dinner party? Does your kid want you at every single baseball game or is really important to just be at the first and last games of the season? Is a weekly date night essential to feel close to your partner or can you just be in the same room watching Netflix to connect? Whatever it is that you need for your family (and yourself!) to function and be happy, do it. Everything else can be outsourced by…
- …Swapping with Friends. For everything that you hate doing, there is someone else out there who loves it. Do you hate cooking, but don’t mind hosting playdates? Do a swap with a friend who can only handle one kid at a time – and she has two. Tell her that you’ll take the kids for the day while she whips up freezable dinners for both families. That way, you have meals taken care of and she has a minute of peace and quiet to do what she enjoys. And you both avoided the trap of trying to do both.
- …Or hiring a responsible high school or college student. We often think about hiring them for babysitting, but think more broadly! You can hire teens and young adults to do just about anything. Dreading the shopping for that birthday gift? Your co-worker’s kid goes shopping every weekend anyway. Holiday gifts to wrap? Hire a creative college student to do it (much more beautifully than you would) while you take the kids to swimming class. Need to run to the store to pick up a few small things, but the baby is sleeping? Your 15-year-old neighbor would be happy to do that (and his mom wants him out of the house)! They will gladly take your money and you will gladly take some time back for your sanity self.
- Connection Is Key. Connecting with others is a huge part of what makes us human. Without human connection, you can feel lost, lonely, or worse, sink into a depression. We all know that we should be connecting with our kids, but make time to connect with others as well. Your partner, your girlfriends, fellow moms at the playground (i.e., fellow recruits in the trenches), and co-workers. They can serve as a source of support, distraction, or humor that can help get you through the week… or day… or hour…
- Adjust to each stage of life. It feels impossible when you are in the thick of changing diapers and cleaning spit-up, but your kids do grow up! The babies become toddlers, they become preschoolers, then school-aged kids, and finally tweens and teens (gulp) before flying the nest as full-fledged adults. Every shift in their development can serve as a shift in the way you run your household and the expectations that you have for them – and yourself! You don’t always have to clean up after your kids. As they grow older, they can, and should, be able to do some of that themselves. School-aged kids can go alone to playdates and you don’t have to watch the kids like a hawk when they’re at your house. As teens, they can *usually* get themselves where they need to go by hitching a ride with friends or driving themselves *gulp* – freeing up precious minutes, or hours, from your day. Life changes as the kids get older, so don’t assume that the way things are right now are the way things will always be.
- Make time for fun! Life is pretty miserable if you are only thinking about the things that need to get done. Allowing yourself to enjoy the ride is what makes everything else tolerable! So make time to laugh and have fun every single day – hopefully multiple times a day – with as many people as you can. You kids are great models for this – they tend to look for fun wherever they can find it. And when they do, they seem pretty happy don’t they? Sounds like a great way to go through life to me.
Balancing life as a mom is hard. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Use these tips to do what works for you and your family. It’s when you let go of all of the ‘shoulds’ and start paying attention to what works for you that you’ll truly find the balance that you’re looking for.
Dr. Samantha Sweeney is a licensed psychologist in Washington DC, where she lives with her husband and two children. She has a private practice, where she sees children, families, and adults for therapy, consultation, and assessment. Dr. Sweeney is passionate about diversity and also has an organization where she supports parents and educators as they develop children’s cultural competence and diversity awareness. Dr. Sweeney has been a preschool teacher, a consultant and researcher to DC Public Schools, a School Psychologist in Virginia, and an adjunct professor at Howard University. In her (limited) free time, Dr. Sweeney loves to run, read, and do science projects with her kids. For more information about Dr. Sweeney, visit her websites at: www.fpsch.com and www.culturallycompetentkids.