Tug of war is a game of strength where two opposing forces are pulling each other to get the center of the rope over to their side. The center of the rope is usually noted by a red mark or some sort of string tied in the middle. When that point moves past center and toward the other team’s side, a winner is declared.
What happens though, if you are the red mark?
I write this coming off a week when I truly felt like the red mark, being pulled in two different directions and whichever side I was pulled toward in a given moment, it felt as though the other side would lose. For me the two sides were my work and my child who was home sick.
It was 5:00 in the morning and I was enjoying my best sleep of the night when I heard feet coming in the room followed by tears and a pitiful “My throat hurts!” My gut knew it was strep and a thermometer and doctor’s appointment later, we were home with the official diagnosis and a bottle of antibiotics.
In the midst of all of that, I was also finding time to run to my office and grab my computer to let my clients know I would not be in that day and also wondering where I would reschedule everyone knowing I am on vacation in two weeks and my schedule is already full.
On one side my sweet boy who was down for the count and wanted snuggles and to be taken care of and on the other side my clients who depend on me to be there for their scheduled appointments because their time is also valuable.
The joy of being a private practice clinician is the flexibility and schedule that allows me to pick my kids up some afternoons, but the downside is that on a sick day, there is no one else who can do my job for me and my clients are not able to have their scheduled sessions.
I am so fortunate that my husband is a team player and willing to do what he can, and his work is also flexible. Still when he misses work it causes stress and things pile up as they do for me. We were able to figure it out by splitting time, but both of us felt as though we were spinning.
Parents often find themselves pulled in two directions whether it is work and being home with a sick child, being pulled between multiple kids and their activities that always seem to be scheduled at the same time, or the pull between taking care of everyone else or taking care of ourselves.
Whatever the tug of war scenario is, it seems that the anxiety it creates stems from the pressure of feeling the need to do it all and perform at 100% in all areas at all times. The part that we forget is that we are human. Life happens and is often out of our control.
When having to reschedule appointments that week I found the need to explain why I was out and apologize multiple times for having to cancel. Did I really need to do this? I question why I was not able to just explain that I needed to be out of the office and leave it at that. Apologizing suggested that I had done something that was my fault when in reality I was responding to a life situation that came out of the blue. If roles had been reversed and someone had to cancel scheduled time with me due to an unexpected event, I know that I would not have looked for or needed an apology.
I wanted to be able to have a single focus on that day of taking care of my son but in the middle of giving him fluids and medication, I was checking emails and voicemails in an effort to make up for the fact that I could not be in the office.
This is where technology is good and bad. It is good to keep me in communication with work on a day I am home and it is bad because it keeps me in communication with work on a day I am home. I would have liked to be totally disconnected, to have one role that day, to be a mom. In hindsight that is exactly what I should have done.
Once I notified clients that I needed to reschedule I should have shut down work mode and been present with my son. My constant checking and responding to work emails could have waited. The world would not have ended, and my clients would have been understanding if it took a day to get back to them. I wish I had felt that way in the moment and I hope to learn from this experience the next time, because I know there will be a next time.
It is easier in life to give grace to others and be understanding when they face difficulties or need to cancel plans. Why can’t we do this for ourselves? It may be time to recognize that the best approach is to deal with what is in front of us at any given moment rather than trying to tackle all the pieces of life at once. Rather than being the red mark moving back and forth constantly, stay on one side for a while, be in the moment and give ourselves permission to do so.
If we continue to be pulled back and forth, eventually we will give out. When a rope is pulled on, it starts to fray and eventually falls apart. The way to prevent that is to give the rope a break, lay it down and let it rest. This is a good reminder that in order for us to stay strong and have energy to give to those areas pulling at us, we must stop, take a break and rebuild our strength. Focusing on one thing at a time is a good start and remembering to be as kind to ourselves as we would be to others in a similar situation helps to keep us together.