Parenting Tug of War: Who Wins?

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.

Moms need a check in too

When a woman is pregnant everyone seems so happy to notice her glow, her growing bump, and the importance of what she is doing by bringing new life into the world. She is showered literally with parties and gifts and she is the center of any room she is in. “When are you due?” “How are you feeling?” “Do you know if it is a boy or a girl?” There is a need to know everything about her and the pregnancy.

Then comes baby. The attention that was focused on the pregnant woman is shifted to the baby. “Is he/she sleeping? Eating? Pooping?” Suddenly the baby is the most prominent thing in the room and mom seems to fade to the background. Everyone wants to hold the baby or make funny faces at the baby. The comments are centered on how adorable the baby is and who the baby looks like.

I remember distinctly how often people would stop to open or hold doors for me or offer to help me carry things throughout my pregnancy. As a new mom struggling to balance a car seat with a newborn, diaper bag, and with my second pregnancy a toddler, people did not seem to rush to hold doors as they once did or offer to help. It certainly could not be because I apperared to be capable in those moments loaded down with all the necessities I would not dare to leave home without! The aura of pregnancy had faded and it seemed I was less noticeable even though I traveled with a lot more.

It is not wrong to shift attention to the baby, this tiny person who needs so much care, but what about mom? Is she eating? Is she sleeping? Is she taking time to go to the bathroom? These questions are just as important to ask her as they are to ask about the baby.

Newborns have follow up appointments at two weeks, four weeks, six weeks and eight weeks with their pediatrician. Typically moms have their first postpartum check up at six to eight weeks after the baby is born. During that period of time, symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can appear and increase in severity which is why earlier check ups would be helpful in identifying these symptoms and beginning treatment as soon as possible.

The article below reminds us of how moms do get put at the bottom of the list sometimes, and it can be a position that is maintained within the family structure. If moms learn that their place is at the bottom and others’ needs come first they are set up to not recognize or nurture their own needs. When moms are taking care of themselves, the whole family benefits. The reverse is also true. If mom is not taking care of herself, the family will feel the effects in a negative way.

Self care is different for everyone. It may be more rest, exercise, time with friends or alone time. Moms are also weighted down by the idea that we can and should be able to do it all. With that comes the inability to ask for help or the feeling that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Wouldn’t it be great to see utilizing resources and getting help as a sign of strength? For this to happen, I believe the worth of mothers and the benefits of their own self care need to be put back toward the top of the list.

The next time you are visitng with a friend or family member and their baby, ask mom how she is. If she replies “I’m fine”, ask her more. “Are you resting and taking care of yourself?” “Can I do anything to help you? “ Taking that one moment to check in with her can make a world of difference and give her permission to acknowledge how hard it is and that she could in fact use support.

Why Do Mothers Become Invisible After Giving Birth?

In a futre post I will share resources about how dads are also impacted and need to take care of themselves and seek support when needed.