That’s Right. There’s Upside to the Work/Life Juggle!
“I didn’t realize it would be psychologically painful. It surprised me, how it would all feel, going back to work when my child was 2 months old,” Said Dr. Yael Schonbrun, Clinical Psychologist, Author and Co-host of the Psychologists Off the Clock podcast.
The hard parts of working Motherhood are felt immediately. Within hours of returning to work, we fight to compartmentalize. We think about what our kids and our jobs need. All. Day. Long. Even if it were possible, just trying to quiet that inner dialogue, feels disloyal. As if we’re trying to make Motherhood’s messy emotions smaller. Less demanding. Work, once a refuge, begins to fragment us.
What about the sunny side? We rarely think about the benefits while trying to close the wage and leadership gaps. It also takes much longer to feel them. When navigating the inevitable challenges, Yael became fascinated with the upside. After all, most US Moms work and few have the choice not to. Despite feeling torn, we’re building superpowers that help our careers and kids. So, if we’re developing new competencies, why does it feel so bad? Let’s start with the schedule.
Yael felt overcommitted and wanted strategies. After reading countless studies about work/life conflict she found its lesser known, but more attractive, twin. She said, “I discovered this whole concept called ‘work/family enrichment’ and became so excited. I knew this was something I could add to the public conversation!” Yes! We feel the pain. So hearing the good news about working Motherhood is a welcome change. Yael explained, “The science behind it, although newer, is solid.” Awesome! She added, “Having kids ages 2, 5 and 8, has created a whole new branch of my career. It has moved me from traditional academic work to writing, podcasting and a clinical practice with patients.” Yes! The pivot, although hard at first, opened new possibilities she’s excited about. But how does she manage a portfolio of work interests?
Remember, Opposing Forces Can Complement One Another
Yael admits, although she loves what she’s doing, she’s not immune to frustration. “When it comes to daily life, I’m drowning in this sea of demands that I don’t have the time and energy for,” she said. Sigh. It’s true, most Moms are time-bending genies. However, while managing life by-the-minute, many abandon critical needs like strategic thought and self-care. Yael blends her psychology training with the Eastern philosophy of Yin and Yang, to manage her mindset, and maximize her career. “I’m in a fortunate position the (different) roles kind of feed each other. Clinical work with patients takes more time but creates a lot of efficiency,” she said. She also realized, “I don’t have to be the productive working parent all of the time!” How do we drop that internal mantra to stay busy?
Creativity is the New Productivity
Yael explained, “At work we look for productivity, creativity and connection with our colleagues. There’s evidence that working while parenting offers more of each to both roles.” That’s right. The maddening context switching has benefits! She said, “…the shifts we make, from cognitively intense tasks when we’re focused at work, to playful and creative time with our kids, helps us.” She explains, “Research about the default mode network (DMN) is really cool! It shows when our minds not wandering (like when we play repetitive–boring!–games with our kids) our DMN, the place where creative thinking happens, gets to work. That means engaging with our kids, NOT in work tasks, can actually help us come up with creative solutions at work.” Yay! Yael interviewed a Neuroscientist for her book, who reduced her work day from 12 to 8 hours. Yael described what many of us experience, “…She comes upon solutions now (post-kids) in a very different way than she would have before.” So true! However, it doesn’t mean we’re not stressed out by it.
Our Work Isn’t Bad for Our Kids. Our Stress Is!
Surprisingly, not surprising, being away from our kids doesn’t damage them. It’s how we react to it. If we are guilty or stressed about it, that’s harmful. If we can do the working-mom-dance, without those toxic side effects, our kids can be better off. Yep. Better. Off. Yael shared, “We know intensive parenting is not great for our kids. (And in our culture) it’s hard not to. Work, however, forces us to step away and it forces our kids to do what they need to do. Including independent problem solving.” Excellent. Yael added, “It can help working parents manage the guilt. That guilt is quite toxic. Higher levels of guilt in the parent lead to more negative outcomes in the kid.” How do we manage strain from the confusing messages society sends us?
Dial Self-Care up. Way up.
With or without a side-gig, managing the calendar, feels like playing high-stakes Jenga. Shift one piece and the whole structure falls apart. This complexity makes self-care even more important. Yael shared, “I try to meditate regularly and it’s helped. I let my mind wander a bit then bring myself back.” She’s thought carefully about what type of self-care matters most now. She said, “I don’t work most evenings. I’m diligent about sleep because I don’t do well if I don’t.” Wise. Like all-things-Motherhood, we need to adapt constantly. We’re making a lot of magic happen for our kids. Can we apply that creativity to our crazy schedules?
Not Everything Will Fit
As you already know, making time for anything post-kids, means setting new boundaries and accepting different tradeoffs. Yael said, “I run twice a week, now shorter, in lieu of the long distance runs I enjoyed before kids.” She shared that she implements ‘quiet time’ consistently with her children. Yael said, “The oldest will read, and the younger ones will look at graphic novels or color. The toddler often takes a nap.” Brilliant! Modelling time for rest and what’s important to us benefits our kids. Yael said, “I try to read before I go to bed with a physical book not a screen.” She’s also found clever ways to keep up with friends, “I multitask some of my self-care with the kids. I have playdates with parents that I adore. We catch up and they play.” Yael also calls friends during her commute and plans a girl’s weekend every few years.
Yes. Couples Time Counts
Yael also makes space for alone time with her hubby. “Time with my partner rejuvenates me,” Yael said. Although staying connected to our partners, can make everything feel easier, quality grown-up time is something many Moms want more of. As reported by Pew Research, Moms spend more time on childcare and paid work than ever before. The costs include spending less time with other adults. Yael said, “I was trying to do a 5 am writing time for a while but my husband pointed out it was interfering with our time together at night. It was. So, I’ve stopped that. I’ve had to find pockets when I can.” She appreciates the guardrails that favor balance. Trying to keep pace with our pre-kids ambition bar can feel punishing. Yael admits, “The book on working parenthood that I’m writing is a totally different book now than it was when I first started writing it. I’ve been forced to slow down. That has drawbacks, of course, but I like it much better!” Awesome. How can we start to reimagine success?
Yael said, “I try to be intentional about what I choose. With my partner, self-care, work or my partner’s family, I try to say yes when I can but it means saying no to other things.” Hallelujah! Traditional productivity measures are almost meaningless in the context of Motherhood. Yael shared, “I’ve pulled back from academic writing and my work life achievements happen more slowly now. It’s taken years to write my book proposal!” Yael explained, “It’s consistent with my values of persistence and engagement in multiple roles, even if I have sacrificed expediency.” YES! Honoring personal values drives happiness and let’s face it, most of us already do more each day than we ever imagined.
Yael wisely said, “It’s about preserving energy in any given day or week in order to sustain my energy for all what I want to do throughout my life” This is at the heart of healthier and happier boundary setting.
Thank you to the talented Yael Schonbrun!
Yael is a licensed clinical psychologist, assistant professor at Brown University, podcast co-host, and writer about parenting, work, and relationships. Follow her great adventure including news about her upcoming book, The Gift of Conflict, on her website, and on Twitter. To listen to her podcast exploring how ideas and strategies from psychology can help you flourish in life, visit the Psychologists off the Clock Podcast webpage. She draws on scientific research, clinical experience, and her real life experiences with three small superheroes who provide her with constant inspiration (at the times when they aren’t providing an ulcer).