Life can be stupid-busy and the busy-ness of business and parenting can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed and under-acknowledged.
Yesterday, my son ‘escaped’ into my studio where there are all kinds of delights that are usually out of bounds. Thankfully avoiding the super-sharp industrial scissors and the sewing machine, he reached into my top drawer and pulled out a monster stamp that I used to use regularly as a tool of motivation for students in my previous ‘life’ as a secondary school teacher.
He turned it over in his little hands, took it apart and was about to stamp the carpet when I slipped an envelope underneath to save myself another cleaning job. I now have a new envelope sitting on my desk covered in ‘Top Effort’’ stamps with smiling little one-eyed monsters. Unexpectedly, it made me feel really good.
It turned out – it was just what I needed. For him to tell me that I was doing a good job. Actually, for anyone to tell me that I was doing a good job because lately, if I am honest, I have been feeling stretched pretty thin across everyone else’s needs and I have been neglecting some of my own. (And I know that this was entirely coincidental but my reaction to it was not).
When I was first pregnant with my nearly-two son, another teacher confessed to me that she didn’t really enjoy motherhood. She missed the feelings that go hand in hand with watching your students do well and knowing that you are responsible (in some part) for their success and learning. There was a performance bonus woven into every day with student and peer appraisal schemes. I didn’t understand why she found all of that stuff so important at the time.
But parenting does not come with a weekly gold star. It can be quite isolating. With no one as an audience to your quiet daily achievements, why would you be applauded? I don’t need a gold star – but apparently a well-timed ‘well done’ when I was feeling tired and a bit ‘over it’ actually worked wonders. (Perhaps everyone needs applause once in a while – even if it comes in an ‘accidental’ format and even if it is just for little things…)
What can you do to help you feel less ‘over it’? Here are some things that might help – and at the end of it you can give yourself a little stamp for a job done better
1. Go easy on yourself with task lists.
My latest list of things to do has been epic.
I transferred half of the things into a ‘do later/not really as important as I really think’ pile and I suddenly feel much more capable. The things to do are still there – but they are not haunting pages of my diary unnecessarily and my week looks far less stressful. (As it happens, nearly all of my deadlines are self-imposed ones and I have been a pretty hard task mistress. I asked myself if these things were VITAL for this week, and it turns out that they are not). List halved, Stress lessed.
2. Get outside/unplug
If you are feeling ‘over it’ or overwhelmed then the best thing to do is get away from it. If your baby/housework/partner is driving you batty, then maybe a change of environment could be a quick fix. Run off some steam outside and leave your laptop/phone at home. It feels good not to be answerable to anyone except nature sometimes. I also find that it is much harder to be grumpy when you are in a green/natural environment.
3. Ask yourself, is this deadline self-set (and realistic) or actually flexible?
If you are an ueber-achiever, then you are probably also guilty of thinking you can achieve more in a minute than is actually plausible when you have babies/dependents in tow. See number one – if your deadlines are self-determined, then maybe you could go a bit easier on yourself and do some timetable shuffling.
For example, writing this [short] blog entry has been interrupted numerous times by meal preparations, toddler needs, partner needs and even a power cut. I wanted to have it written yesterday morning. 24 hours later and it is not ‘finally’ getting done. But it is only me who ever set yesterday’s deadline in the first place. In the grand scheme of things, it really does not matter.
4. Write yourself a mental ‘yeah’ list
Sometimes I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve. When things don’t happen because of things outside of my control (see list of interruptions under 3 above), I feel panicked that my list is not getting crossed off. In these moments it is always useful to look at the bigger picture.
For example, my wee business www.outie.co.nz is only just a year old. It has made leaps and bounds for a ‘just me’ little business juggled around being a mummy. When I am feeling low about things, it helps to write a mental ‘things I have done that I feel good about’ list. You have probably done more than you think (idea courtesy of The Business Bakery: http://www.thebusinessbakery.com.au/write-yourself-a-yeah-list/).
This ‘yeah’ list goes for parenting too. Think of all of the things that you can do better now because of your experiences… Things that go on my personal ‘yeah’ list are streamlining my cloth nappy washing process, being able to read my son’s moods better, coming up with more cheap entertainment strategies, juggling the business more effectively, making more nutritious meals while multi-tasking bedtime routines, sorting a better nursery storage solution… The things you think of are personally gratifying. Mentally listing them might help you to feel better at a low point.
If you want a more tangible option: Transfer your ‘done’ things to a ‘yeah’ list at the back of your diary. Add a ‘hell yeah’ list for the things that were a struggle. (I have another list that is a bit more ‘colourful’ for things that have taken me ages to do…)
5. Notice the ‘secret stamps’
The fact that I needed a stamp from my son to make me feel better about my role as his mama is absurd on many levels. He is a very rewarding little mini person who brings me an immense amount of joy on a daily basis. I just didn’t know how much I needed a ‘well done’ until I got one.
Some ‘secret stamps’ that I had never acknowledged as ‘stamps’ happen every day. He is content and loved and secure and he reaches for me because I am his little world. He doesn’t have words to tell me yet but there are loads of little ‘secret stamps’ that I have chosen not to notice because I have been too busy feeling busy and too distracted to see acknowledgement when it was right in front of me.
My son’s little ‘escape’ into the studio and getting into a drawer he was not allowed into could have prompted me to shut the door and lock the drawer. Instead it prompted me to think of how important a little ‘escape’ is in forcing me to see things differently and to do things better.
So give yourself a stamp. Stress a little less. Enjoy the little things. What else are the little things there for?
Look at what you have done and think, ‘well done’.
Over and Outie.