A Mother’s Day Permission Slip

Are you feeling torn about how to best use the “free” (read: work) precious few hours childcare affords you? Read on for ideas about how to get rid of the guilt.

As a new mom, I struggled to find quiet, uninterrupted time to do my work at home, so having a sitter to watch my child a few hours a week was a life-saver. And yet, in those precious hours of “child-free” work times, I wrestled with competing needs: the need to work, and the need to take care of myself. The expectations I put on myself dictated that I should have something “to show” for the money I spent on childcare. That meant prioritizing work over taking care of myself. That also meant that before my child’s first birthday,  I had such terrible back pain I could barely walk.

In retrospect, I see how my “all or nothing” approach was counterproductive, grounded in a mistaken understanding of what it means to be productive. Yes, I needed to do my work, but by ignoring my reality as a new mother – with new responsibilities, new routines, new roles, less sleep – my insistence on using my “child-free” time for work exclusively led to overwhelm, unhealthy habits, added stress, and guilt for not being the mom/ professional I thought I would be. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, ignoring your need for a sanity break from tantrums, making snacks, and picking up toys, in favor of desperately trying to rekindle with your pre-mom professional productivity, hear me out: taking care of yourself is part of – not separate from – your work. You can’t do you best work if you don’t show up fully to the task.

This Mother’s Day, give yourself a gift as you plan your work for the summer, with children underfoot: the permission to weave self-care into your “alone” work time. Here are 5 tips to get you started.

  1. Create “rituals” to mentally transition in and out of your work time in ways that support you, personally and professionally.
    • Before starting your work, do an activity that  reenergizes you and shifts your headspace. It can be as simple as making a cup of your favorite tea, doing a quick meditation, checking in with a supportive colleague or friend, or journaling about a professional dream.
    • Create a work-time closing ritual. Take 3 minutes to record where you are in your work, and what your next steps are to minimize the amount of time and effort needed to get back to work later on. Then do something for yourself: take a quick walk, do stretches, write a gratitude note to a friend. While these small acts may seem trivial, they can go a long way in helping you be more fully present to do your work, and be with your family…
  2. Set boundaries for yourself. If five minutes on social media are likely to turn into an hour, set a timer, reserve social media for your closing ritual, when your child pick-up time can reign you in, or leave your phone in another room and choose a different activity altogether.
  3. Make the rules. If you have childcare for 3 hours, use these 3 hours in the way that best supports you, not in the way you think others expect you to. Go for that run to clear your mind before you get to your computer, if that’s what you need. Leave the guilt at home. You know what you need best.
  4. Set realistic productivity expectations.
    • Expect that your post-baby productivity may not match your past expectations.  Don’t judge it through the eyes of your pre-motherhood professional self (others will do that for you, anyway). Observe and be curious about what now works for you and what does not. You will figure it out.
    • Relying on word count to gauge your productivity day in and day out is reductive and counterproductive. It  accounts for neither the recursiveness of the writing process nor for the role of thinking, reading and research most academic writing entails. A more helpful measure of productivity might be whether the work you did advanced your project or not.
  5. Own your work time. Fight the urge to be accountable to others for how you spent your time.  Be the judge of how to best use your time. 

Happy Mother’s Day!