As I head off to a medical conference this week, I will be without my family for a few days. While I admittedly look forward to this trip every year, I also feel a little guilty for looking forward to it and will, at the same time, undoubtedly miss my family. Time to myself is a priority. Before I had a family, I used to spend quite a bit of time by myself. I really valued time to myself and needed it to recharge and regroup. Now I rarely go to the bathroom by myself. A few days away seems luxurious and much needed.
I often refer to a mom’s life as a circus act – we do both a balancing act and a juggling act simultaneously. We have priorities, but those priorities are constantly shifting and they constantly need to be reevaluated. What our priorities are and what is important to us drive many or most of the decisions we make in a day. We work hard because it is important that we provide for our families and that we feel a sense of accomplishment and meaning in our lives. We nurture, love, and care for our families because we love them and they depend on us to be there. Balancing work and family is just part of our job as moms, and we experience new challenges and are thrown new curve balls on a daily basis. But we learn, adapt, and move forward.
The part of the act that I find most challenging personally is the act of prioritizing myself. That sentiment is echoed when I talk to patients, students, and moms alike. We struggle to know how to prioritize ourselves and to give ourselves permission to do so. When do we find the time? Where do we find the energy? What does that even mean? Prioritizing ourselves?
When I talk to a mom about her making different dietary choices, I see her mind racing. “How can I make that work with the grocery shopping, the cooking, the mealtimes?” When I discuss starting to exercise with a dad, I see the challenge that it poses to the already delicate pull between his work and his family. When I talk about creating some time for reflection or meditation with a student, I see panic in his/her face. “I am already overwhelmed with my commitments and responsibilities. Something has to give”
As I’m writing this blog post, I’m very conscious of the fact that I don’t have the answer to this common problem. What I do have is a little bit of experience in prioritizing myself and a lot of wonderful examples in my patients, students and friends. The truth is … something does have to give. In the 12 years that I have been seeing patients, I have seen prioritizing ourselves result in many scenarios: a dirty house, a hungry husband, a less-than-satisfied boss, a little less sleep, changing jobs, heaps of laundry building up, an overgrown lawn, unanswered emails, turning in a B paper instead of an A paper, calling off a trip, and I could go on and on. In making ourselves a priority, we risk not making everybody happy, not being everything to everyone, and, maybe most importantly, not getting everything done. That can be hard to sit with for many of us.
This week I will adjust my priorities a bit. I will spend time by myself, see an old friend, and hopefully learn a lot more about integrative medicine. What I value the most is the time spent reconnecting with myself. I will miss my family, but know they will do great and have fun connecting with each other without mom in the mix. I usually skip the last conference session on the last day because I just can’t wait to get home and see them.
The beauty of the balancing act is that it is constantly changing and should constantly change. The challenge of the balancing act is giving ourselves permission to be our own priority. I know the analogy is overused, but the concept behind the adult putting on the airplane oxygen mask before his/her children is universal and crucial. We cannot give away what we don’t have. If our priorities include a healthy and happy family and meaningful work, we must be happy and healthy ourselves and find meaning in our journey.
The Mommy Tune-up is a blog solely devoted to the busy mom’s pursuit of sanity and good health!