I have multiple ways of working through things that are challenging. One is to write and create pro and cons list or do a stream of conscious. I also like to talk things out and process. Both of these approaches involve long stretches of time and the ability to complete multiple thoughts in a row. One of the many things I had to adapt when I became a parent is how I work through things that are hard; a lot of what I have been consumed with is taking care of my Little One. In particular, I get stressed when she is not cooperating by being excited to eat our attempts at a balanced meal or go to bed or change her diaper or clean up. Partner and I have plans b, c, and d to try in these situations, but often we go to situation, "What the fuck are we going to do?!?!?"
Since I started working, I have also been dealing with lots of fatigue and guilt. I want to show up and be present for these three things that are incredibly important to me: my child, my marriage, and my career. I would also like to have room to cultivate relationships with other people I love, time to do things I enjoy like reading, blogging, cooking, watching television, etc. My energy does not match my enthusiasm or my intentions. I know it is not mathematically possible to have three things as a number one priority, but I keep trying. Before I started my job, I had visions of clean boundaries... where I would leave work at work and home at home.
Things are blurry and messy. I want to do more than the bare minimum. I need advice and help.
I started asking for it. Trying to get information about other people's experiences or at least commiserate with other working parents. Also, I found that I miss the Little One less when I talk about her and the complexity of wanting to be with her and enjoying my job. I felt less alone and found that comforting. People shared a lot of great tips. If you are reading this and have some to share, I would love to know.
Then I got this email from Partner's cousin's wife:
I'm just wondering why you find working and having a family to be so difficult. Approximately 70% of women do it. If you were to actually practice law it would cause extreme stress for you. Whatever happens in life happens for the best. To each his own.
I felt so hurt and upset. I also felt paranoid that what I thought of as processing was being perceived as complaining. I tried to be mature and explain my situation, but the anger came through. Here is my response:
Well... a lot of women also give birth, but that does not mean people do not get nervous or complain about the pain of labor:) Yes, many women do have a family and work, but it is still challenging. I have not been doing both for very long and I am still learning. The process is exhausting and emotionally charged,. Anyway, I was just venting and processing as it is on my mind a lot and I am trying to find my way.
We have not communicated since and I have thought about reaching out. However, I am having a hard time getting past our interaction. I am also cautious about being too honest when people ask how things are going. I know that I am incredibly lucky to have the chance to balance so many things I love, but I want to have energy to enjoy my blessings. If anyone has any suggestions both for how to shake off this negative interaction and ways to take time for all the things you love I would very much like to hear them.
Dear Little One:
I am writing in short little bursts as I do most things now that are not directly related to your care, my partnership with your dad, or my paid job. These last six seven weeks have challenged, exhausted, and thrilled me in ways I did not know or forgot were possible. Our relationship has changed again. We went from spending almost every day together with long stretches of time that were filled with crying and frustration to now having chunks of time together with a lot more cuddles. We are adjusting to being apart. We are each happy in our own "worlds" you in a school where you do fun art projects, run around on a playground with a slide, spend time with other kids and me managing a learning curve at the office, marveling that there are times when I know exactly the right answer, and getting to use the bathroom without worrying about someone screaming.
However, we miss each other and that hurts. When I hear you crying for me as I am leaving or that you were upset at drop off, I want to cry too. During the day, I read the newsletter your day care sends out and I examine your picture. I zoom in to make sure your smile is genuine. I look to see where you are in relation to other kids in group shots. I read the description of your day and imagine how you are doing. The other day, I saw a picture of you in a potato sack during a field day event at school and the look on your face made me laugh so hard that I had to call Daddy right away to get him to look too. You are getting more independent and fierce (oh so fierce, but more on that later). Daddy told me that yesterday when he dropped you off, you waved by to him happily. I was so glad to hear that you were excited to be at school and had learned two good things: (1) that there is a lot of fun to be had at day care and (2) your dad and I will always do our best to find our way back to you. My morning departure is getting better too. You stand and watch me from the door. You smile, wave, and blow me kisses; I leave feeling like I can conquer the world!
In the midst of all the change, we have had some family adventures. We attended to family weddings where people marveled at you. As mentioned above, you seem to be getting more and more fierce by the day. At these family gatherings, it is so fun to watch you work the crowd. You start off shy and then manage to find your favorite things, including bubbles, balls, flowers, and then yell to us that you have found them. At these family events, we also discovered you have an inner dancer inside. Much like me, your enthusiasm overshadows your actual skills :) Do not worry darling; enthusiasm and joy are wonderful qualities in everything. Plus, if you like, I will totally take dance classes with you; although, my preference is for break dancing.
Life does not always unfold in ways that are conducive to capturing thoughts and insights. I think about writing in this space and writing to you so often. I have so much that I want to share, but when I am in front of the screen my mind goes blank. However, I want you to know a few things. First, even when my energy is low, my devotion and commitment to you are steadfast. Second, your dad and I are constantly trying to figure out the best way to take care of you. I know change is hard and transition feels scary, but I hope knowing that our love for you is constant makes it easier. Third, you have been finding your voice lately. You love to scream words you know and laugh really hard. I hope that you always use your voice and that your laughter fills every room you enter!
I love you,
One of the hardest things for me to navigate in social situations is saying my name or rather getting people to remember and pronounce my name correctly. When I am asked my name, I get butterflies in anticipation of a potentially stressful interaction. I make a decision about whether I should correct, let it go, use a different name, or just my initials. If the person says it incorrectly and seems to struggle or does not bother to remember after multiple attempts on my part to correct them, I usually stop trying. Even though I am no longer making an effort to correct them, I feel bad when we have social interactions and also annoyed. In the past, I have had help from friends (special shout out here to them!) who have "helped with the cause." I have also been really lucky to have supervisors in all my jobs who did not have any trouble with my name and who would work with people outside our immediate work circle to help them remember and pronounce my name correctly.
In my current work environment, I told my supervisors on my first day and they invited me to keep correcting them for as long as needed. They have been doing wonderful. I am also lucky that there are a few other South Asians on staff to whom my name is familiar and they have been saying it out loud a lot. The work culture is also one where there are a lot of meetings and a lot of space to process work styles and come up with best practices. In one meeting, we were talking about conflict-- what causes conflict for us and how we like to give and receive negative feedback. I shared that I have internal conflict about the name situation. People asked me to explain more and I did. Then, they asked me to say my name several times for them and everyone practiced.
A few weeks ago we had an all staff retreat. The facilitator was at the meeting where I talked about my name challenges. During introductions, when it was my turn, she asked me to say my name the way I want it pronounced three times and asked everyone to repeat it. Then, she made a point that part of being comfortable in a workplace is being recognized for who we are and one of the most important pieces of our identity is our names. She also stayed that something we perceive as so simple--pronouncing a name correctly-- is as important in building relationships as knowledge of substantive areas. << I was embarrassed, but also wanted to cheer. Wow! I felt validated in a new way. I realized that yes I can help people with my name by coming up with hints for how to remember and creating rhymes to get the right pronunciation, but it is not my fault (or my parents fault since they picked the name and the spelling) if people cannot get it.
Even though I still feel behind in learning the work areas and I am overwhelmend with balancing everyhing, I feel like I have already learned a lot in my new job. One of the most important things is my name is a treasure, not a hinderance.