Make it Work Monday: Find the Time for Professional and Personal Development
I stood in front of my husband with an absolute blank look on my face. Worse than that, my mind was blank as well.
He was trying to engage me in an artful conversation about life, culture, I don't know. Something other than potty training or a school project or my next deadline that will take minimum three hours after bedtime, assuming I stay awake that long.
I tried, I tried so hard to think about what he was talking about, to form an opinion worthy of saying out loud. He looked at me in anticipation and all I could ponder was how much I must smell because when was the last time I'd showered?
When we met, most of the attraction was a mutual love of thought provoking conversation and life experiments - like trying to not shop at a chain store for a month. I had nothing to say, nothing to add to any topic beyond the house and kids. I felt lost. I thought I would lose him.
I wouldn't, I know. But I only know that because he goes out of his way to show appreciation for the work I do all day. Even when my freelancing is low and I joke that I don't have a job, he quickly answers "You do have a job. You just don't get paid for it."
This feeling is common. The mental load of stay at home parents, or any parent who typically takes on the little things all day that add up to no time for oneself, is immense. It's outwardly worse when these things go wrong as well, because not everyone in the office may know you forgot about a meeting until you got the alert, but everyone at school will know if you neglected to put a lunchbox inside a backpack. Your child will take it more personally than your co-worker.
Ask me how I can activate my mind again and I felt even worse. Because I had no time. Every spare minute was packed with my daily or weekly plan or supervising my kids or driving or pinching pennies or clapping along to the goddamned itsby bitsy spider for the hundredth time.
I had a list of podcasts that friends think are perfect for me and no time to listen to them. As a one car family, I spent 2.5 hours every morning and afternoon just to get my husband and older son to work and school, respectively, then find something for me and my youngest to do, or a place for him to play while I work. Driving time seemed like the biggest waste of time in my day, and I'd scream if I had to listen to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Soundtrack again.
So I did what I hadn't had the brainspace to try for years: an experiment. It became clear after I worked on my schedule and learned the true time that I had.
Could I turn the driving time into my professional development time, and train the kids to listen to something more interesting in the car?
I started the experiment while my youngest napped in between outings. Instead of schlepping him in an Ergo to a coffee shop where he'd wake up by the time I got my order, I stayed in the car and listened to Levar Burton Reads. Around Halloween, I borrowed audiobooks from the library that the kids could also listed to, like Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz, books I'd always wanted to read but never made the time. I expanded to Neil Gaiman's View From the Cheap Seats for nap time, until I felt comfortable switching pleasure listening to professional development times when needed.
I'd been postponing an important communication strategy at work until I did the proper research. Who has time to search online and find the reading and the case studies when you have roughly 2.5 hours of work time a day, and all your regular tasks as well? I found a podcast, in this case Cl to Eye, a broadcast by Capacity Interactive with everything I needed, and motivation to boot. For the next month, I binged all their podcasts on commutes and videos during naps until the strategic newsletter plan was outlined.
Once my youngest got older and napped less, I found podcasts we all enjoyed together that I could still learn from. Some favorites are But Why: a Podcast for Curious Kids, Circle Round and Storynory. Getting them into the podcast habit kept me in it, until they got buckled into the car and requested a podcast!
We don't have family commutes like that now that we live in Beijing, and I don't miss them. It took a couple of weeks to figure out where my time felt wasted and a podcast could fit, and now that's folding our clothes.
So I found pockets of time for my own self development and it's easier to switch gears when my husband wants to show me a YouTube series on the London subway system that is so nerdy I just might like it. It's easier to talk about something besides the school calendar, because I've been thinking about things outside my scope as the primary caretaker. It's easier to get into the groove of work, because I'm able to hear stories of what other people in my industry are doing.
As with most hacks, it doesn't always work. But getting myself into the habit sure made it easier on the days it does.
And I look forward to deeper conversations with my husband again.
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