Let’s travel back a bit to February 2020. Many of us were still riding the post-New Year’s goals of organizing our lives, being productive, and working on our resolutions. In our household, we had our almost 3-year-old in preschool and his 1-year-old brother was just learning to walk around our Northern California home.
With two toddler boys and two busy parents, life was definitely not calm, but we were managing. Having recently returned to the workforce in a greater sense, I was excited and eager to get my hands dirty and bring in more income for our family. My mind raced with ideas and inspiration. My husband and I were in the middle of reconfiguring some work schedules, and we were considering our options. Life was full, and looking back, it was bursting at the seams in all the best of ways.
My husband works long hours as a scientist, and before having our second child, I worked full time as a writer and editor online. With the arrival of baby #2 and a second relocation move, I took a break from work to focus on family. Once the youngest got closer to his first birthday though, I began taking on freelance work again, writing for publications and clients. We hired a nanny a couple of days a week, and I also worked when my toddler was in preschool, as it coordinated with my other son’s nap, making it a perfect little extra work slot in my day.
It was a constant juggling act, but I enjoyed my work overall, and the paychecks were more than helpful. Without diving into our bank statements, we delicately straddled the line of a second income being totally necessary and insanely helpful.
My husband and I were in the middle of reconfiguring some work schedules, and we were considering our options. Life was full, and looking back, it was bursting at the seams in all the best of ways.
Taking the time off to be home with my babies for a substantial amount of time, and then having this scheduling flexibility with my work, is a gift I recognize and appreciate. It is a choice we made as a family, and I recognize the privilege we have that allows us to have this choice. I am beyond grateful that my husband’s job is able to financially support us without relying completely on a full second income. However, life is expensive, and life in the San Francisco Bay Area is extremely expensive.
Then in March, everyone’s world turned upside down. There was barely a facet of life that COVID didn’t touch, including, and maybe most intensely, our careers and our childcare.
Within a matter of days, my older son was no longer attending preschool, and we were no longer working with a nanny, so I said goodbye to any dedicated work time during the day. My oldest son also decided he was no longer napping, so even that brief reprieve disappeared.
My husband was now working from home, so like so many other mothers and caregivers, I was now not only watching over our two crazy kiddos all day long, trying to keep them corralled from bothering their father, all while dealing with some of the most stressful unknowns our world has ever encountered. It was (and still is) exhausting, am I right? I know every mother out there is nodding her tired head.
My husband was as supportive as he possibly could be, but his work didn’t offer much wiggle room, and after only a couple of months, he returned to his office. So while I still chugged along through work in the evenings, my productivity was still nowhere near the level it was in February, or where it needed to be if I wanted to make major moves professionally.
I’d love to say that I centered myself right away, accepting the way the world was at the moment, that I did my best, and let the rest go. But that wouldn’t be true. Instead, I struggled. I felt stressed 24/7, constantly thinking about what I wasn’t getting done, what clients I was letting down, what long term career goals were slipping from my fingertips. And I still have bursts of feeling this way, seven-plus months later.
But over the past several months, internal shifting has begun, and I’ve started revising my goals and plans, out of pure necessity and for my personal wellbeing. Here’s what’s helped me refocus this year.
As I began to reflect on what I could do to feel better in this chaotic, scary time of our lives, I realized I needed to stop participating in the comparison game. It’s so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of social media and see what amazing things everyone else is doing. But while I love Instagram just as much as anyone else, I found myself forgetting that those little squares and stories are only brief snapshots of another individual’s life, that we don’t know what’s behind those scenes, including their financial setups.
As I began to reflect on what I could do to feel better in this chaotic, scary time of our lives, I realized I needed to stop participating in the comparison game.
Other people may have support in ways I didn’t, they may be making different choices than my family, or they may have different options in the first place. So, why should I spend precious time wishing I could do what they were doing? It was a waste of energy and left me feeling even worse than before. And more than ever, I didn’t have time to spare in that way. I don’t need anything else that is going to bring me down any more than the world already is. A bit of perspective and some healthy social media breaks were the perfect medicine.
Working with what we’ve been given
I don’t think I’m the only one out there who sunk into a pretty dismal mood those early months. But it quickly dawned on me that I could sit around, stress, and feel pretty horrible, or I could work with what I was given. While I had some hope that we’d only be quarantining for a few weeks at first, it didn’t take long to realize that things weren’t getting back to normal anytime soon. So, I had to adjust. Life has taught us many lessons this year, including showing us we aren’t always in control, that being flexible is not only a benefit but a necessity in order to survive and succeed.
I scaled back on my work for the time being, and financially it was manageable, as we were ultimately spending a lot less money at this time as well. I accepted that nighttime was the solo golden time for me to work, and I tried to roll with the punches of pandemic life a bit more. I made hopes and plans to dive back into my work in the fall, with my oldest back in preschool, thinking we’d hire a part-time nanny again.
Life has taught us many lessons this year, including showing us we aren’t always in control, that being flexible is not only a benefit but a necessity in order to survive and succeed.
And when those plans flew out the window this fall? I felt frustrated and upset … and then I moved on again. My husband and I brainstormed any and all areas where we could tweak our schedules to make it work better for us both. It’s far from perfect, and like most parents, we’re both exhausted, but we’re dealing with what’s been handed to us instead of fighting against it; that’s one battle I’m happy to give up on.
Focusing on forward
Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis for us to recognize what truly matters in our lives, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this year one of the crises. My husband and I moved to the West Coast right before we had our first child, and missed our friends and family greatly even before the pandemic hit. Toss in COVID and our lack of cross country travel this spring, summer, and fall, and we have felt more lonely and isolated than ever. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, and also not alone in taking a really long look at my life over the past few months, contemplating what we as a family truly want, now, and when COVID is a thing of the past.
I can appreciate this time as a rare gift in the weirdest of ways. I wouldn’t wish the hardships of 2020 on anyone, but I will continue to strive to find the slivers of beauty and lessons learned in any and every situation, and an opportunity to reflect and revise one’s life isn’t something I will ever squander.
I wouldn’t wish the hardships of 2020 on anyone, but I will continue to strive to find the slivers of beauty and lessons learned in any and every situation, and an opportunity to reflect and revise one’s life isn’t something I will ever squander.
While we may not be able to control every moving piece in our lives, when I feel a bit helpless, it helps to remind myself that there are still so many things that I can choose, that I can be intentional about, from what I put in my body to what I spend my time with my sons doing. So, I’ll eat breakfast that fuels me, and I’ll watch my coffee intake to help with my anxiety. And when I’m not working, I’ll put down my phone and turn off the news so I can play, head up and heart outward, with my two silly sons.
2020 hasn’t turned out how I ever hoped or expected but we continue on. As mothers, we know this feeling all too well. Our little ones depend on us, and being with my two boys 24/7 has only reinforced my understanding that in order to be my best self, I have to feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally. And that includes feeling good about my work outside the role of “mama.” My career and work have taken a beating this year, and while I’ve fallen down over and over again, there’s no denying this year has also made me more resilient and more focused going forward.