I'm not a Trekkie or a science fiction buff for that matter. But I think I had a brush with teleportation (or something like it) last week. Remember the transporter that instantaneously beamed Captain Kirk and the crew from one place to another? That's what happened to me, as I ventured on one of my first overnight business trips since becoming a mother. Everything is still a bit hazy. But here's what I recall: One moment, I was rushing to LAX, feeling heartsick as I waved "bye-bye" to my son at 5:30AM, worrying how he and my daughter would fare when they realized I wouldn't be tucking them in that night (and praying they would sleep through the night for my husband). Before I had a chance to get my head around one, my anxiety and two, my guilt, I found myself pounding the pavement in mid-town Manhattan, game face on, totally unencumbered from the little hands that typically tug at my knees. It was as if for split second, I had stepped back in time. Dare I say, I looked polished, professional and felt like the old me was back.
Then suddenly, Poof! After a whirlwind 72 hours, I was back in our kitchen at dawn, coaxing the kids into their high chairs for breakfast. It felt like I had never left. And at the same time, I felt like I had been gone for weeks.
I am not the only working mother grappling with the dilemma of rushing back and forth between two lives. With 70% of us back in the saddle in some capacity, be it full-time, part-time, flex-time, work-at-home, freelance or some other hybrid, moms face the daunting challenge of needing (and often wanting) to be in two places at once. As we wrestle with the demands of our personal and professional lives, we are asked to transform ourselves in a flash.
What I struggled with last week was coming back to earth - on both sides of my journey. My head was spinning as I prepared to walk back into my old haunts two years after taking a break from my career to be home with my children. On the other side, back in LA, it took more than the five hour flight from JFK to shake off the high energy, high stress mode of my trip and just be "Mommy." We were off to story time, our toddler class and the park, and I was so happy to be home. But I was exhausted and feeling a bit off-balance.
I asked psychologist and author Bethany E. Casarjian, Ph.D. for some ideas about smoothing the transition. Is there a way to re-center and gear up for the demands in each distinct realm of our lives? She assured me, it can be done. But it requires some thought and self-coaching.
"When the storm of work and home demands rage simultaneously, it helps to remind myself that no matter what, there is a core of tranquility deep within me, even if it's not readily observable, that I can call upon to carry me through," says Casarjian, herself a mother of three, and co-author with Diane H. Dillon, Ph.D. of Mommy Mantras: Affirmations and Insights to Keep You from Losing Your Mind (which I've featured on TheWellMom.com).
Casarjian told me that when it comes to being away from her own children, the mantra "Give up the Guilt" helps her let go. On the flipside, she says, "Lock it in" is an empowering way of telling oneself to hold onto the "the incredibly positive feelings that often accompany working... like a sense of mastery and accomplishment, external validation, and the opportunity to eat a meal without someone spilling milk on you."
Building on Casarjian's advice and personal mantras, here are a few ideas for those times we are pulled in two directions. I'm trying out all of them right now.
The Well Mom Guide to Being In Two Places at Once
1. Accept it is impossible. Except maybe on Star Trek.
2. Give yourself time to regroup. Whether it is reciting a mantra, listening to relaxing music on your commute or just taking a deep breath before you walk through the door (to your office or home), recognize that a transition is necessary.
3. Be present. Once you make the decision to be in one place or the other, be there. We are experts at appearing to be successful multi-taskers. But the reality is that none of us fool anyone (especially our children) when we try to be all things to all people at the same time.
4. Ask for help. There's no shame in admitting you can't do it all by yourself. Sometimes the people we love are just waiting for us to ask.