Second Chances- 2017 A Year in Review

Driving back from Bradley Airport in Connecticut was usually uneventful. This time I had dropped my sister off to catch her flight back to Chicago after her Christmas visit. My youngest son, then 3, was sitting in his car seat in the back. It was a cold, snowy, day and the roads were wet. I clenched the steering wheel, white knuckled, since my tires were ridiculously bald. Buying new tires has always been a pet peeve of mine-it is such an unfun, expensive thing to spend money on. I had been warned by my mechanic, my husband, and members of my husband’s family, that my tires were in desperate need of being replaced.

I pulled off to grab a quick bite with my little guy and returned a call to one of my co-workers before getting back on the highway. About 5 miles or so from my exit, I completely lost control of the car. My tires hydroplaned on what I assume was black ice, and my car fishtailed for a split second.  From there, we went into a complete spin. I saw faces of oncoming drivers, squeezed my eyes shut, and braced for an impact I was sure would end both of our lives. I believe we spun one and a half times because of the way the car ended up positioned. We were heading sideways into the guardrail. When I realized that miraculously no one had hit us, I frantically pressed the brake and the accelerator. Unfortunately,  my car would only coast. It was in some kind of neutral function and nothing seemed to work with the exception of the steering wheel. The car was coming to a very dangerous slow speed with cars flying around us -honking and flashing their lights. A man in a pick up truck next to me rolled down his window with a look of total exasperation and shouted, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Are you OK? Oh my God! Pull Over! Pull Over! Oh my God!”

I felt paralyzed. I started screaming and talking to myself and everything looked and felt blurry. Not sure if things can feel blurry, but that is the best description that comes to mind. We had just escaped certain death by 20 cars hitting us from every direction. It seemed improbable good luck would strike twice, and I was convinced we would now die going 25 mph on the packed highway in the snow with bald tires while I was going into shock-incapable of maneuvering a car.

Somehow, the car began to pick up speed little by little again and came out of the self inflicted neutral mode. An exit was coming up and I had to cross 3 lanes of traffic to get there. It felt like running the gauntlet in slow motion to get across those lanes. I made it across and parked the car at the bottom of the ramp. I cried for what felt like a really long time. I got out of the car and went in the backseat and hugged my son and cried harder. He stared at me, confused by my tears and unfazed by the whole experience (he had been asleep).

I called my husband to come get us.  Needless to say, new tires were bought the next day. Unfun and expensive new tires, that I will never miss a beat on buying ever again.

Ringing in the New Year felt surreal last year following this experience. No matter how I dissected that incident, it just didn’t seem possible my son and I should have lived given the circumstances.

For about a week after it happened I just kept wondering if we were spared for a reason. Was there something else we needed to do here on earth before leaving it? My thoughts were heavy with what if’s, why’s, and how’s. But there was something else that wouldn’t leave me-the thought that I was going to have to make some significant changes in 2017.

Given this second chance, it seemed whole-heartedly stupid to allow or partake in anything that brought me down or sapped my happiness. If life is already too short, and you got a second chance at it, you sure as hell aren’t going to muddle through the sludge anymore.

I said to myself that no matter what:  I would find a way to leave my miserable job,practice being more present with my family, dance more, write more, call friends more instead of texting them,continue my efforts in training my brain via meditation (still much work to do on this one), stop putting so much energy into fickle people who put in one tenth of the effort, hike more with my kids, give myself a break and realize some things can simply wait until tomorrow.

Now that 2017 is almost behind me, I can look back and say it was a year of much personal growth. Quitting the job did actually happen (thank you dear husband), little to no toxic people are in any of my circles (yay because that means my picker hasn’t been off). The people around me-they are there because they want to be, not because I chase them down and put in all the effort.

2017 was a year of reflection. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, from our inspirations, and from our past, then we are doomed. We are the opposite of self aware. We are eternally stuck. Reflection is ongoing and fluid and each year should always be a year of reflection in my opinion.

It wasn’t a perfect year by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a year of change, reflection, and growth. It was a year that in its final months gave the priceless gift of more time with my children. It was the first year I started actively slowing down and asking myself what kind of self care I engaged in that week. It was the first year of noticing the difference between what’s truly important versus what insignificant BS floods the mind. It was the year my husband showed up like a superhero in a cape and helped me not when it counted, but too many times to count (I’ll always wonder if he has any sense of the magnitude of my gratitude…that weirdly rhymed). And last but certainly not least,  it was the year I really started to pay attention.

“Pay Attention To What You are Paying Attention To.” – Howard Rheingold

AFTERTHOUGHT

Hopefully all of you reading this drive safely this New Year’s Eve and New Year. Play a game quickly after reading this and ask yourselves if you were to cease to exist tomorrow, what have you been paying the most attention to? How would you be remembered? Do your friends and family know you love them? Are you doing right by yourself and taking care of yourself in the way you should? Are you putting your happiness on hold in hopes that good fortune will knock on your door one day and rain down upon you? Are you living or existing? Is the effort reciprocated in most, if not all of your friendships? After answering these questions, will you change your perspective going into 2018? Food for thought.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Working Mom Burnout-What Can Help Us?

Since the crash of 2008 the working world has shifted. Companies are running leaner than ever resulting in people working longer and harder. Of those employees, a decent percentage includes working mothers. At what point does society say it’s time to throw out the old institutional norms and get with the times? Will corporate America hear the sound of working parent burnout and change their tune?

Three weeks ago I handed in my resignation to a company I’ve been employed with for 6.5 years. The stress level felt as though it was taking a toll on my mental health and it was more than stretching into time with my family. My husband and I decided enough was enough and it was time to make a drastic move.  A move that would mean a single income along with letting go of my healthcare benefits. Leading up to this moment, I have been applying and interviewing since 2011-and to no avail. Due to the painfully difficult task of landing a new job, I have toyed with the possibility of leaving the corporate world forever.  This means we need to be okay with taking a reduction in pay and benefits. The allure of once climbing the ladder has completely lost it’s shimmer. A slower pace where my health is in good form, and life isn’t whipping past me like a freight train is the carrot calling my name now.

We all want to do our best. It’s just not possible to do it at a million miles an hour with a plate so full there’s no bottom in sight. It’s not abnormal for working parents to log on at night to wrap up tasks or respond to emails. Sadly, this has become the new norm. Additionally, many of us have said sayonara to the good old lunch break. Hence the “Take Back Lunch” campaigns cropping up everywhere. Lunchtime for us parents is the beautiful gift of an hour to get errands done during business hours, or in some cases, our only break to do something for ourselves. Now that lunch has gone by the wayside, when are these errands getting done? Where is that hour of personal time to take a much deserved break?

Other than eating lunch at our desks and logging onto the computer to do work in the evenings, let’s think for a moment about the inability to shut the brain off from work. It creeps its way to the top of your mind conveniently right when your head hits the pillow. You’re on hyper alert that there is an email you didn’t respond to, or that looming deadline isn’t remotely possible to meet given the workload and short staff situation. If you’re a working mother, this endless list is mixed in with parental tasks like remembering to turn in money for the school field trip, picking up a birthday present for the party next weekend, or forgetting that there is no water bottle to send to school since your child lost it the day before. Being in this constant state of fight or flight is never healthy as we all know, and it can wreak havoc on not only the mind, but the body (stomach aches, migraines, anxiety, depression).

Prior to 2008, things were a bit different. It would seem that now companies are running more lean than ever. As a result,  workloads are heavy and stress levels are high. Of the existing workforce, plenty of companies employ working mothers. We are the group that leaves one job to go to our jobs as moms. But what about when the day job overshadows, hovers, or smothers the mom job? What then? Can we do both jobs at once and do them well? Who suffers as a result- the generation we’re raising,  us moms, both, or society as a whole?

In a Facebook group I facilitate for working mothers, a survey was posted to capture  answers to questions relating to what they need help with the most as working mothers. The idea was to hone in on how both their home and work life could be modified to make life in general a bit more manageable. The results are fascinating, yet not surprising.

Out of the 213 respondents, there was a tie between morning and dinner time in terms of what the most stressful time of day is. The morning is stressful due to getting ready for work coinciding with getting the kids fed, dressed, lunches packed, teeth brushed and out the door for school. Dinner time was just as stressful with having to multi-task; get dinner prepared while helping with homework,  changing out of work clothes, cooking,  making sure the younger ones are occupied/safe, etc.

Most stressful time of day graph

When asked what was the one thing working moms were most desperate for help with, the majority said making and planning dinner. Help in cleaning the home came in second and help with having organization in their lives a close third.

Need help with the most

Marriage and partnership was another section in the survey. The purpose for this was to gauge how much help working moms get from their partner. When asked  how much help is received in one specific area, picking up and dropping off the kids took the top ranking at 18.3%. Housework and cleaning came in second at 16%. Interestingly, 10% said “other” with half the responses saying their partner is a stay at home dad and does most if not all tasks. The other half  of the 10%  saying it’s split evenly among them and their partner, or the nanny help divide and conquer.

Help from partner

Another question in the marriage and partnership bucket, was the question of how their partner responds to being asked to help. 52% said their partner would gladly help. 12% said the response would be similar to “you’re nagging me, but maybe”, 13% said their spouse would suggest paying someone to help, 8% reported that their partner would say “no” to helping. Most interestingly about this response was the “other” section which received 14%. 30 people responded with a variety of different comments, however, 7 people said their spouse would agree to helping and then not do or say they forgot to do the task, while the remaining 23 people had a mix of responses including that their spouse is a stay at home dad.

Asking for help response

Some of you may have heard of the term overwhelm. This next question addresses how often in a week working mothers experience feeling overwhelmed. 48.3% said half of the week, while 38.9% said every single day. 11.7% said once a week and 0.9% said they never feel overwhelmed.

Overwhelm

When asked if there was an aspect of their job they would like to change in order to make life as a mom easier, there were six options. The options included were more money, a flexible schedule, work from home options, more time off available, all of the above, and other. Most responded with all of the above at 28.6%. 6% selected “other” which consisted several similar responses including shorter commute, a policy that enforces working hours instead of 24/7 availability, less working hours, a service to provide assistance with laundry and childcare, and lastly, an appropriate workload. Some respondents said they are very happy with all aspects of their company, but worry about job security.

Needs from corporate

Most people try to find ways to decompress after a stressful day on the job and evening with the kids. This next question sheds light on how most working moms (from this specific group of 213 surveyed) choose to unwind. The winner for ways to decompress in this group goes to drinking alcohol at 23%.  Sadly, 16.4% said they don’t know how to decompress. Also 13.6% chose “other” which included reading, watching TV, taking a bath, listening to music, or doing a hobby.

Decompress

It is important to dream about what means the most to us, what motivates us, and what would bring us joy. The final question asks about daydreams.

The question reads “I daydream what it would be like to…”

Go at a slower pace in life (22%) and work part-time (20.75%) were the top two selections. 19% said their daydream consists of working at a company that is flexible, has lots of paid time off, and is family friendly, 12.2% said they’d prefer not have to work, 11% said start over and go back to school, 6% dream of having a supportive partner that helps more, and 7.5% said “other” which included having a live-in nanny, being single, being wealthy, having the kids out of the house, and travel.This tells us that when it comes down what matters most,  time wins by a landslide over money on the importance scale.

Daydream

It would seem the over arching learning from this group of working mothers surveyed is that half of the week they feel overloaded.  They feel most overwhelmed in the morning while trying to get themselves and the kids out the door, as well as at night when dinner needs to be made and kids are simultaneously needing attention.  Only half of these working moms have full spousal support when it comes to helping with anything needed. All of them would like a family friendly work environment-which seems like a no brainer to all of us right? A whopping 16% of the moms surveyed don’t know how to decompress-yikes.  This cannot be good for the health of these moms. In addition to this, roughly a quarter of them use alcohol to de-stress. The doctors supposedly say a glass of red wine a day is good for the heart, but is it the best way for us to relax after a long day? Lastly, the most common day dream is going at a slower pace in life or working part-time hours.

So what’s the answer? Perhaps less hours and a more manageable workload is a start. Who came up with 9-5 anyway? Most schools start around 9 as do offices and most offices close at 5:30 or 6 and school gets out between 2 and 3. Does everyone work their best during those hours or can we entertain an idea of a different kind of work schedule?  Who died and let technology become our new tyrant of a boss that allows us to be available 24/7?  Maybe we would all work more efficiently if companies didn’t adhere to the regimented 40 hour schedule. Think about the option of letting employees choose their hours to suit their current situation. It could be this way for everyone-those with kids and without. If the work is getting done, why does the time of day or hours in a day matter?

Think about the incentives for your employees being happiness, motivation, more time in the home, and less overwhelm. Let’s start the conversation. I think we can all agree something has got to change.