As a kid, the start of summer wasn’t based on the calendar; it really started after the last day of school. It meant freedom and play and relaxation.
And even now, for a lot of us, when we get deeper into June, there’s a certain exhilaration, a sense that now the good stuff is about to happen. There are vacations to plan and anticipate, warm weather to take advantage of with outdoor activities…there’s a sense of possibility.
But with that possibility, comes the possibility for disappointment. Then there’s the reality that life isn’t like when we were kids. We don’t really shuck off responsibilities for a couple of months. And therein lies the potential for depression.
Until I had my daughter, balance didn’t seem that hard to achieve. I was balancing competing needs and desires, sure. But they were all mine.
Now, I’ve got to balance hers and mine. Some weeks, something’s got to give.
You have a kid. You feel love beyond your wildest imagining. You can also feel frustration on a level you’ve never felt before. And often, afterwards, you feel profoundly guilty.
Why is this? What can we do about it?
It’s not always easy to be fully present. When we’re doing one thing, we’re often thinking about the next thing on the list. And as a parent, the list can feel endless.
Theoretically, I want to be fully present in my life–and with my daughter–all the time. Sustained attention and interest nurtures the emotional bond between parents and children. But sometimes, it’s a challenge.
People are often better at one than the other. So I guess that means our strength is also our weakness, our Achilles’ heel. Me, I’m a good changer. I can get a surge of energy and switch things up.
But place me in a situation where the variables are less under my control… That’s another story.
It also happens to be the story of motherhood.
I’m obsessed with trade-offs. If you ask me, “What’s life about?”, I’d answer, in a heartbeat, “Trade-offs.” If you say, “Can people have it all?”, I’d respond, “They can have a lot, if they’re realistic in their expectations, and make the right trade-offs.” It’s an imperfect world. There’s a finite amount of time.
My theory of trade-offs, which I rely on in my personal and professional life, is this: You have to explicitly recognize the choices you’re making and the impact they have on what you value most (yourself, your relationships, your work, etc.), and realize that you’ll have to sacrifice or cut corners somewhere. The work is figuring out where the give is. What’s left is the best life for you.
My baby is the most decisive person I know. She’ll grab the book out of your hand, turn it over for one final moment of contemplation, and toss it high in the air. Done. Decision made. No regrets.
A minute later, I might reintroduce the book. She’ll consider, but as if she’s never seen it before. It may receive attention, or a lob. What’s notable is that it seems to be an entirely new decision for her, and one that she’ll make easily.
Babies are entirely in the moment. My daughter never steps back and wonders what’ll happen if she’s wrong. She’s got no past and no future, no to-do lists, no reprisals or reflection. She feels her feelings with abandon. They gust through her, and then pass like a storm. She communicates like no other. She doesn’t say, “Maybe I need to sleep now,” or, “Perhaps I’m hungry.” No, she knows exactly what she needs.
I envy her.
“I should be happy.”
“I should be having a great time.”
“I should have been appreciating the moment with my daughter. Instead, my mind was on the laundry that needed to get done, and how to get her down for her nap, and…”
These are thoughts expressed by some of my clients. I’ve also had them myself. Not that “shoulds” are relegated to parents alone, but I know that for me, they’ve gotten a lot louder since I had a baby. And the “shoulds” are toxic to mental health.