My kids’ summer is so short. Start to finish, it’s a little over four weeks. Before the summer break starts, I make a list on the white board in our kitchen of events, activities, family trips, and other ideas of what we can do together during our four precious weeks. I adjust my work schedule so that I’m seeing fewer clients and block off Wednesdays and Thursdays so that I only see clients in the evenings and can spend those days enjoying time with my boys.
We had a pretty good summer this year. We visited the Exploratorium and the Rosicrucian Museum, camped with friends twice and then once in the backyard, swam in Uncle Chris’ pool, and saw a handful of movies, among other activities. But now it’s back to school time, I feel what I can only describe as guilt. Guilt because the list of what we did over the summer is kind of average, nothing spectacular. And guilt because I worked very little during the month of July. My creative, business-building work piled up during the month of July because I only looked at my business in small chunks of time, and each leftover crumb felt like it was stolen it from my kids.
When I’m with my children, I’m thinking about all of my work that isn’t getting done. When I’m working, I feel guilty, like I haven’t given my children a good enough summer.
Author Brigid Schulte, who wrote the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time, calls this mental pollution “contaminated time.” Contaminated time is when you’re doing one thing (like spending “quality time” with your kids) but at the same time, you’re thinking of all of the tasks that are still undone. This toxic thinking not only catapults stress hormones throughout your body, but also makes it impossible to enjoy what you’re doing at that moment.
Contaminated time sullies everything around me. I don’t enjoying the time that I spend with my kids, they certainly aren’t enjoying their time with me, and my stress strips away my creativity and motivation when it’s time for me to get down to work. Contaminated time makes me Miss Cranky Pants.
To help find my way out of my funk, I talked with my life coach, the brilliant Christy Miller of Point Be Coaching. She gently reminded me that thoughts create our feelings and feelings create our circumstances. She helped me to identify the thoughts that were tarnishing my time with my family and at work. We did our own coastal clean up of my mental landscape and you can, too. Here’s my plan for moving forward - I call it my 3C’s.
• COMPASSION If you are at a beautiful park, pushing your beautiful child on the swing set, but thinking ugly thoughts which create guilt, unhappiness, and stress, take a moment to notice your thoughts and be kind to yourself. This is not the time to add insult to injury by creating even more of the “uglies” by telling yourself that you’re somehow a bad mom because you’re thinking about chores when you’re supposed to be enjoying your time with your child. When you become aware of your thoughts but not caught up in them you become what author and life coach Martha Beck calls the Watcher, a state of mind in which you are loving and accepting towards all of your thoughts, even the ugly ones. Deliberately going to the Watcher state of mind can help to retrain your brain. “It’s a place of great inner peace,” writes Martha Beck in her book The Four-Day Win. “…according to some medical psychologists, it’s psychologically impossible for your mind to stay locked in a war of control when you’re engaging its ability to generate compassion and appreciation.”
• CLEAN UP Changing your thoughts cleans up your inner toxic dump. One way to change your thoughts is to replace dirty words that contaminate your time, like should, supposed to, and have to, with clean words of empowerment like want to, choose to, and will. Then create turnarounds that are kind and accepting of yourself.
Contaminated: I should be finishing up the laundry instead of playing with my child.
Clean: I choose to spend this special time with my child and allow the chores to wait.
Contaminated: I have to problem-solve this work project right away.
Clean: I will work on this project when I get to work later today.
• COMMIT Put playtime, joy, and delight on your to do list and make the time to do the things that create happiness. Your joy doesn’t have to be a whole day of self-care or even an hour of quiet time. Think sound bites not sonatas. Joy might come while standing barefoot on the slightly browned, crunchy California’s-in-a-drought grass at the park while holding your sleepy baby. Delight might be splurging on deliciously-scented hand soap so that each time you wash your hands (and how many times a day do you do that?) you take a tiny trip to a lavender field.
When my children were little, I couldn’t remember what used to bring me joy, and if I did, there was no way that I could fit those BC (before children) happy activities into my AC (after children) life. Running for miles and miles, reading, and lounging in bed on Sunday mornings no longer fit the mommy lifestyle (go figure.) I had to create new ways to find joy within the parameters of motherhood. In the beginning, finding a place to nap was at the top of the list. (FYI: The security guard at Hillsdale Mall will make you leave if you try to sleep in your car in a quiet corner of the parking garage.)
Not sure what to commit to? Here’s your homework: Start a Happy Basket. Put a medium-sized basket, bag, or bucket in a conspicuous place in your home. When you experience a happy moment - whether it’s an activity, person, place, or thing - drop an item in the bucket as a reminder. For example, if your solo Saturday morning walk created a joyful peace that lasted for a good 20 minutes after you returned home, put your walking shoes in the bucket. If you felt calm while finger painting with your child, add your artistic creation to the basket. And if you connected with another mom at your toddler’s playdate, write her name on a slip of paper and drop it in the bag. At the end of the week, make a list of what ended up in your Happy Basket. Then, put one item from your list on your calendar for this week and do your darndest to make it happen - especially if it's a Happy Nap.
Need some help figuring out how to prioritize your happiness today despite your exhaustion and overwhelm? Complete this form to schedule a free 30-minute Planning Session with me. We’ll figure out the key areas where you’re feeling stuck and work together to create your path for moving forward. I mentor moms in person at my San Mateo office, over the phone, via Skype, and at my monthly Saturday Sanctuary mini-retreats so there are all sorts of ways that we can work together. I have five Planning Session spots open in the next two weeks. Apply for your free session now.
I'm a mother of two incredible boys, wife to Bill White of Happy Baby Signs, author of the books The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby, and an intuitive life coach. I like to blog about my adventures with my family and the life lessons I'm learning along the way. I hope you'll join me on this journey.
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