Thursday, January 22, 2009

I think it’s all about headspace

Not enough headspace. The crux of my problem right now. Not sure if it’s a symptom of my stress or the primary cause of my stress. All I know, is that without it, I’m an absolute mess.

While unemployed, I spent all of my time as Mom to our now-six-year-old son. My dream job. And one that afforded more than enough headspace to contemplate ways to help him grow, ways to ensure his happiness and well being, and to remember what groceries I needed when.

Once he was in pre-school, I opened my own home-based daycare. Again, while sometimes physically exhausting, it was a dream job. Another one that afforded me enough headspace, which in turn allowed me to accomplish the things best for my family and for myself.

Then, as my son started kindergarten, I took a part-time job outside the home. The work was not altogether challenging—nothing compared to my lifetime-ago corporate gigs, but the hours were flexible and I was home when my son’s school day ended. And yep, sufficient headspace on this job too. The job responsibilities were not weighty and my part-time status put me home with my son by mid-afternoon. Plenty of time for my thoughts, plenty of time to act on them.

On December 4th, I interviewed for another job—one of those opportunities not to be passed up. Got the job right there in the interview and started—part-time—the following Monday. Half day on the new job, half day continuing on the old job. In the midst of the holiday season. That headspace? It was shrinking. The combined job responsibilities and increase in work hours left me with less and less headspace to keep track of my responsibilities to my family and myself.

On top of both jobs, I was also committed—in a freelance capacity—to developing websites for four clients. All due by the end of January.

So despite the rest I took over both long holiday weekends, mid-January finds me more stressed than I have been in years. Exhausted and growing depressed. Losing hope in the idea that I can find a way to balance it all. A way to reverse the negative impact on my family and myself.

All the while, I’m battling the idea that my stress is not worthy of attention—not my attention, not my husband’s attention. All because, in this collapsing economy, having too many jobs is nothing to complain about. Instead of loss, I should feel blessed.

Nevermind that when I lay down at night, I ask myself what I did with my son today. And weep, because the answer is nothing. Yes, I cooked dinner. I got him in the shower. And I read him his bedtime stories. But we talked little, we played not a single game—board or pretend, and I’m not even sure he has clean clothes for school tomorrow because I haven’t had time to do laundry since the weekend.

Nevermind that when my husband—oblivious to my exhaustion—plans family ski night, I bristle. Afraid to give up an entire evening I had hoped to spend getting things—like laundry—done.

I’ve thought about little else in the alone time I have had—that time being somewhere around 3 AM, when my mind wakes me to worry over things. At first, I figured that I was simply having trouble adjusting between staying home and returning to work. I figured that I must still be trying to accomplish everything a SAHM does even though I’d returned to being a working-Mom. I tried breaking it down to tasks, trying to adjust the expectations I put on myself. Still couldn’t see a solution.

Until I hit on the notion of headspace. I finally figured out that it all boils down to headspace. I NEED time, in my own head, to identify/sort/manage my “stuff”. Stuff that includes the mundane, like groceries, AND the important things, like playdates, and figuring out G’s Transformers (worse than the Rubik’s cube, I swear), and finishing up the comic book (a G original) he and I started three weeks ago. All of it. I have to have room in my head to accommodate this stuff. Otherwise, it feels like I’ve forsaken all of it. Like it doesn’t matter as much as it should, as much as I want it to.

A hard, hard look at my schedule and responsibilities and I came to the realization that, as is, it was never going to allow the amount of headspace I need.

So last Friday, I ditched the old part-time job and, on Monday, started full-time with the new company. Full-time as in 8 – 5 with an hour for lunch—which I spend picking up my son from school and delivering him to daycare. And today, I’m home (pre-arranged with my new employer) finishing up the outstanding websites and preparing to hand-off development of a new one (and all subsequent contracted sites) to a new guy. I meet with him this afternoon.

The full-time aspect doesn’t give me back my afternoons with my son. And the new job responsibilities—vast and challenging—are already, three days into it, consuming a significant chunk of my thoughts. My headspace.

BUT, I have to hope, that once routine takes over, once I’m up-to-speed and DOING my new job, day in and day out, I’ll be able to settle down. The stress and constant anxiety will be replaced with confidence and organization. My lunch hour will transform from “running here and there, getting G from point A to point B” to “a cherished 45 minutes with my son, mid-afternoon, with stories of school antics and even a few giggles.”

Sure, I’ll still have significantly less time—in my head as well as in my laundry room—than I did before. But as long as I limit ownership of my headspace to one employer, one husband, my child and myself, I should be able to accommodate it all. For good measure though, will you say a little prayer for me? Thank you.

6 People Gabbed:

Lori said...

I can so relate! And am so proud of you for recognizing it and controlling it so early on. G will be happy to have that lunch time with you each day.

And, let DH and G go skiing together for some Dad & son time, while you have some Mom time at home. It's ok to take that time for yourself to get the laundry in and then have some headspace. Alone.

Linda said...

I have always thought it was patently unfair that the wife/mother was supposed to carry the load of "doing it all." Where's the DH? I loved the fact that Bill used to do all the grocery shopping. Some husbands do the laundry and/or cooking and/or cleaning. Why do the mothers have to be responsible for it all? I grew up with my Mom doing it all. It just made me feel inferior because I can't or won't (not really sure which).

Lori's suggestion was a good one. Let DH and G go skiing while you stay home for some headspace time. Of course, that could be frustrating if you want to go skiing too.

Rosie said...

Many women can relate. I think as long as we work and have families there is constant adjusting to be made. I agree with Lori. Recognizing what's going on and making changes when needed is what it's all about.

Lori said...

Yeah. I'm with Linda on another thing. Bob does the laundry in our house. Course you know why he started doing it.... he didn't like how I folded his shirts. Anal retentive anyone? So he gets to do it all, LOL!

Twenty two years later, he says it relaxes him. He still won't let me help fold anything. But it takes a huge load off of me. Let (read, make) Paul help out with just one household thing. I've found what we used to be able to handle without blinking a few years ago, is virtually impossible today. Wish I knew why. Hell.

Jennifer B. said...

Thanks for your support and comments ladies. *g* Can't comment back while at work, argh. You know, Paul does his fair share around here, no question. But we did make a couple teeny changes--if I start a load of laundry before I go to work in the morning, and he is in his home office that day, he simply finishes the load. Also, he had to start putting his dishes (from daytime meals and snacks) in the dishwasher. I used to insist that I control the loading of the dishwasher. Gotta say that was easy to give up, LOL. So I don't come home from work to a sinkful of dirty dishes. Just a tidy kitchen ready for dinner-making. Wow, talking about this stuff helps. Thanks so much!

Jennifer B. said...

Lori - you said: I've found what we used to be able to handle without blinking a few years ago, is virtually impossible today. Wish I knew why. Hell.

Ditto. I can't figure out why that is either. Do we lose brain / multi-tasking capacity as we age? LOL

And Linda - we hit the sweet spot on skiing. Paul gets G early from daycare and takes him. Then I join them straight from work. We get some time together on the slopes, plenty enough for me. And I miss the 'work' of it. Paul hauls all the skis to the moutain-top. I just show up, put my boots on, grab my skis from the rack and I'm off. Then we were home early. Worked out really well.