Have you ever experienced a nervous twitch in your eye, usually cropping up at the most inconvenient times? Say, as you are about to teach your first class of 70 students after being a stay-at-home mom for 12 years? That actually happened to me when I returned to work. I was so embarrassed and concerned about the twitch that I went to visit my doctor. He asked me if I was under any unusual stress. I had the urge to laugh hysterically. Stress had become my ever-present shadow for the last several weeks.
After deciding to return to work as a part-time instructor at the local university, I was excited and nervous. I enjoy teaching, but like many stay-at-home parents who jump back into the workplace, I found a lot had changed in my field. Computers for instance, had been dinosaur-like back in the early 1990s, compared to the little handhelds of today. And what was an “app,” anyway? I suddenly had to master programs that I knew would eventually help me in my job, but at the time felt like mighty foes to defeat.
At home, my schedule—which had been carved in stone and which I had clung to through the worst of times—was suddenly turned over like a plastic tote of Legos. Kids weren’t getting to bed on time, the TV was on more than ever before; nothing seemed to fit into its place.
I would fall into bed after hours of preparation for my classes, thinking, “How in the world have working moms done this their entire adult lives?” I was at my wits’ end. No wonder I had a twitch.
My doctor asked me to re-evaluate my life. It was like a visual I remember from college. If you take a container and fit in all the big rocks first (all your top priorities), they will fit, and then the smaller stones and sand (the less important things) slide in around them. If you try and fill the jar backward with the lesser things first, then the big rocks won’t have room. I needed to reorganize my jar.
Simplify, simplify, became my motto. I was not Superwoman. I was only one person, with two hands and feet, and a semi-decent brain. Some things had to change.
I had my children choose the one or two things that were most important to them for extracurricular activities. My husband and I developed friendships with other parents whose children participated in those activities, and we came up with a carpool schedule. I love to help out at the children’s schools, but instead of coming in to assist with every school party, I picked one class party per year per child and offered to send in treats for the others that I couldn’t attend. I also realized that dinners didn’t have to be three-course meals every day, as long as they were nutritious. Kids just like food: simple, extravagant or otherwise.
My “me time” came on Sundays. That day of the week had always been special in our family, a time for church, games and family walks. Sundays continued to be that for me, but I also carved out time to do things I enjoyed but couldn’t justify the other six days: usually curling up with a good read or putting pen to paper. All my connections with extended family happened on Sundays, too. The cardinal rule: no work allowed, not even a simple review of lesson plans. Sundays became an oasis.
After these changes, I was standing in front of my class one day a few weeks later, and I realized that my old friend, the twitch, hadn’t visited in a while. That, more than anything, let me know that I was finally going in the right direction.
Kelly Taylor, her husband, Alan, and their five children in 2008 moved from their Liverpool home of 10 years to Greenville, N.C. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies. To comment on this article, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.