Split-shifting balancing act

Ted and I have, like every other parent, had numerous conversations about how to achieve a healthy work-family life balance. An idea that never had appeal to me has become one that we’re going to try. And that is, the split-shift. Actually, it’s something I’ve always done without thinking about it, getting in practice after the kids are down, teaching in the morning and then the evening. So I’m not sure why I thought it was not a good thing, except that for office jobs it’s not the usual. However, after the holiday we realized that Ted hardly ever gets to spend time with the kids during the week when he’s not involved in chivvying them out of bed, or back into it. (Holidays can be good for achieving a new perspective.)

Additionally, in February we’re going to be letting go of Tuesday and Thursday morning childcare. Those hours were originally intended for me to practice, but a) we need to save some money, and b) I need to spend more time with the twins.

Those factors combined for us to consider the split shift for Ted. So, starting this week he’s going to come home earlier to have an hour or so with the kids in which they can just play, be together without agenda before the routine of dinner/bedtime begins. And two days a week he’s going to work from home so he can forego the 2.5 to 3 hour daily commute. This way, he can still get his hours in but be available when I am teaching. His being home in the afternoon will also allow us to let go of Tuesday and Thursday afternoon babysitting hours, and will thus save us a significant amount of money, as well as enabling both of us to get more quality time with our kids.

And, after we get them down at night, Ted will do a chunk of work, and I will practice. The fact that we’re working in tandem will help, I think. And then we’ll have an hour to decompress, and then we’ll do it all again.

Someone I know was bemoaning the relentlessness of the parenting life a couple of years ago. At that time the twins were so young that we weren’t even in the space to think about the relentlessness of routine: we were just trying to survive having two small babies at once. But now we’re there, and we’re working on finding ways to make the routine serve us better, so that at the end of the day we can feel happy that the routine has gone beyond the logistics of life to give us space for connection.

And I’ll have to keep working on my own personal discipline so that I do actually practice at night. The reality is, many of my days are 15 jam-packed hours long. I am starting to have more compassion for my desire for relaxation that gets expressed by an habitual turning to my phone for entertainment & escape. But I have been convinced for some time that the answer is engagement, not escape. So here we go!

Mistakes

I have heard all my life that mistakes are necessary, that they are how we learn. I have on some level considered that idea to be a fairy tale. It sounds good, but actually, says my training and habituated responses, mistakes are evidence of failure, and often of my character deficiencies. Sometimes I respond to mistakes, or to the fear of making one, as though they are threatening my survival. And so I have spent my life attempting to anticipate and prevent mistakes from happening in the first place. And when I fail to do so, punishing myself for the failure to prevent myself from making a mistake.

Think the house elves in Harry Potter. My response to my own errors has frequently been to bash myself on the head. I have been told repeatedly by people who love me that I am too hard on myself. But again, that didn’t really sink in, because after all, I could have done better. I could have not made the mistake at all.

And here’s a wrinkle: I have additionally determined the nature and degree of mistakes by weighting far too heavily other people’s reactions (or my projections of what those reactions are or will be). My calculus is off. The other day when I was thinking about this, the image of baking a cake came to me. And it occurred to me that I have been adding 2 cups of baking soda to my recipe, instead of the teaspoon or two called for. It is necessary to consider the opinions of others, especially those close to us. Baking soda helps pastries to rise; it expands the baked good and makes its taste and form better. But it is powerful: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is also used as pest control. It kills cockroaches by causing their organs to burst due to gas collection (Wikipedia article on sodium bicarbonate). Too much of it wreaks the recipe. And when I add too much of it into my internal processes, it distorts my feelings, my decisions, causes me to fail to act, or to overreact, blurs my vision, and interrupts my connection to my heart, my mind, my guidance.

I have spent a lot of time trying to reduce the impact my fear of other people’s reactions has on me. But now I have had an idea. I need to change my relationship to mistakes. If I do not fear them so much, that will help me change my relationship to other people’s opinions, too, because I won’t need to add so much baking soda in an attempt to externally correct or punish myself.

I think I finally understand that it is simply not possible to anticipate and prevent mistakes. And the success of my life is not determined by how well I do that. In fact, just as it is true that kids need to be able to make their own mistakes in order to learn how they want to live, behave, and connect, it is true that I cannot learn well if I am spending enormous sums of my own energy attempting to prevent myself from undergoing that learning process myself. And the more I resist the possibility of making a mistake or upsetting other people, the harder it is for me to learn, and the more likely I am to screw up in the same ways, over and over again.

Also, just as with my kids, to expect myself to learn and grow and gracefully change course in the middle of the chaos is unrealistic, unfair, counterproductive and unloving. To expect myself to be in a state of clarity and calm in middle of a crisis, or to muster the same response when things are messy and emotionally charged as I can find when I am calm and centered is to set myself up for failure and self-castigation. In the Positive Discipline classes we took & the materials we read, it is emphasized that kids learn when they are feeling good and calm, not when they are being buffeted by the storm. The same goes for the adults, too.

So here are is my list of things I want to try to do in order to re-wire my brain around the whole conceptĀ and feeling of mistakes. As with everything else important, the ideas themselves are not sufficient. I have to practice.

1) Notice the positives. I need to name out loud things that go well, actions I take that work and that I feel good about.

2) Give myself 10 seconds before I speak or act in order to find compassion for everyone involved.

3) Say, “What can I learn from this situation, and what do I want to do differently next time.” And also, “What did I do well?”

4) Celebrate moments when I am able to accomplish grace and learning in the middle of mess and pain.

5) Create a list of mantras to remind myself daily that I am human and flawed, that mistakes are a vehicle for learning, and that I am not alone: help is always available from loved ones and from the universe.

6) In any given moment, ask myself what I can do and how I can act in a way that I feel good about, without reference to past or future.