October 2, 2015

To the Woman Who Wants to Have It All, While Wearing Stilettos

When I was deciding on a name for my blog, a friend suggested stiletto lawyer.  I loved the image it evoked - a strong, ambitious working wife and mother who managed to do it all while looking great and balancing herself on a pair of Sex and the City worthy stilettos.  As long as I can remember, I wanted to be that woman who had it "ALL."  I spent a lot of time anticipating how I would one day balance a career, a husband, children, a home, and me.  I borderline obsessed over it.

Then I had kids, and I felt so overwhelmed by all of the different responsibilities and parts of my life. I was an exhausted mess.  Very far from my vision of the woman who had it "ALL."  At points I worried that I would never find that balance, but then I learned to adjust my expectations.  I also came to the realization that the woman who has it "ALL" does three essential things:  (1) she learns to be as efficient as possible, (2) she delegates, and, most important of all, (3) she learns to choose her definition of "ALL" very carefully (unless she wants that definition to include a mental breakdown).

So since part of having a blog is that you get to give unsolicited advice, here is my advice for the mom who fantasizes about doing it "ALL" in stilettos:

1.  Perfect Your Balancing Act:  I try to be as efficient as possible.  Sometimes my efficiency has to do with me becoming better at something (like learning how to leave the house with two children - that could be an Olympic event; getting better at menu planning; putting better organizational systems in place).  I try to learn as much as I can from others.  Sometimes my efficiency is accomplished by overlapping my goals.  No time to exercise, spend time with kids, and have me time with friends?  Take a walk around a lake with your friends and your kids.  Turn on a dance video game or have a dance party with your kids.  No time to cook dinner and spend time with kids?  Have kids be your special helpers and turn cooking into a family activity that both teaches your children how to take care of themselves one day and is super fun!  Also, now that my kids are getting a little older, I have them help with clearing the table, cleaning up after themselves.  They are learning good habits, and we are all pitching in so there's less work for mom and dad to do.

2.  Get Support:  I have to admit that it's been a long time since I've worn stilettos.  It's taken me some time, but I have finally learned that it is never a good idea to make things more difficult for yourself then they need to be, and frankly, these days I need a lot more support.  I need a freaking platform wedge, and that wedge is my family and friends - my community.  My community is a crucial part of my life.  Hillary Clinton was right:  It really does take a village, and I am starting to learn that it is so important to choose the members of your village wisely.  I rely so much on the kindness of my family and friends, and I also try to spread kindness to others.  One of the best things I have learned from becoming a mother is to accept the help of others (and after becoming a mother to two kids, I have also learned to ask for help).  That was a really hard thing for me to do, especially because one might call me controlling, but it was so freeing to accept help and to learn to delegate to others.  In order to properly delegate, I had to focus on the fact that all that matters is that I don't have to do it.  If I delegate to my husband or someone else, they get to do it their way.  If I absolutely needed it to be my way, I don't delegate it.  I also try, to the best I can, to support others in my community as well.  Sometimes a small gesture (like making/picking up a meal for a friend who just had a baby or who is having a rough week) can really help someone out.

3.  Choose Your Definition of "All" Very Carefully (Or Learning How to Drop Plates and Shout Opa!):  This has been the hardest change for me.  My eyes are bigger than my arms.  I want to take on so much and balance so many plates, but I have to be realistic about my schedule.  Like Elsa reminds me (quite frequently), sometimes I have to just let it go.  More importantly, sometimes I have to drop a plate and learn to shout "Opa!" as it falls.  Sometimes it is an easy plate to drop (e.g., hiring a cleaning crew).  Sometimes it is really difficult.  When deciding what to cut out, I think about both how important it is to my kids, my husband, my friends, or me, as well as about how much my kids, husband, friends, or me enjoy it.

Sometimes I have to drop something because I realize the only good thing about it is the picture I have in my head.  For example, I thought having dinner together as a family was a very important part of being a family.  Before I even had children, I stressed and stressed about how I was going to balance my work schedule and commute to make it home for dinner every night.  With my son it was never an issue because he liked to go to bed late and sleep in when he was a baby.  But when my daughter came along it was tough because she liked to go to bed early, which meant dinner had to be moved to a time that I could never be home for.  When I stressed to come home early, it was always chaos.  The kids would scream most of the time from being cranky from their day.  It was hard to get them to all sit still around the table.  My daughter just wanted me to hold her, because she hadn't seen me all day.  It took some time for me to realize that I was bending over backwards to do something that wasn't working.  So, I let the dinner plate fall.  Instead, we started having breakfast together.  That way we still have a meal together, but it is a time when we were all home and the kids weren't exhausted and melting down.  It became enjoyable.  It was quality time worth taking.  We always make sure to have dinner together on Friday nights for Shabbat, and I look forward to that all week, but for the rest of the week, I am happy not to be stressing out about making something work that just isn't workable right now.  If when my kids get older that changes, we will adjust.  I can always pick a plate back up later if things change.

One word of caution when dropping plates:  don't just drop the plates that are for you.  You must keep a plate or three for yourself, and you must not feel guilty about it.  Many mom's will easily drop the plates that are for them, and will give their time to their work, kids, husband, friends, etc.  This is not healthy by any means.  Lots of my friends complain that their husbands take free time for themselves without even giving a second thought, but that they would kill for a break.  While perhaps there is some merit to those complaints, I actually think the men may have this one right.  When you are on an airplane and the stewards tell you to put your own oxygen masks on before putting them on your children - I'm pretty sure that message is for moms (not the dad's), because mom's typically think of helping their kids before providing themselves with the oxygen they need to breathe.  But here's the thing - if you don't have oxygen, you can't breathe, and therefore you are of no help to your children or anyone else.  You must keep a plate or three for yourself.  You must take care of yourself before you can take care of others.  Also, I don't think we are setting good examples for our children if we are showing them that parenting is all about self-sacrifice and loosing yourself in the process.

If you really are juggling too many plates, try perfecting your balancing act before you drop all the plates that are for you.  For example, I think it's important to have a creative outlet to express yourself and unwind.  I, however, happen to have several hobbies I love, and I cannot find time for them all (hence why there are so few blog posts on my blog!).  I particularly love to cook, entertain, take pictures, and scrapbook.

With cooking, it is hard for me to find the time to cook.  It is important that my family eats healthy, and I really, really enjoy cooking.  It's also a great way to spend time with the kids, or have some much needed me time at the end of a stressful day when the kids are in bed sleeping (while helping out my family).  While I do make cooking a priority, and I don't drop that plate, I make several adjustments to the way I cook.  First and foremost, I meal plan so that I don't waste time trying to figure out what to make.  When it comes to the actual cooking, I usually cook with my kids on the weekend, or I cook dinner the night before after my kids are sleeping so that I don't have to be home early to cook dinner.  I also don't make anything that is difficult or takes too much time to make.

With photography and scrapbooking, I have found an easy adjustment.  I take lots of pictures of my kids, and I do digital shutterfly scrapbooks online (which are much quicker than the handmade kind).  So that was an easy plate to keep!

However, other times I have to drop something I love because it just isn't practical (or enjoyable) anymore, like entertaining.  I love to entertain, but I do not have the free time to entertain as much as I would like, on the scale that I would like.  So when it comes to my children's birthdays, I get my fix for entertaining, and I try to make the times I do entertain really special.  Also, when I entertain I keep things very, very simple (and try to hide how simple it really all is).

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