Last week I was happily typing away on the computer making headway with a work-at-home assignment I’d just landed with a local community based organization, when my cell phone rang. The caller was the nurse from my daughter’s school. As soon as she identified herself, my heart filled with fear. She was calling to tell me that my daughter showed signs of coming down with something and she wanted to know if I was aware.
I told the nurse that my daughter seemed to be in good health that morning. Then I asked the dreaded question. Should I come to pick her up? I cringed at the thought of having to make excuses as to why I wouldn’t make the targeted deadline if I had to take my daughter to the doctors. The nurse, however, said that my daughter didn’t have a fever so she was okay to go home on the bus. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, but when I hung up the phone I couldn’t get back to my work because I was too overwhelmed with guilt.
Whenever I’m put in a situation where I think I might have to choose between work and my children, I feel torn. I always drop everything to be there for my family, but there are times when I’d rather be working. This was the case when the nurse called. I was in my element and didn’t want to be disturbed.
I was angry for feeling this way and I said some terrible things to myself. Things like “I can’t take feeling torn like this! It’s not fair and I can’t take it!” and “I can’t do both—progress in a career and take care of two kids! Why am I trying to do both when I know I can’t do it?! Other women do it, but I’m just not equipped! I can’t even work from home and not feel conflicted! I can’t! I can’t!” Finally I got hold of myself, called my daughter’s pediatrician to set up an appointment for the next day, rearranged my schedule and dug back into the project.
As it turned out I finished my assignment on time and my daughter received a clean bill of health from the doctor—which is usually the case. In her six years of life she’s never been seriously ill and neither has my eight year old. So with this in mind, I decided to end my periodic histrionics once and for all.
What I’d said about not having the ability to juggle parenting and work was a reoccurring toxic thought that served no purpose other than to punish myself. Awhile ago I’d read about countering negative thought patterns in Dr. Hamilton Beazley’s book, No Regrets: A Ten-Step Program for Living in the Present and Leaving the Past Behind, and I decided to pick the book up again for a refresher course.
“Although you may have experienced toxic thought patterns for years, it is not necessary to continue being hurt by them,” writes Dr. Beazley.
According to Dr. Beazley’s work, two of the thought patterns I suffered from were “mind reading” and “perfectionism.” I thought that if I had to ask for an extension on my very first project, I would look like an incompetent excuse maker and the organization wouldn’t contract with me again. Now this might be true, but I didn’t know this for sure. It’s more probable that if I submitted quality work despite a brief delay, they wouldn’t have held it against me.
Next I had to realize that I wasn’t perfect, never had been and never will be. There will be times with both working and parenting that my performance won’t reach stellar proportions. In every area of my life all I could ever do was my best.
Dr. Beazley says you can usually identify toxic thoughts because they begin with something like “I should have.” Another variation is “If only I had.” When these thoughts enter our minds, Dr. Beazley suggests using thought analysis to counter them. “Ask yourself if they are really true.”
As for me the truth is that while I’m often conflicted, I’ve been a working mother for over half a decade. So the next time I’m tempted to beat up on myself I’ll say: “Obviously I want to do both. I am doing both. It’s hard, but every day I’m getting better and better and better.”