Photo: Manuel Rodenkirchen
They say it takes a village to raise a child. And in the case of a single parent like myself, raising a child in Toronto with no family nearby took a multi-disciplinary support team made up of friends and hired help. I wouldn’t wish single parenthood on my worst enemy, frankly. I love my daughter, and will treasure her presence in my life until the day I die. But oh, the work.
Most mornings I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon. As a full-time reporter for a national newspaper, I flew to the U.S. every month to attend major medical conferences. I loved my job, too, but after my daughter’s birth, I felt the clash of competing priorities. In addition to adding professional polish, my suit jackets now did “double duty” by hiding the fact that I was leaking breast milk into brassiere pads. Once the long, long day of interviewing and writing was finished, I would fall into bed, counting the hours until I could hold my baby.
Eventually, I moved into an editing job that didn’t require travel. Still, there was no “end of day” for the job at home. Caring for a small child was exponentially more difficult than anything an employer could throw at me. Most nights, I felt exhausted and numb, my tank beyond empty. I know any working parent can relate, single or not.
Fast forward 20 years. My daughter is finishing her undergraduate degree and appears quite capable of managing her own life. Me? I’m still trying to figure out how to keep from feeling exhausted at the end of the day. Why, you may ask, is this so difficult? I was able to anticipate my child’s every physical, mental and emotional need-why do I have such difficulty figuring out my own?
What’s keeping me from making the best choices for my own well-being? Is it because I’m a woman? (We all know how little girls of my generation were taught to be self-sacrificing.) Is it guilt and false pride that makes me think others need me more than I do? Is it self-loathing? (“You WILL work nights and weekends!”)
I’ve often joked that I have two gears: fast forward and broken. With the spectre of my 60th birthday looming large, this doesn’t seem so funny anymore. Now that I’m not caring for my daughter on a daily basis, I should be finding lots of ways to make up for lost time in the self-care department, right?
Instead, I turn my attention to work because it’s what I know best. It’s a lot easier for me to succumb to the siren call of an interesting job than to figure out what else I’m going to do with my life, and how I’m going to get there.
Now, my challenge is to find ways to recharge my battery. I want my daughter to see her mother finding innovative ways to live her non-professional life: a yoga retreat in Costa Rica; fluency in French; a vegetarian cooking course; a bike trip with friends. In short, I want to show her that, even though I’m a woman, I can do a great job of taking care of myself, too.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. To speed up the process in my case, I’ve decided to leverage some of my professional strengths and transfer my job skills to better position my personal portfolio for the long term. Here’s my strategy.
1. Assume I’m the best person for the job. Nobody can do the work as well as I can, so I might as well get started.
2. Carpe diem. There are only 24 hours in a day and the time to act is now, before the window of opportunity closes. Failure to do so could put the firm at risk.
3. Set up meetings. To get face-time with myself, I need to schedule appointments. That way, I’ll be sure to show up.
4. Re-frame. Focusing on my personal needs is not “weak” or “indulgent.” But my attitude has resulted in serious under-performance. A paradigm shift is required to position myself for success.
5. Articulate a process. I’ll do a needs assessment, create an action plan and then commit to deliverables.
6. Re-brand. My mission, vision and values need a complete overhaul. Instead of “Working Girl” my slogan will be “Feeling good is up to me.”
It may take a village to raise a child, but apparently it takes only one person to turn the self-care tables around. As for the Anglican Journal, the ROI (Return on Investment) will be oh, so worth it. Ω
Kristin Jenkins is editor of the Anglican Journal.