76: Creative Thinking

76: Creative Thinking

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

Creative Thinking

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

~Mary Engelbreit

I was raised to believe that not only could I have it all, but I could do it all too. So when my first son came along while I was working full-time, I saw it as a challenge… until I was losing sleep at an alarming rate, falling asleep at my desk, and had zero energy. After eleven months of barely keeping up, I decided to call it quits — and traded in my full-time job to be a full-time mom. I made a living by watching friends’ and neighbors’ little ones while they continued to work nine to five. We added two more children to our growing family, and I began moonlighting as a copywriter. I had this multitasking thing down pat — I really could do it all!

Then, suddenly, I found myself going through a divorce and facing life as a single parent. It was the ultimate in multitasking. And this time, I simply had no choice. I began pounding the pavement to find a full-time job that would pay the mounting bills.

I did find a job, but working downtown from 8:30-5:30 five days a week did not make for a happy home. Every day for a year, my one-year-old daughter was the first to be dropped off at daycare in the morning and the last to be picked up, just as the doors were closing at 6:00 p.m. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I tried to keep up with my freelance writing projects, but I just couldn’t swing it, and had to tell my clients I was taking a break to spend more time with my kids. I realized that everything was suffering — my kids didn’t eat dinner until 7:00 p.m., we were up late every night fighting over homework, and no one got a good night’s sleep. The kids were tired and cranky. And I was never home. At work, my boss — and clients — weren’t getting the best of me either because I was forever worrying about my kids.

The turning point came one weeknight after dinner. My two boys (nine and seven, at the time) were arguing over which television show to watch. One of them had grabbed the remote and the other was on top of him trying to take it away. Normally, I’d walk away, or pull one off the other and calmly turn off the TV until they cooled off. But I was tired, my toddler had started to cry, and I couldn’t handle it. They ignored my pleas and continued throwing punches at each other, and I lost it. I reached between them, grabbed the remote control and threw it behind me… right into the flat-screen TV The breaking of glass brought the room to a screeching halt. “This is your fault!” I yelled at both of them. My accusation was met with silence. And tears.

Later that night, I sat on my bathroom floor and cried. My kids were doing poorly in school. I was forgetting to sign papers, pack lunches and thaw food for dinners. I was out of shape, exhausted and had no patience with my three kids. They needed me. What was I going to do? Something had to give. My two-year-old daughter found me in the bathroom and put her chubby, little arms around my neck. “Is okay, Mama,” she said, tucking her head into my shoulder.

“Thanks, baby,” I whispered. “Mama just doesn’t know what to do right now.”

Just as I’d done with her many times, she reached up and brushed the hair out of my eyes with her little hand. “You can do it, Mama.” She smiled at me.

Hearing her say to me the same words I always said to her made me cry harder. It also got me thinking. Maybe I was going about it wrong. It was true that I couldn’t do it. Not the way I had been. But what if I changed the model? What if I could work full-time and be the parent I really wanted to be, the one my kids needed? I knew I was good at my job. I was just not successful now because the stress was consuming me.

It was 2008, and the recession had impacted businesses far and wide. Our small agency was not immune. My boss was considering cutting back hours — having us work four-day weeks, rather than five. Having a full day off during the week might be nice for me, but it wouldn’t afford me any more time with my kids. But what if I took those eight hours and spread them over the week instead? If I could leave two hours earlier every day and work late on Wednesdays — when the kids’ dad picked them up — I’d have more time to spend with them. I wouldn’t have to pay for after-school care, and I’d be able to get dinner on the table and homework started at a decent hour.

My boss agreed to give it a trial run, and it worked. After one year, I was able to begin working from home a few days a week, and return to freelancing to supplement my income. And last year, I was able to quit my job and work full-time from home as a freelance writer and consultant. Most importantly, all three kids are doing well in school, and I’m here when they need me, which is all I wanted in the first place. As it turns out, my little girl was right. I could do it. I just needed to step back, focus on the problem and employ a little creative thinking. Sometimes the answer lies not in changing your actions, but changing the way you see the problem. At one of my lowest points, my little girl reminded me that I still could, in fact, have it all.

~Beth M. Wood

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