By Guest Blogger Sydney D. Richardson, Ph. D.
It was 2 am when my eyes popped open. I could hear a faint moan coming from the other room and I knew that I had to get in there quickly. If I waited too long, that moan would turn into a roaring scream from my 11-month-old who wanted a nursing session. I had been away at work all day and I didn’t get home until after my 2-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son had gone to bed. So while I was extremely tired, I was secretly happy to get a moment with my baby.
After making it into my son’s room before he woke the rest of the house up, I nursed and rocked him to sleep. The only difference was, on that night, I didn’t put him back in his bed after he fell asleep. I kept rocking him and sobbed. I sobbed because I had just taken a new position as an administrator and my days were no longer flexible. They were stringent, unforgiving, and I missed my babies. Trying to “climb the career ladder,” while sticking to my decisions on nursing and being present for my children was wearing on me. I was the youngest administrator at my college at the time and the only one with young children. This was simply . . . hard.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my job. I had gotten my degrees, became an Assistant Professor, and was a new Dean. In the midst of all of these things, I had also gotten married and had two children 23 months apart. However, there was no role model for me. No one for me to reach out to and glean advice from, so motherhood plus career enhancement was new territory. After that sobbing night (I lost sleep going between my son and daughter’s rooms just to look at them), I decided that something had to change. I enjoyed my work and was determined to make it align well with motherhood.
Spending quality time with my family and setting priorities as a mother ended up making my life a lot less overwhelming and me less stressed. I decided that my priorities were:
Home cooked meals: I grew up shopping at farmer’s markets and watching my mother and grandmother prepare meals with fresh ingredients. Naturally, cooking became one of the ways I expressed love; therefore, I made sure that my family had home cooked meals. On the nights when I had a late event, this was a way for me to be with them in spirit. Crock pots became my best friend (I have three).
Negotiating duties at work: As my children got older, I noticed that they didn’t mind me leaving the house early for work, but they really wanted me around in the evenings, especially for bedtime. Thanks to an understanding boss, I was able to negotiate attending less late evening events and more morning and daytime off-campus events. Not many colleagues liked attending early breakfast meetings, so this worked well for me.
Family conferences: As part of my work, I attend and present at conferences, so my husband and I decided to turn them into family events. As much as possible, we travel to my conferences as a family and it works in two ways. I get a personal cheer squad and afterwards we sightsee wherever we are. The children really enjoy going to new places!
Getting into their world: The most important thing I started doing was turning off the television and Ipads and playing with my children. When I am with them, I become fully present and I let them take the lead with activities. Whether it’s playing Uno Flip five times in a row or making a spaceship fort, my kids have all of me.
Overtime, these changes have translated into deeper connections with my family and quality experiences. As they grow and my career enhances, the demands change, but I’ve learned how to adjust and so have they. Now in the midst of COVID-19, that intentional quality time is the foundation of how we relate to one another and care for one another.
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