Embracing a new career while still hugging my kids (are my arms gonna stretch that far?)

Somewhere around Thursday of last week (nearly 6-weeks into my self-proclaimed “official career change”) I found myself resenting the time that parenting tasks – even things I usually found fun – took away from my writing time.  I was grumpy and grouchy about simple, sweet things like playing make-believe or rereading Llama Llama Red Pajama for the 75th time.  Now, I am not by nature a resentful or angry person.  Honestly, I’m kind of a ray of sunshine.   So I was fairly surprised with myself for feeling this way.

Enter Introspective Katey.  I started to think back on my “former” career.  Did I ever feel this way about it?

For the last 10-or-so years, I worked as a physical therapist in highly specialized settings.  Primarily, I dealt with clients who had suffered moderate to severe brain injuries.  Some of these were Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI is what you think of 1st – car accidents, skiing into a tree, falling from a roof) and some were what is known as Acquired Brain Injury (ABI may be from a stroke, lack of oxygen during a surgery, near drowning, etc).  What they all had in common was that they were all extremely different.  There is never a “textbook case” of brain injury – so each client is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery surrounded by some baggage.  I LOVED piecing through the various parts of the mystery: from the brain scans that showed areas of injury, to the cognitive testing, psych reports, family stories and physical exam.  I felt like a neurologic detective, putting all the information together to form a plan of therapy that would help my clients regain as much of their mobility and lifestyle as possible.

I enjoyed working as a team with cognitive therapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech Language Pathologists, doctors, clients, families and psychologists to help my clients achieve their goals.  I grew incredibly attached to many clients and families.  I poured a lot of physical and emotional energy into my work.  My spirits often rose and fell with client’s successes and failures.

But at the same time, I had 3 babies in under 5 years. And I poured my heart into them, too.

And never once can I remember coming home from work and resenting that one of my children needed my attention when I was still thinking about a client issue.   I may have gotten sick of rereading Goodnight Moon because ANYONE will get sick of that bowl of mush after 37 consecutive readings – but not because it was keeping me from thoughts about work.

So why now?

Choosing to write as a career instead of a hobby has been amazingly complex for me.  I’ve given myself permission to really focus my energy on writing, without feeling guilty about putting it ahead of other things.  (Theoretically.  I do still feel guilty about the unfolded basket of darks in the hallway.  But I tell myself I don’t HAVE to.) Almost immediately upon giving myself this permission, my writing style changed.

I used to just jot down a thought or two in a spare moment, or pen a poem or two during vacation.  And that was satisfying.  Now I find myself so absorbed in my writing that I forget to eat, I tune out the phone, I ignore basic bodily functions for waaay too long.  Having to stop when the thoughts want to flow suddenly feels unfair, almost cruel to the creative part of me.  That writerly part me is like a puppy kept in her crate all day.  Once I’ve let her outside to run – good luck getting her to calm back down!

But I think I’m starting to figure it out.  First off, my creative side has always been stronger than I’ve admitted to myself.  I was raised in a time when math and science careers for women were opening up. As a highly intelligent girl, I gravitated (and was pushed) toward these new opportunities; I placed a lot of value on math/science intellectual pursuits.  I only valued my creative energy as a sideline, a hobby, somehow less important than science.  I pursued theater, art, crafts and make-believe only “in my spare time” or later  “because it’s fun for the kids.”  But even as a physical therapist, I loved to create – plans, inventions, new techniques and new motivations.  There has been an artist inside me for all my years, struggling quietly for validation – and now that she’s running, she doesn’t want to go back in the crate.

Secondly, I write and work in my home.  In the office that also serves as a guest room.  At the computer that also hosts the kids’ games and homework.  In the time I make between school drop-off and pick up.  There is really no clear delineation of home vs. work.  So it is that much harder to turn off my work mind.  There’s always that temptation to sneak back upstairs for a few minutes (that turn into an hour) and get a little more done.  When I worked outside the home, I had the 30 minute commute to transition from work mind to home mind.  Now, I’ve let it all blend together.

Finally, I can put a bit of it down to the vagueness of writing.  As a  PT, I had a goal sheet for each client.  And a Care Plan.  I was accountable to a family, a team, a case manager, and a payer for taking certain steps, reaching certain milestones, measuring progress in very specific ways.  There were time limits set by insurers or physicians or by life circumstances.  Now, I am accountable only to me.  Unfortunately, I have pretty high expectations of my employees.  Seriously, I’m the last boss I want to work for.    What I need to do is write down some realistic goals and try not to pressure myself to accomplish too much, too fast.

This week, I am determined that there will be no resentment.  I am spending this morning writing, and this afternoon throwing myself whole-heartedly into the 100th day celebration in my middle daughter’s classroom.  Friday, I am excited to combine my writing and parenting passions.  I’ll be reading a picture book I’m working on to the Pre-K and kindergarten classes at my youngest daughter’s school.

The great thing about being creative is that it helps me make these creative solutions to balance my life.  This “becoming an author”  is a challenge, but it’s one I’m tackling with joy.

**Writers &/or other parents who work from home – how do you keep it separated?  How do you strike a balance?  I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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11 thoughts on “Embracing a new career while still hugging my kids (are my arms gonna stretch that far?)

  1. Katey, it’s challenging…I’m teaching online and doing another graduate school degree (so full-time grad student). I still don’t feel like I’ve found that magical “balance” yet. I try to make the most out of the time Emma isn’t at home. I also try to do a lot after she goes to bed, so I can feel like I’m more “present” as a mom when she’s home. It doesn’t always work, though… some weeks I just have more work to do or doctor appointments when she’s gone and I have to juggle trying to do work while she’s home. Just don’t be too hard on yourself and embrace the days when you feel like you’ve got everything under control. 🙂

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  2. Katey, when I started working out of college, this job appealed to me because of the work from home factor. Now that I have kids, it is definitely a challenge. Even though Matt is home while I am working from home, the girls gravitate to me many times. I think creating your own space is a way to set boundaries, both physically and mentally for your work time. I have also learned that it is okay to step away, play a quick game and get back to work feeling more re-energized for the next task. I often will reward myself with a break if I complete X amount on my to do list I think about the distractions in an office setting and what difference if it is some office chatter or playing a quick game of cards with your kids.
    I have also thought about the message I am sending to my kids too by constantly telling them I have to write up one more report or get X done. I have been torn whether it is a better thing for me to be physcially away and be able to separate work from home, then to be immersed in work, home, child rearing all at once.

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    • Thanks, Shanna. I wonder about it, too. It’s so hard for them to understand that it’s “work” when I’m right there! And it’s hard for ME to realize it’s not work time when I have ideas in my head and a computer just down the hall !

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  3. As a working mom of 3 (the youngest one being 2 yrs old) it is very challenging for me to attain this ‘balance’. I’ve not achieved it but I’m not going to give up.
    Firstly, I have chosen to work from home so I can save time in commute. Also Music is my passion. I am a singer. I practice south asian music almost every night(usually after my kids go to bed). I set up tiny achievable goals on what I will be practising in a given week. I’ve learnt to make time for it. I also learnt to understand my limits. I am planning to resume teaching music soon.
    When I look back after a few yrs, I don’t want to regret that I did nothing for ‘myself’ or missed something I always wanted to do..
    I believe that almost all of us have challenges balancing work and life to various degrees. It is ideally impossible to balance work/hobbies & family but we have to make
    room for ourselves at some point 🙂

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