As my 20-month-old boy finally went to bed at 10pm, an hour after he was supposed to, I was acutely aware of how much time I had left in the day to get the rest of my “list” completed. In order to work full-time, go to school part-time, be a mother, wife, and fulfill my other identities, the challenge of prioritizing and delegating has become a part of my routine. I remind myself that I made these conscious decisions and have put myself in this position to juggle different responsibilities. Although this provides me with some solace, this does not provide me with what I really need, which is more time in the day.
Before I decided to add the role of mother to my life, I tried to prepare myself for the lack of sleep and in general all the responsibilities associated with being a mother. Most people had warned me that I would never truly be prepared. They were right. I do operate on a different baseline now. My priorities have shifted as well, as they should. I love mental health and the counseling profession and that is why I continue to contribute in some way to the community. However, I sometimes feel a sense of guilt when I am not with my son, wondering whether I am meeting all his needs and being a good mom. This internal conflict is ongoing and difficult for me to resolve at times. My sense of self changed, and I am still trying to understand who I am now.
With clients, I often talk about evolving identities and how opportunities or events inevitably change who we are. However, in this process, we do not need to be passive players. I encourage clients to empower themselves on deciding exactly how they will change because of what happened. Although we cannot always control what has occurred or the consequences of the situation, we can control what we do with what has happened. We cannot necessarily dictate how we initially react to the event, but again, we can decide how to deal with it in a productive and healthy way.
Initially, I did not manage my new role of motherhood very well and tried to maintain the pace of my previous life, sans a baby. I was able to keep my sanity for about 6 months and then the exhaustion and stress finally took their toll. I had to prioritize. I had to make life changes. Most importantly, I had to take care of myself in order to continue taking care of others.
In supervision, one of the most important topics to address is self-care. I would assume most of us learned this concept in an academic setting. However, I know that self-care is difficult to put into practice and keep in mind especially once we have graduated and are trying to pursue our careers.
During the six months I mentioned above, my self-care had definitely deteriorated. I not only decreased the frequency of my main coping mechanism—exercise, which helps me release stress -- I also did not sleep enough. My responsibilities became taxing, and even social events felt like obligations. I isolated myself to people I had to see, such as clients, coworkers and immediate family I felt that I had lost my sense of self and allowed my surrounding circumstances to consume or control me.
I use supervision as an opportunity to talk about self-care, specifically a plan on how a counselor is going to “keep juggling all the balls in the air.” I recently had my supervisor remind me about how much I am taking on and to make sure I know where my limit is. I appreciated this reminder and was able to talk about my coping strategies to manage stress. At times, we all need such an opportunity to discuss self-care as a way to deal with our own balancing acts.
Grace Hipona is a counselor in the state of Virginia. She currently serves as a Mental Health Therapist for a clinic, a counselor for a private practice and is a doctoral candidate. She operates from a strength-based perspective.