The Balancing Act: ‘I’m Preoccupied And The Moment Just Passes’
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to answer readers’ questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
Can’t Turn It Off: I am a working mother. I find I can’t enjoy the time I spend with my children, as I’m preoccupied with my work and the moment just passes by. Any suggestions?
Sonali: Having thoughts about work when you’re with family, can trigger a sense of anxiety followed by guilt – which in turn impacts our feelings of self-worth. This can be a vicious cycle, making us feel unhappy and stuck. Learning to acknowledge your feelings and being kind to yourself is an important part of your emotional self-care (I’ve written more in-depth on this topic here).
I often hear working parents talk about how a pending work mail lingers, accompanied by an irresistible urge to answer it. This can exhaust us as well as distract us; it doesn’t give us the necessary break to replenish ourselves. Consciously choosing specific time periods when you don’t check the phone and work email – both on weekdays and weekends – can help with digital detox and make it easier to set appropriate work-family boundaries that contribute to your wellbeing.
Not having to multitask will also contribute to your children’s wellbeing. Kids love it when their parents give them undivided attention physically and emotionally. Children feel really secure and special when they can see their mother devoting uninterrupted quality time. Build in specific rituals, such as time to listen to their stories and tell them about your day. Plan fun family activities in advance so as to fit into your schedule. They don’t necessarily have to be large-scale; a healthy attachment results from physical warmth, that is, time to cuddle up, hug and express your love.
Support from a partner, friends or even support groups or online communities can also be helpful, though it requires admitting we need help. These people often help us find solace in understanding that others are sailing in the same boat (you’re far from alone; see the second question in this column). From a practical perspective, you might pick up some new ideas around better scheduling, having a fixed timetable for meals, and meal planning and taking stock of groceries.
Our biggest struggle is making peace with the fact that we play multiple roles – and not letting the guilt constantly gnaw at us. Accept that you have responsibilities as an employee and as a mother and give yourself a pat on the back once in a while for juggling between these roles.
Tiny Troublemaker: How does one discipline a toddler? Do naughty corners and time-outs work?
Sonali: Toddlerhood is a period when children begin to explore the environment and enjoy their independence. Research indicates that children develop a sense of initiative and autonomy at this age by challenging what they experience. Having said this, it can be a very exhausting time for parents.
How we choose to discipline our children can impact their emotional development. I often hear mothers tell me they feel they are saying ‘no’ to everything their child does. Disciplining toddlers is all about being watchful of children’s behaviour, choosing when to say ‘no’, and also allowing them some chances to learn by doing.
The act of disciplining is about children learning to understand appropriate behaviour and how its absence can have consequences. I find it helpful to separate the behaviour from the person (e.g., “I like you, but I don’t like how you’re acting right now”); this tells the child that you want them to change their behaviour, but you still love them. Stating clearly the behaviour you want changed and telling children how to do it helps. Name calling or labelling a child (troublemaker, tattle-tale) can be a very scarring experience.
There is a new line of research that suggests naughty corners and time-outs may impact children negatively. Dan Siegel, an eminent psychiatrist, points out how these strategies lead to isolation and rather than teach the appropriate social skills. Also, because very often schools use these methods, children associate naughty corners with a sense of shame and exclusion from the rest of the class. Instead, try time-in’s, use positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behaviours, and use humour. These three methods work brilliantly to discipline children and better yet, prevent undesirable behaviour. (Read more about healthy discipline on The Swaddle.)
Sometimes it works best to teach children to talk about their feelings and encourage a dialogue about their behaviour. As a parent, choose to be kind with yourself and your child. All of us face moments when we and the child are exhausted, when discipline strategies may not work. At that time, nothing works better than comforting your child and not judging yourself as a parent.