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Mental sharpness and doing well in the work place

post #1 of 127
Thread Starter 
How do you keep mental sharpness and on top of your game at work, when chasing after a toddler and handling things at home?

I work in a job that requires a lot of research and analysis of fairly technical and complicated issues. The people around at work are all very smart, highly educated people who went to very good schools and have PhDs or law degrees.

And most of them do not have young kids, and most of them are not the primary parent.

Before I had kids, I used to work long hours, and that was one way to stay on the top of the game, and be good at work. I also took a lot of reading home and basically just did my homework to keep mentally sharp.

Now, though, I find I can't work at home on my days off because I have to do other things. I just don't have enough time to read all the reports and studies and be up to date on things.

I feel like I've slipped and I'm just not as good as I once was at work, and I just don't have the time anymore, or at least for right now and the forseeable future.

I hate that I'm not as good as I once was.

Also, my memory is shot from the hectic schedule, the running here and there, and my overactive, high needs, ADHD, sensory seeking toddler who simply is never going to be quiet, sit still, and bounces off the walls most of the day and does so much running and jumping, I feel like it's a full time job just to get through the day without any major injuries. How am I going to sit down and read through a report?

I feel like I need to find an easier job, but, obviously, the pay wouldn't be anywhere near what I can earn in my field, and my DH would look down on me and see me as a failure if I'm not in my field, using my degree, and challenging myself. And, also I already was a SAHM for 2 years and I feel like my resume took enough of a hit from that. If I were to leave the field entirely, even while working, I might never get back into the field and then my lifetime earning potential would be way down to the point where I know it would impact my quality of life.

It's not that I make a huge amount of money, but I know I make more working in my field, using my degree, than in any other job I could have. And my salary right now just at the half time rate basically covers child care expenses and a few other things. If I worked in a job outside my field, financially I don't think it would cover the cost of day care or make it worth my while to work.
post #2 of 127
I honestly think this is one of those situations where you can have it all, but not all at the same time. I'm truly not as good or as effective a worker as I was before kids. I'm 8 months pregnant now and at that "stupid" phase. Like I prepped this meeting agenda on Friday for a Monday meeting and had it all ready to go. I came in Monday and added to items to the agenda that I was certain needed to be there but we had EXPLICITLY said would be discussed at a different meeting. This is with senior exectutives and we had to back out and say "never mind..."

I just think life is cyclical and it runs in phases. I have a 7 yo also and I was just getting "back in the game" when I got pregnant. I was a good worker back in my 20s and I'll be a good worker again in another 5 years when the kids are older. For now, I'll settle for being an OK worker and an OK parent. I don't need to be at the top of my game in both of these things at the same time. I'm good being "mediocre" at both. Some people may make other choices, they may choose to focus on being REALLY good at one thing at a time. Nothing wrong with that either.

Everyone will have distractions that may keep them preoccupied at work - whether it's kids, divorce, death, emotional turmoil or whatever OR they will ALWAYS be at the top of their game at work, but lead a lonely life or their families can't count on them .

PS - I don't really think I'm mediocre as a parent or a worker, but it's short-hand for what I'm trying to say. I'm really pretty satisfied with me life in general.
post #3 of 127
Ditto Eillen's post. Well said. I was a hard, efficient, clever employee. Could solve most any complex problem thrown at me, and lived on that thrill. I married a hard working, clever programmer working at the same company. Then we had our DS. My brain turned to mush. I loved my job at the time, so I got my groove back reasonably quickly. But 2 years later I had DD and my brain turned to less than mush! "Breast feeding brain" isn't an expression for nothing!

Due to other circumstances (a fabulous work environment going to pot), I have not gotten totally up to speed again. My kids are just more important. They are only kids so long, and growing fast. And my job won't be there to be thrilled with my kids achievements. And my job won't hug me when I am old.... So I would say I am a very good mother, but an average employee; but WAY more important, instead of feeling like I have fallen behind, I feel happy that I have such a warm, healthy balance in my life now. I feel good! In fact I am working on being MORE AVERAGE, because I am a happier person that way. My family and friends need to come first.

I think you can have it all, just not at the same time. You can be a great employee/employer, or you can be a great mother or a great wife or a great artist or whatever. But you can not be great at all of these at the same time. I know, I tried it once. I was great at EVERYTHING - for about 6 months, until I was so time limited and so stressed and so burnt out that I actually got very ill. Something had to give. For me that was work. Other people may make other choices. Make the choice that will make you the happiest.
post #4 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellien C View Post
I have a 7 yo also and I was just getting "back in the game" when I got pregnant. I was a good worker back in my 20s and I'll be a good worker again in another 5 years when the kids are older.
Thank you.

But, wow, did it really take 6 years to feel like you were getting back in the game (the age of your older child minus the number of months you are pregnant)?

I am just so...tired...and often feel bad at work because I can't do the quality of work I'm used to, and I want to do, and also I have a big problem with memory these days and it takes me longer to read and understand things than it used to. I'm just not as quick, and I hate that.
post #5 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by AllisonR View Post
I think you can have it all, just not at the same time.
I wish someone could get this point across to my husband.
post #6 of 127
I work in a mentally demanding field, too, TIN, and can relate to your frustrations. I'm single, I WOHM FT, and I have a 7 y.o. DD.

My emotional, intellectual, and physical reserves are finite. Accepting that I'm human and not superhuman has been hard for me. Instead of being a star at work like I was in the past, I'm now content to be a contributor. That acceptance has been hard, too, but it's vitally important to me to reserve my best energies for DD and our family life.

That isn't to say that I don't have my "gulp" moments at the office when I see people getting assignments and advancements that would have come to me in previous years.

It's a constant balancing and re-balancing act for me.
post #7 of 127
I just came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to be able to do it all. And I chose that I was going to spend time with my kids and home life. It means that my research has faltered. I'm OK with that, for now.

As your kids get older, it does get easier to focus. They sleep better (mostly). They want to entertain themselves while you get things done.
post #8 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin2004 View Post
I work in a mentally demanding field, too, TIN, and can relate to your frustrations. I'm single, I WOHM FT, and I have a 7 y.o. DD.

My emotional, intellectual, and physical reserves are finite. Accepting that I'm human and not superhuman has been hard for me. Instead of being a star at work like I was in the past, I'm now content to be a contributor. That acceptance has been hard, too, but it's vitally important to me to reserve my best energies for DD and our family life.

That isn't to say that I don't have my "gulp" moments at the office when I see people getting assignments and advancements that would have come to me in previous years.

It's a constant balancing and re-balancing act for me.


I love your post so much, I think I am going to cut it and paste it somewhere I can read it every single day.

I think I need to get to the point where I feel OK not being the star at work, and everyone's project darling, the go to person, and be content with being a contributor, and be ok with some of the mediocre work I turn in.

I struggle with this...former A student, real go-getter, always top of the class, and then really great career before having a baby.

And now I'm just not as sharp as I used to be. I know it. I'm just not. I'm not sure if it's the aging process, the baby process, or both. But I am just not as sharp, not as quick, and not as energetic. Things are much harder now, and I'm not even accomplishing as much.

But I have to remember that almost all the work in my life has doubled. I used to have to do laundry for just me, now I do laundry for me and a child. Same with meals, same with bedtime, bathtime, all that. Everything has doubled so of course I don't have the time I used to have or the energy.

Thanks for the post!
post #9 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LynnS6 View Post
I just came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to be able to do it all. And I chose that I was going to spend time with my kids and home life. It means that my research has faltered. I'm OK with that, for now.

As your kids get older, it does get easier to focus. They sleep better (mostly). They want to entertain themselves while you get things done.
Thank you! Good post. You're in research, too? We should talk...I've not found too many on the working moms boards in a field like this.

Also, you live in the PNW?!?! That is where I want to move! My heart is set on finding a job in research in the PNW.

How come you don't want to live there? (Your sig line...)

To me, it would be perfect. Temperate weather but still distinct seasons. Beautiful scenery. Progressive. Mountains. Ocean.

I'd love to hear your perspective. Thanks much!
post #10 of 127
I'm just getting back in the sharpness game now that DS is 3, but I have oodles of help. If I were doing it all alone, plus being regularly sabotaged by my husband the way you are, it would take me at least until age 7. Also remember that being treated the way your husband treats you is going to generate a constant buzz of a fight-or-flight response, which then impairs your sharpness in other areas. Your sense that just keeping yourself and your child alive and uninjured is a major achievement, is correct.
post #11 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by lolar2 View Post
I'm just getting back in the sharpness game now that DS is 3, but I have oodles of help. If I were doing it all alone, plus being regularly sabotaged by my husband the way you are, it would take me at least until age 7. Also remember that being treated the way your husband treats you is going to generate a constant buzz of a fight-or-flight response, which then impairs your sharpness in other areas. Your sense that just keeping yourself and your child alive and uninjured is a major achievement, is correct.
I know this to be true. My worst day is Monday - because, in my opinion - it is the day after a long weekend with DH.

Sigh.

Yes, he very much exacts a toll on me. But so too does parenting. I can't blame it all on DH.

Also, I am getting older, and really feeling it, or maybe that is DH again. I just have no energy. I fall asleep early, don't sleep well, get up early, work all the time, repeat.

Oh, well. I know others have it far worse, and I really have a great job and pretty decent career that I am blessed to have. There are some bright spots.
post #12 of 127
Quote:
Originally Posted by That Is Nice View Post
Thank you! Good post. You're in research, too? We should talk...I've not found too many on the working moms boards in a field like this.
I'm a professor, which means that I can focus on teaching and advising students, which is what I've done for the last few years. I'm trying to get my research program back in gear and it's really tough. It's not just mental acuity (that's mostly back), it's the lack of mentors in my area right now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by That Is Nice View Post
Also, you live in the PNW?!?! That is where I want to move! My heart is set on finding a job in research in the PNW.

How come you don't want to live there? (Your sig line...)
I like it here, and if it were closer to our families, I'd be thrilled to be here. It's just really really hard for me to have my kids grow up not really knowing their grandparents, aunts & uncles. I feel like they're missing out on so much. I grew up with a large, close extended family, and my kids don't have that.

In many ways, the area is perfect - temperate (but grey, grey, grey in the winter), progressive (at least in the cities, rural areas are a whole different ballgame), lots of outdoor things to do. I'm literally counting the months until I can quit driving to school and start taking light rail (right now, I'm taking dd with me to K on campus, and it's too much of a walk for her. But in 3 1/2 months, we're done with private K and I'll be commuting on my own).


Quote:
Originally Posted by lolar2 View Post
Also remember that being treated the way your husband treats you is going to generate a constant buzz of a fight-or-flight response, which then impairs your sharpness in other areas. Your sense that just keeping yourself and your child alive and uninjured is a major achievement, is correct.
Don't discount the effect that stress has on your brain. Really. Right now you're in constant 'fight or flight' mode. Cortisol (released under stress) has well known effects on your ability to process and retain information.


Quote:
Originally Posted by That Is Nice View Post
Yes, he very much exacts a toll on me. But so too does parenting. I can't blame it all on DH.
Yes, parenting does. And I'll be honest that for the first 1-2 years of my kids' lives, my job was hard. But after that, things got better.

Quote:
Originally Posted by That Is Nice View Post
Also, I am getting older, and really feeling it, or maybe that is DH again. I just have no energy. I fall asleep early, don't sleep well, get up early, work all the time, repeat.
Hon, you sound depressed. Given your situation, I'm not surprised. Depression and stress will sap your mental energy. When I had PPD, my brain stopped working. I literally could not even grade my students' papers. (And I have a supportive husband who works from home.)

Is there someone among your health care providers who you can talk to? A counselor to see? I don't know what the right situation is for you, but the one you're in is not tenable long term.
post #13 of 127
Quote:
Originally Posted by That Is Nice View Post
But, wow, did it really take 6 years to feel like you were getting back in the game (the age of your older child minus the number of months you are pregnant)?
Well, everyone's story is a little different but here's how it went with me.

Pregnancy - totally on my game! First kid, didn't want to stop, didn't tell work until I was 15 weeks and showing and didn't let up. And honestly, I was fine with that. Worked until baby was born - taking vacation days and going to 3-day weeks at the end. Used to off-days to finish up financial reports for volunteer group. No problem!

Year 1: Completely overwhelmed. Survival mode only. Work, nurse, sleep, tend to baby. Exhausted.

Year 2: Started to do a few more things that felt like "me" (sewing, meetings etc) but not very many and they only served to remind me how much I missed the things that used to be me. Also, kid was toddling and into things and just not as portable as a baby. But she was awesome - language exploding, exploring, pliable, receptive. Fun with baby, but I'd lost "me."

Ages 3.5 - 5! OMG! The terrible 3s (and they didn't end until close to age 5). Felt like EVERYTHING was a battle - she woke up crying, went to bed crying, was dropped at day care crying and wouldn't LEAVE day care without crying. At this point I could do more things for myself, but my DD was very difficult. Any kind of change in schedule was just torture. Getting dressed was a battle etc. Finally took her to some Occupational Therapy for mild sensory issues. Either the therapy helped or she grew out of it.

When I really thought about it, I felt that she was very much struggling to understand the world - and the world was sometimes unpredictable. She had no sense of time and would want to read 2 books, but couldn't understand that some books were longer. Some days were different than other days. Sometimes we did an activity and that changed the schedule.

So - I was just exhausted from the constant grind. (I think this might be where you are due to lack of support at home.) I had no energy for much. This was the constant stress - fight or flight for me. It was MUCH worse than the baby period. In the baby period I was a zombie and tired, but not nearly as stressed and tense as this period of time. I doubted my parenting - everything.

Then by 5 - well, she got really fun again. And independent and she understands more of the world and it's not so frustrating. And I felt like DH and I could again take on commitments, volunteer work, art etc. I can talk to her, explain things, she asks questions. She's really fun. I can bring her places if she REALLY wants to go and set her up with an activity or leave her back with Dad if she wants. I took on a new job at work where I could commit myself to learning new things and really diving into the job.

I took on a monthly newsletter for my volunteer group when my DD was right around 5. I was thinking I'd step back up to the plate and take a job for them. The newsletter slot opened about 6 months before I was really ready, but they were desperate so I took it.

Now, I'm pregnant again and not "pedal to the medal" but I'm doing OK. We've got a good transition plan and I'm able to parse it out among at least 5 other people.
post #14 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellien C View Post
Well, everyone's story is a little different but here's how it went with me.

Pregnancy - totally on my game! First kid, didn't want to stop, didn't tell work until I was 15 weeks and showing and didn't let up. And honestly, I was fine with that. Worked until baby was born - taking vacation days and going to 3-day weeks at the end. Used to off-days to finish up financial reports for volunteer group. No problem!

Year 1: Completely overwhelmed. Survival mode only. Work, nurse, sleep, tend to baby. Exhausted.

Year 2: Started to do a few more things that felt like "me" (sewing, meetings etc) but not very many and they only served to remind me how much I missed the things that used to be me. Also, kid was toddling and into things and just not as portable as a baby. But she was awesome - language exploding, exploring, pliable, receptive. Fun with baby, but I'd lost "me."

Ages 3.5 - 5! OMG! The terrible 3s (and they didn't end until close to age 5). Felt like EVERYTHING was a battle - she woke up crying, went to bed crying, was dropped at day care crying and wouldn't LEAVE day care without crying. At this point I could do more things for myself, but my DD was very difficult. Any kind of change in schedule was just torture. Getting dressed was a battle etc. Finally took her to some Occupational Therapy for mild sensory issues. Either the therapy helped or she grew out of it.

When I really thought about it, I felt that she was very much struggling to understand the world - and the world was sometimes unpredictable. She had no sense of time and would want to read 2 books, but couldn't understand that some books were longer. Some days were different than other days. Sometimes we did an activity and that changed the schedule.

So - I was just exhausted from the constant grind. (I think this might be where you are due to lack of support at home.) I had no energy for much. This was the constant stress - fight or flight for me. It was MUCH worse than the baby period. In the baby period I was a zombie and tired, but not nearly as stressed and tense as this period of time. I doubted my parenting - everything.

Then by 5 - well, she got really fun again. And independent and she understands more of the world and it's not so frustrating. And I felt like DH and I could again take on commitments, volunteer work, art etc. I can talk to her, explain things, she asks questions. She's really fun. I can bring her places if she REALLY wants to go and set her up with an activity or leave her back with Dad if she wants. I took on a new job at work where I could commit myself to learning new things and really diving into the job.

I took on a monthly newsletter for my volunteer group when my DD was right around 5. I was thinking I'd step back up to the plate and take a job for them. The newsletter slot opened about 6 months before I was really ready, but they were desperate so I took it.

Now, I'm pregnant again and not "pedal to the medal" but I'm doing OK. We've got a good transition plan and I'm able to parse it out among at least 5 other people.
Hey, you've pretty much described how it's been for me so far. I think I'm in the 3-5 range right now. The earlier phases is how it was for me, almost exactly.
post #15 of 127
I've been feeling like my career has taken a hit, too. I had three babies in just over four years and took a year off of work with each one (they are approximately two years apart). I returned to work part-time and I don't know whether it is the absence from work, the part-time hours or the challenges inherent in parenting three young children that takes the greatest toll on my mental abilities. I have been back to work about 8 months now and I am still not quite with the swing of things and lately have been wondering whether I ever will be. I can't stay late at work either, because I have to go and pick up the children, and I go in about as early as I can manage to go in and still be awake (I'm not a morning person). Lately I've resolved though to try to do some work-related reading on the weekend while my daughter is at dance class - my "free" hour

Thank you for your post. It's made me think more positively about my situation. I have the same issues as you, I think, and knowing I am not alone makes me feel better about myself even if my difficulties with work will remain. I wish you the best.
post #16 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prairiemother View Post
Thank you for your post. It's made me think more positively about my situation. I have the same issues as you, I think, and knowing I am not alone makes me feel better about myself even if my difficulties with work will remain. I wish you the best.
post #17 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prairiemother View Post
I returned to work part-time and I don't know whether it is the absence from work, the part-time hours or the challenges inherent in parenting three young children that takes the greatest toll on my mental abilities.
I've contemplated this very thing. What causes it? All these changes? Just being a parent? Going part time?

While I know that my days might be more consistent if I were to work full time, and I could afford more child care and convenience things, I really don't think going full time from my part time status is going to improve things. I think it would worsen. I'm already really tired and totally not able to keep up with laundry and dishes and household things. If I started working full time, as many have recommended, the quality of life due to piling laundry, dishes, errands would plummet.

It's not that I want to spend my hours or my life doing laundry, it's just that I need some amount of time to do these things.

I look at it this way. I used to be a woman without kids, with a good career, who worked full time. And I did my laundry, errands in my free time (evenings and weekends).

Now I have a child. That has doubled the amount of work I have around the house...more laundry, more dishes, way more vacuuming required. I have to get another person ready in the morning when I used to just have to get myself ready.

So, working part time as a mother is harder (for me) than working full time without a child, even with long hours back then.

To be honest, the way I succeeded and stayed on top of the game at work pre-baby was to work late, volunteer for every new project, really get involved, and be a go-to person on everything.

I can't do that anymore. I am falling asleep exhausted every night. I do bring home reading from work to go through with the intention of catching up on things after my child goes to bed, but I'm fried and I fall asleep. Even if I could stay awake, I can't remember anything anymore! My memory and mental accuity is simply not what it was.

Maybe I'm older, now, too, and that plays into it. I don't know. All I know is I'm tired and struggling to keep pace with people who are brighter, more talented, quicker thinking, and don't have rugrats at home.
post #18 of 127
Quote:
Originally Posted by That Is Nice View Post
So, working part time as a mother is harder (for me) than working full time without a child, even with long hours back then.)
It's harder for me, too. I took some time off, as well, after each child was born and now I am behind my colleagues. I am just realizing how much I have had to sacrifice in my career even though in theory I still have that career. I had a meeting with my supervisor about work quality the other day and it was very frustrating because clearly I need to improve, but I am unable to add the hours that would help me to do so.

The compromise for me is, I think, to work a little less - or at least to be paid a little less. I plan to reduce my hours and spread them out a little more, so that I can stay late on my part-time hours and try to make up for the skills (or simply time) I lost. It will cost more financially but I think I need to make that investment. I've tried to bring home reading, too, but there is very little time when I have the quiet space or the energy to do it! I hear ya.

I suppose one good thing about working full time would be that it would justify bringing in some help with cleaning - I had housework!

I have to say, though, that experiencing these difficulties makes me more determined to continue my part-time work. I am starting to realize what challenges women face when try to return to work after being a SAHM. I totally support the idea of being a SAHM, btw, but I couldn't justify it, at least not until my student loans are paid off!
post #19 of 127
My daughter is 3. I'm pretty sharp at work on the important things. My advice is don't even think about attempting work in the evenings after you are home. Taking a guilt-free rest is better for your productivity than trying to cram more into your day. I never check email after I'm home and I'm much fresher at work the next day because of that.

I ruthlessly prioritized and ignored all kinds of crazy crap at work to fit more of the important stuff into my day, you'd be surprised at how much stuff you can cut out of your day if you get out of the straight-A-student submitting all paperwork mentality and start doing only what is truly important (not just urgent).
post #20 of 127
I've talked about this with other working moms who work in intellectually/creatively demanding fields. I honestly think it is that once you have children it is very hard to achieve flow--you can't immerse yourself in work any longer because you constantly have part of your brain holding back in case your child needs you. Even if your child is safely in loving and wonderful care, your mothering instinct holds you back from immersion in your work.
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