Mental health and Academia!
Tips on balancing your science and life if you do not have a village to help you!
Life with kids is an ever-changing list of priorities. I woke up at 5 am, and my son normally wakes up around 6:30, so I thought I would have some uninterrupted time to work on this piece. But he decided that every 10 minutes he wanted me, and he called me! You might have all plans and to-do lists to tick off one day, and your kid has a fever, you don’t have anyone else to help you out on that day, then, your list will be pushed back! Most academics like to finish off their to-do list and have a sense of “accomplishment” at the end of the day. The mere fact of not being able to cross things off your list makes most of us anxious and uncomfortable. Here are a few things that might help with the mental load as a parent.
- Change your mindset. You obviously need to get things done that are crucial for your career development or next promotion, but when your kid is sick, he needs your comfort and needs to be taken care of. I do not have any family around, so it is only my partner and me that must share the load when sickness happens. There is no point in worrying about things that you did not get to do when you have parenting priority. Focus on your child and then can do some work after he is asleep. If you have a soft deadline, push it back, request an extension. If a hard deadline, things might be a bit tricky!
- Be organized. Never leave things for the last minute. If you are preparing lectures, start months in advance. If you are preparing for grants or interviews, start early, earlier than people without kids would start. Put as much room as possible for things that are out of your control and might need your attention along the way.
- You cannot have it all. You cannot do your job well, spend quality time with your partner and kids, watch all TV series you used to watch, read all the books you have on your list, have social times with your friends, eat well, exercise, and work on your business ideas too! Some of these might be less important and meaningful in some period of your life. For instance, if you used to watch TV to wind down, after you have kids, you might not be able to afford, timewise, to watch anything every night. You might not be able to socialize and have time to read all the books you want to read every day. Something must go.
- Be ok with little time here and there. I am used to sitting for hours and hours and forgetting to stretch in between tasks. That glorious time in grad school! I no longer have the luxury of uninterrupted 8 hours of daily work to complete a single task. So, I understand now why people who are parents work efficiently because they do not have uninterrupted 8 hours of work anymore! You have to be ok with the fact that your time is disrupted. You might get a phone call from daycare that your kid had some injury or developed fever and you need to pick them up. It is ok. Get some work done at night after putting him down for sleep or when he is resting on your chest. Manage smaller, easier, and fewer tasks on those days.
- Be intentional about your time. Get efficient writing or cognitively demanding tasks done on days that are less busy and less interrupted. Block those times out and work on those tasks intentionally. Otherwise, you might not get anything meaningful done.
- Learn to finish incomplete tasks as soon as possible. Imperfect actions are better than no actions! Just do it. Does not matter if it is not perfect. Find a way to delegate and let go of your control over every little thing, ask others to help, or be efficient in completing your tasks.
- Be in the moment. Days are hard, especially when kids are young, and you are in the early stage of your career. But with a little bit of persistence and organization, and luck, you will get where you want to be. Be present with your kids when you are with them and be focused on work when you are working! Simple, but hard to achieve most of the time!
- Have time out. With all responsibilities, self-care is the first thing that goes out of the window. Just have some time out to do things that you like to do, even if it is having a coffee without looking for your child constantly. Have some time out with people who understand your frustration and workload. Talk to people who can give you some perspective if you feel stuck.
Life is different when you have a kid. What you need is an attitude to make it work. You will be tired; you will be overwhelmed. But you can do it. Just need to be organized, flexible, and learn how to say no to things that are not on your top priorities.