Working 12-hour shifts and raising kids go together like, well, they kind of don’t. From shorter school days to summers off to extracurricular activities to a sudden spike in temperature that can throw the whole plan off, parenthood ups the ante in a big way. And yet, choosing to become a nurse has never stopped anyone from also becoming a parent.
Priscilla Beatty, Neil Stinson and Kirsten De Mesa love being nurses and they love being parents. Balancing the two isn’t necessarily an easy task, but it’s never impossible. Well, duh—these are nurses we’re talking about, after all. And nurses are the masters of figuring things out and getting it done.
‘It’s on the schedule’
Priscilla was already a nurse practitioner by the time her daughter was born nine years ago. But no year has challenged Priscilla’s mettle more than this past one, between her daughter’s virtual school and demanding competitive dance schedule.
“I have to have copies of my daughter’s schedule everywhere—on everyone’s phone, at work, on the fridge, on the pantry door, in all the bags,” she says. “And I am constantly texting reminders to whoever is in charge that day because I know they don’t pay attention to the schedules I’ve made.”
Even after all that effort, auditions and practices still get missed.
“It’s frustrating because I take the time to prepare and notify everyone and it still doesn’t usually go the way it’s supposed to.”
It’s a work in progress, but she says she has gotten better at rolling with the punches. “We either find a way to fix it or we just let it go.”
Learn to let go of the little things and the self-criticism that can accompany them. When self-judgment arises, pause and ask yourself, “Is that really true?” Spoiler alert: It’s not!
Pro tip: Nobody, especially working parents, has time for self-judgment. Little things will get missed. And that’s true whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or a nurse-mom.
Neil, who is a flight nurse for a level 1 trauma center, says letting go of things you can’t control is one of the strategies he uses to cope with the stress he feels when his work schedule interferes with family time.
“Our schedules are set pretty far in advance,” says the father of three. “If the kids have an activity, and they schedule something for the last minute, I can only do so much to have a day off.”
Take his youngest’s preschool graduation, for example. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the school waited until about three weeks before the big day to even put it on the calendar. Neil was scheduled to work that day and missed being there. (He was able to watch online.)
“I’m usually pretty good about checking with my wife on upcoming events for the kids and things I can’t miss, but dates can be a moving target—or I can get them wrong. And no matter how hard I try to request the right days off, occasionally I do get my dates mixed up.”
But instead of laying on the self-inflicted guilt trip, Neil takes these missed milestones in stride.
“If there’s nothing I can do—and I usually can’t—I try to let it go pretty quick. I try not to dwell on the stuff I can’t control,” he says.
Pro tip: Add rituals to your regular routine, says family psychotherapist Heather Schwartz, LMFT. This might be as simple as walking to get ice cream once a week, or cuddling and watching a favorite show. “A daily ritual can be anything that is enjoyable to both individuals,” she says. “These rituals also don’t have to be long; you’d be surprised how 15-30 minutes can help you and your child feel grounded and secure.” Finally, she says, don’t sweat it if you miss them occasionally: “Every now and then things happen and we don’t get our ritual in and that’s OK.”
It takes a village
It’s cliché because it’s true. And every nurse we talked to for this story described their own version of the village they rely on to help take care of their kids on the daily—spouses, live-in parents, in-laws down the street and extended families.
Kirsten refused to believe the cliché when her first child was born. Now that she’s the mother of two kids under two years old and has a husband who is a resident doctor working 80-hours weeks, she’s relaxed her stance—a lot.
“As a nurse, sometimes it feels like you can do everything yourself and you want to do everything yourself, but that will be at the expense of extreme burnout,” Kirsten says. “With my first baby, I never even wanted anyone to hold him at all. And that took a toll.”
Pro tip: Get comfortable with the fact that you cannot do it all. More importantly, find help. Family members, babysitters, housekeepers, grocery shoppers are on the ready to help you lighten the load.
Priscilla, Neil and Kirsten all agreed that self-care is important to their overall well-being. Something else they agreed on? That they hardly had time to do anything about it. That’s the ugly truth about combining parenthood, with, well, anything. It’s like finishing one shift and then immediately coming home and starting another.
But these nurses haven’t abandoned self-care; they just catch as catch can.
For Neil, it’s quiet mornings spent in prayer, oftentimes alongside his wife. For Kirsten, it’s taking a few quiet moments for herself every day. And for Priscilla, who is juggling being a caregiver for her mother and breadwinner for her family, self-care is more an idea than anything else. And that’s totally OK, says Schwartz.
“When it comes to self care I sometimes laugh at the term,” she says. “Honestly life is busy and I know there are seasons where self-care takes a dip and I want hard-working individuals to know that’s OK.”
Pro-tip: If you’ve abandoned yourself in pursuit of keeping tiny humans alive and happy, don’t despair or beat yourself up. Schwartz suggests gently “re-engaging” in self-care by taking a few quiet moments to discover what areas of struggle are highest on your list and choose a self-care activity that can help you address it, even if it’s just in a tiny, baby-step kind of way. “The key is to make it simple and authentic to you,” Schwartz says.