Dream big!  That’s what they told us as kids, right?  “If you can dream it, you can do it!” shout the motivational posters.  I think we start off believing it.  (Yes, mommy, I will be a professional ballerina.)  But somewhere along the way, we tend to step back from the big dreams.

Kids enter the picture, and suddenly, we aren’t sleeping.  We’re barely making it from one day to the next.  We don’t bother to look up from what we’re doing anymore.  Perhaps we assume that what IS is what’s meant to be.  And we stop dreaming about those big goals.

Meanwhile, in another neighborhood of our brain, the story goes like this: “And I can pick up baby from daycare, make a 5-course meal, wash those bottles, do the laundry, respond to 20 e-mails, and read a book.  All before midnight!”  Talk about big dreams!

In the day-to-day, I often delude myself about just how much I can get done in a relatively short period of time.  And then, when that ridiculously long to-do list doesn’t get done by someone with superhuman powers or fairy dust, I feel disappointed.  Or worse, criticize myself for not getting “it all” done.

What a paradox!  One part of us is actively telling us to stop thinking big.  While another is simultaneously deluding us into thinking we can do it all.  Hmm.

I’ve been thinking about paradoxes lately, particularly having started to read Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.  (More on her amazing new book in a future post.)  Brown points out some daily practices that feel like paradoxes:

  • People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
  • Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.
  • Hold Hands. With Strangers.
  • Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

To this list of worthy challenges, I’d add my own instruction for working parents who don’t have enough time:

Dream Big.  Be Realistic.

I reconcile the paradox with the following instruction:

Dream Big for the LONG Term.  Be Realistic for TODAY.

Start by imagining a world in which you can, over time, do something huge and amazing.  Take Kelly McCann’s example in Stepping Back After Kids: A Working Mom’s Winding Path to the C-Suite.  Our paths to those big jobs or goals need not be linear.  And they certainly need not mimic the road someone else took.  (Comparison is, after all, the thief of joy.)

My own BIG dream is that one day, every new parent who returns to work after parental leave will feel empowered to be a leader.  Is that going to happen by tomorrow?  Or next year?  No.  But it’s worth orienting myself – and all the little steps I take day-to-day – in that direction.

Then, for today, work on setting realistic goals about what you’re going to “accomplish”.  (I put “accomplish” in quotes, because really, BEING with our children, and just BEING as ourselves, might not qualify in many books as an “accomplishment”.  But it’s extremely worthy of our time.)

Can you cut down your “must do” list for today to only 3 things?  Write those 3 things on a post-it note, and put it on your computer monitor in the morning.  YES, it’s true that we become prioritizing ninjas as working parents.

Can your list of 3 things include at least one thing that points in the direction of that BIG dream you have?  No matter what happens in my day or week (and believe me, there are weeks when nothing goes right), I make it a priority to take some sort of baby step in the direction of that big dream of mine.  Whether it’s writing a blog post, moderating a conversation among the new mamas in my e-course, or even simply reading an article on paid leave, I consciously try to move the ball daily.

I’m talking about being intentional here.  Actually taking time out of our day and year to see the big picture (hello, annual planning days!).  And embracing the baby pace, even as we dream our big dreams.

Back to Work After BabyNeed more help figuring out those paradoxes of new parenthood?  Want to meet other new working moms all heading back to work after maternity leave around the same time?  Join the next session of Mindful Return.

Want more practical tips on working parenthood?  Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.  

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