Last week, for a solid 24 hours, I felt my own strength and power. With perhaps the exception of the two days I gave birth to my sons, THIS was the most powerful, most sure, and least anxious I’ve ever felt. I’m talking about the same “I CAN do anything” highs I had walking out of the Wonder Woman movie last summer. But higher. And so much more real.
I had just spent a day in Colorado, doing some deep, deep work on my business, with Sara Avant Stover. After an intensive session under her compassionate and fierce tutelage, the new ideas were flying out of my brain like popcorn exploding out of a pan. And I felt unstoppable.
Until, of course, I was stopped.
The text arrived. Some difficult and complicated personal news hit my phone. And me. Suddenly, I was back in a different mindset. “Who was I to think I had strength in this world? That I’m an empathetic, innovate, and helpful person? Maybe I’m just [fill in the loser adjective here].”
I moped a bit, lamenting that my bubble had burst before its time. Yes, I expected to return to the mundane when I went home to D.C., but why now? Why here? This was supposed to be MY time.
Until I remembered what Sara said when I was walking out her door: “Tonight and tomorrow, find your white space.”
In other words, don’t dig into the details of your business. Don’t work. Put the phone down. Don’t e-mail. Don’t plan. Just BE for a while.
On the good counsel of some others who previously had worked with Sara, I planned an “integration” day into my trip, so I could soak in the full benefit of her coaching and not plunge immediately back into working mama life. And I thought “sure, I’ll go find that white space.” So I went to a yoga class. Surefire place to find some stillness, right? Wrong. This class was more about exercise than about yoga. It moved so fast I felt geriatric, even in my late 30’s.
But something else was calling me: the ice rink across the street from my hotel. I was a decent amateur skater back in the day, and I was struck by a sense of childlike giddiness at the thought of heading (alone!) to the ice rink and putting on some skates.
At first, I wobbled. But as I got more and more sure of myself, I got faster and faster and soon was flying around the rink. Praising the muscle memory that somehow still knew the 6 or 7 tricks I had up my sleeve on the ice. Dancing in the wind of my own speed, to the music that filled the complex.
And then I saw it. THE RINK. THE WHITE SPACE. Both literally and figuratively, this was it. I was off my phone. My computer was shut down. The journal I’d been furiously scribbling in was back in my hotel room. It was just me and the ice, connected to a past little girl who loved the ice rink. And to a future woman who was skating back into the power she’d always had but didn’t much acknowledge.
So what is my point here? To find your power, find your white space.
In working parenthood, we all have those times when we know we’ve nailed something. We had a bedtime or sleep victory. The sticker chart we dreamed up to motivate the kids to get out the door in the morning actually worked. Our 4-year old started to seem strikingly aware of and able to articulate his own emotions. We brought a big new client at work. Our boss loved our memo. We won an award.
And then, as suddenly as it came, we return to feeling powerless and defeated. Our baby stops napping. That very same, supposedly self-aware 4-year old throws a temper tantrum at a bowling alley and nearly breaks our nose (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything). Daycare closes for snow on a day we’re supposed to give a big presentation. The kiddos are no longer motivated by that sticker chart, and once again we’re yelling at them to get out the door.
The feelings of power, strength, and “I can do this” in parenthood will come. And they will go.
We need to know how to get our own power back. And the answer, I believe, is in Sara’s words.
“Find your white space.”
But, you might be saying to me, I have no time. And to be honest, I don’t even know what my “white space” is anymore. Did I used to know? Probably. But right now, I can’t even remember the last time I thought about what I’d do if I weren’t doing anything. My clients need me 24/7, and so do my kids.
I hear you, mama. I really do. In those early years of working parenthood, I know from experience that there is no margin in your day. Survival is paramount. And white space sounds like a luxury.
Except that it isn’t. The white space is what saves us. It’s the micro-self-care time you must fiercely guard for yourself when the kiddos are tiny. The scheduled annual planning days and retreat days. And the trade-offs you do with your partner to give one another some alone time on the weekend.
The flavors of our “white space” will differ. For some, it might be a walk outside. For others, swimming laps. And still others, laying on the couch and simply staring at the ceiling. As I discovered in Colorado, too, we may fail to find our white space where we felt certain it would appear. And we may find our white space in places we weren’t expecting.
WHY does finding white space help us get our power back? Help us feel more confident about our next steps? Because we tap into our intuition.
When I say “get your power back,” I am most certainly not talking about “power over” someone or something – whether your kids, your employer, your family members, or your spouse. I’m talking here about YOUR power. Your ability to show up in the world. Make decisions. Take the next steps. Make a difference. And trust in your own ability to do all of this.
Today, mamas, I offer you two dares:
- To sit down and brainstorm where you can find YOUR white space. This knowing isn’t lost, even if parenthood has consumed you. It’s like the muscle memory of skating. Try it on, and it will come back.
- To intentionally carve out a period, sometime in the next 3 months, of more white space than you feel entitled to take. Was there a piece of me that squawked, “how on earth can you head to Colorado for 3 days to do something for yourself?” Of course. Was it worth every moment? Of course.
You are worthy of this white space, mama. It is restorative. Healthy. Magical. Transformative. And I know (with the same level of certainty that I know my children will ask for mac and cheese for dinner tonight), that taking the time for your white space will make you better at parenting and better at your work. Spending time in this white space is how we Mindfully Return to ourselves again, and again, and again.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for 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.