Some say that having a dog is good training for having a child. One comparison is a rule I learned in dog training class – dogs want you to give them boundaries. And once you have created the boundary, you have to continue to enforce it because a dog will bump up against that boundary and it doesn’t take long for it to disappear. Graham is almost two and a half and I intuitively notice him seeking boundaries. It shows up in the gleam in his eye when he begins his assent onto the kitchen table or hurls a toy across the room while looking directly at me. It is easy to think a child is trying to be difficult or its the terrible twos, but in reality, they do want to please you. Just like a dog wants to please it's owner.
I use to know my boundaries for Graham but as he grows up I find myself reassessing. For example, when he throws a toy, my reaction (enforced by dad) is the toy gets put on a high shelf the first time – zero tolerance. Then if he throws another toy almost immediately he gets to sit on my lap for some chill time. Then I count down from ten and he gets to go back to playing. The issue lately is he seems to be doing more things I don’t like than things I do. I can’t put a finger on it, but I feel like I’m saying “no” more than “ok” which is a balance I am uncomfortable with – I want him to be independent and test limits. So my plan (for now) is to try to evolve or adapt my parenting style as he grows up and at the same time stay consistent with the goal of encouraging his independence and encouraging him to openly express emotions. Adapt to survive, right?
The same principle seems to be relevant (necessary?) for law school. Every semester I have hopes that law school will be second nature; kind of like after you’ve been in a job for two years you know what to expect – but I have not found that to be the case. After the first six weeks you feel behind on everything, just like you have every semester before. I have noticed one consistent pattern about myself. Around mid-term I find a sliver of sunlight (usually in the form of fall or spring break) on my way to the end of a dark dreary path to finals. The sliver of sunlight is an opportunity to catch my breath and see the forest for the trees. I tell myself the available time is an opportunity to “get ahead” or “get caught up” but inevitably I end up putting school on hold; I believe it is because I know there is a long rough road until finals and there is certainly no respite that will happen between now and then. And so I rest.
I’ve gone through burn out in work situations and it is one thing I would never be able to overcome in law school; there just isn't time to catch up. In the past I have gotten burned out when I didn’t have realistic expectations of myself or didn’t have the confidence to give myself a break (cue the internal dialogue “if you don’t do this, you won't get that"). A more helpful monologue is “why am I doing this?” It is a useful question for almost every decision you take if life; analyze if you are doing things for the right reason. If my reasons not to do something outweigh my reason for doing it – I shouldn’t do it, at least not right then. And usually I’m right. Whether it is parenting or being a law student, it is always wise to trust your instincts.
Being a mom has taught me the importance of realizing burn out and asking for help. It has taken some time and I need to continue to evolve as my Graham grows up, but if there is one job that can’t withstand burnout, its being a parent. A weekend away isn’t going to help; burnout doesn’t happen overnight and it can’t be cured in a few days. Your child doesn’t need superwoman, he needs someone to love and care for him. It doesn’t have to suck the life out of you; you just have to figure out the right balance for them and for you. Also realize you will continually need to adjust your expectations of yourself when life tries to knock you off balance.
I closing, I encourage you to establish boundaries for yourself to avoid burnout and inform those around you of the boundaries you have for them (in a nice way of course). Continue to adapt, continue to evolve and do things because it is the right thing for you.