Between the Rock and the Hard Place

I want to tell you every detail of that torturous moment.

I want to set the stage for you, to share the context of why I felt torn in two on a sunny Friday afternoon, sitting in my own living room.

I want to describe, in painstaking detail, the stakes of the conference call blaring from the speakerphone in my hand, combined with the stakes involved in talking to my daughter, who was melting down with a plaintive whisper of, “Mommy, I just miss you.”

But the specifics don’t matter. The moment is all-too-familiar, and all-too-frequent in thousands of permutations and scenarios across any given week.

Work needs me. The kids need me. They are both important. But the rules of engagement are so different across each.

At work, it’s not actually ok (at least not very often) to excuse yourself from a conference call and say “I’m going to call back in in 10 minutes when my child is no longer crying.” And, it’s not cool to tell your kid “I will talk to you in an hour, so please hold your overwhelming emotions and hurt until then.”

And so I tried to do both. I tried to keep the call going on speaker phone and sit next to my daughter, with my arm around her shoulders and my mind completely elsewhere.

Inside I felt panic rising.

And that’s really the point—the rising panic made me temporarily lose my mind.

That particular call, with those particular colleagues, could probably have managed without me for several minutes, and they might even have been able to listen to the real reason with empathy (I don’t think I would have had to lie, although it crossed my mind.)

And, my daughter may have been able to steady herself if I could have said, with any presence of mind, “I see and hear your hurt, and I want to know more when I’m off this call.”

That’s what I wish my prenatal and birth classes and parent nights at the school would teach me—how to hold my own presence of mind when I feel as if I’m being torn in two pieces. How to breathe into that feeling long enough to express it, or let it pass me by, whatever is better for the moment.

Do you know this feeling? Do you handle it with ease or do you mess it up on both sides? Do you think about what you could do differently or better next time, and do you count yourself a learner in those moments? Tell me in the comments what it feels like for you.

This feeling is one I explore in detail in my new book, coming out in September. Sign up for my emails, and you’ll be the first to get a copy!