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Episode 5: “Do” Less



[00:00:02] Parenting is hard enough on a good day — but when you're facing a huge change like divorce, moving, a health crisis, or even a pandemic, it can be downright overwhelming. My name is Sara Olsher and I'm the founder of Mighty + Bright, where I help your family cope with the uncertainty that comes from life's major upheavals. Together we can help your kids take this hard time and turn it into resilience that they'll be able to use for the rest of their lives. Join me for quick and easy 5 to 10 minute episodes that will leave you feeling 100% positive that you got this.

[00:00:40] When I was married and my daughter was really young, like a baby, I did so many things. I did a lot of things out of insecurity and feeling like the more that I did, the more worth I had.

My daughter had a really pretty nursery. My mom and I slaved over making these adorable little bumpers for the crib and finding just the right crib. It was modern and a combination of white and wood and it had the cutest little sheets. And I did artwork for all of the walls. Everything was pink and red and orange and just like the most perfect modern nursery. And then when my daughter was one, I redid the whole nursery and made it into a "big girl room" again with another theme of a city. And it was so much work, but I felt so good. I felt like a good mother who did these things for her daughter.

When I got a divorce, I realized that all of these little things that I was doing every day, the things that kept me so busy, I couldn't do anymore, and I had to find a way to feel better about myself by doing less.

I still didn't ask for help. Instead, I focused on the things that I felt were 100% necessary and dropped the rest. I had a job where I had to commute into San Francisco from Marin County, which was 45 minutes each way. And I had to put my daughter in daycare. I did what I felt was 100% necessary for our lives. 

[00:02:38] I remember one day I was rushing, rushing, rushing to get on the ferry from my city of Larkspur, which was across the bay from San Francisco. And I was so afraid I was going to miss the ferry and be late to work. And I realized midway through rushing and being so, so stressed, that whether I stressed or not, it wasn't going to make me get there any faster. I was not more likely to make it to work on time by being stressed about it. So I tried to take some deep breaths at my red lights and I did get there on time. But learning that doing more and worrying more didn't get me anywhere faster or better was a lesson to me.

Now, I still wasn't asking for help, and as a single parent, I was doing so much and felt stressed all the time. However, I was able to give myself little breaks. For example, I didn't put an organic meal on the table for us every night. But for the most part, I was still stressed about everything I wasn't doing.

By sharing custody every other weekend, I was forced to take time for myself that I don't think I ever would have taken otherwise. When I was sharing custody with my ex-husband, I was forced to have time away from my daughter, and then I got time with myself — which is something that I don't think most parents get the chance to do, or many moms don't allow themselves to do. And that was a real gift, because it gave me space to get to know myself again, and it gave me space to realize that I needed time to calm down.

[00:04:25] And then when I got used to taking that time to calm down because I was forced to take it, I was able to recognize when I needed that space during the time when I did have my daughter.

Then I got cancer, and that forced me even more to take time for myself to slow down, because all the things that I had piled on my plate, all of the things that I had to do, my full-time job, putting food on the table, making lunches for school, going to after-school activities, picking my daughter up from school, feeling guilty if I couldn't pick my daughter up from school because I had to work. . . I had to let all of that go. Because when you are given a cancer diagnosis, it really clears away everything that isn't important and leaves only what is 100 percent necessary.

I remember when cancer treatment was over and it was time for me to go back to work. I had been in treatment for a year and I had really gotten used to the slow pace of life recovering from cancer. And I remember the first day that I went back to work I had one meeting. It was a lunchtime meeting and I think it was like two hours where we ate yummy food and we talked about business, and I freaked out. I freaked out. And luckily, I had a person on speed dial, my friend Carmen, who had gone through treatment with me. We used to take walks together, very slow walks.

[00:06:12] And I called her and I said, "this is too much. I need space. I need the spaciousness of treatment. And all of these people and all of this talking is too much."

I gave myself permission to do less during treatment because I felt that I didn't have a choice. But the reality is, I did have a choice and I have always had a choice to do less. Learning to do less because you are forced to do less is really not a great way to learn that lesson.

And what I hope for you is that you can take the lessons that I learned through divorce and cancer —about really evaluating what you have to do in your life and doing less of it — because doing less and having less obligations frees you up to have creative ideas, to spend time doing things that you enjoy, to spend time doing things that you enjoy with your kids, to recognize the things that you enjoy and the things that you don't enjoy and do more of what you do enjoy.

[00:07:33] Like, I don't like playing video games with my daughter. I don't. And I don't do it. She can play video games with her friends. She can play it with my partner. I'm not going to do it because I don't like it. What do I like? I like board games. I like doing crafts with her, and I do that because I enjoy it. But I don't feel guilty for not doing things I don't enjoy anymore.

The reality is that we have a lot less to do than than we convince ourselves of. So my encouragement to you is to spend some time being quiet, being with yourself and getting to know yourself and what you actually like. And then, doing more of that and less of the stuff that you don't like. Don't pack lunches if you don't like it—teach your kids how to do it. If you have one, teach your partner how to do it, or get creative and share with other families. When I say share with other families, I just mean if you hate packing lunches, see if a mom friend will pack lunches for you for the week. In exchange, you do something you like do, like plan crafts for the kids to do via zoom.

[00:08:42] There's all sorts of creative ways that you can share the load with your village. When I moved to the city that I'm in now, I was invited to join a single moms group (despite the fact that I was partnered —that's the whole reason why I moved here). I happily joined this group and wished that I'd had something like that when I was first separated, because the community of having people on your side who are going through what you're going through was really freeing to me and for my daughter. She was able to feel seen and I was able to say, "I will bring the wine. You bring the spaghetti, somebody else brings the brings the salad. And we'll sit around and we'll talk and we'll do us and we'll do more of what we like and our kids will play and we won't need to worry about them."

And it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.