I wish I woke up every morning with a smile on my face, excited about another day, another opportunity to serve families in my community! But I don’t. Don’t get me wrong: I do love my job. I’m very grateful and often humbled when families let me into their sacred space, their lives, even just a little bit. But I don’t wake up every day feeling optimistic. And if I did, I’m sure the optimism would fade quickly by the time I got two little boys fed, dressed, loaded into the car and turned over to their preschool teachers for the day. Most days, I’m frazzled by the time I leave their school, yet I set out to support other caregivers of small children with disabilities. If I’m at the end of my rope, how on earth can I be my best during visit after visit each day?
Jeree Pawl and Maria St. John wrote a booklet for infant mental health home visitors called “How You Are Is as Important as What You Do… in Making a Positive Difference for Infants, Toddlers, and Their Families” (1998). It was referenced in a recent training I attended, and it really hit home with me as an early intervention speech-language pathologist. It doesn’t matter what I do as much as it matters how I am. It’s not enough to just show up; it’s how I show up. I want to show up as the best version of myself for each and every family- humble, present, engaged, regulated, responsive, and connected.
Strategies for Taking Care of “How You Are”
Below are some strategies that I’ve picked up along the way. They’ve been helpful for me. I’d love to hear what works for you!
Sleep, eat, and pee enough. Duh, right!? Except sometimes I show up to visits tired and hungry, with a full bladder. The 60 minute countdown begins. All I’m worrying about for the whole visit is where’s the nearest gas station and how fast can I get there. I wonder what families think when I just. can’t. stop. yawning. It’s really hard to change old habits, but on days when I get myself in bed earlier, eat regular meals, and go to the bathroom on a normal-person-who-doesn’t-work-from-their-car’s schedule, it’s a game changer.
Be safe. Safety may be the second lowest level on Maslow’s hierarchy, but I would argue that it should be the bottom level. When I’m afraid, I cannot eat or sleep. And I certainly cannot build a secure relationship with a child and family. This is a challenge because we don’t have control over where our families live or who they live with, but there are small steps we can take to be and feel safer. My team has recently revamped our safety plan, and it’s made a big difference. I feel more prepared, knowing what I am going to do in various circumstances.
Balance it out. There’s all this talk about work-life balance these days. Here’s what it looks like for me: When I can, I think about, read about, and do other things besides toddlers. One reason I really like the EI work environment is the fact that I can get in my car and turn on sports talk radio (shout out to 92.9 FM in Memphis!) and catch up on the latest Grizzlies basketball chatter while I drive to my next visit. Sometimes I return phone calls or reflect in silence, but sometimes the best thing to do is take a break and think about basketball.
Take a mindful moment. When it’s all welling up inside me, I feel it physiologically. My heart races, my breathing quickens, and my mind spins out of control. Then I stop. And breathe. I take three deep, slow breaths, focused only on my breathing. It takes 30 seconds. I find it’s helpful to do this sitting in my car right before entering my next visit. Just breathe!
Reflect. Man, I can be so out of touch with myself sometimes, and then I’ll react to something and think “Where on earth did ALL OF THAT come from?” I’m learning how to connect with and be aware of my thoughts and feelings (How does this visit affect me? How am I feeling about this situation, family, etc.? What was I thinking when I reacted that way? What do I need right now?), and I’m also learning to wonder about the thoughts and feelings of others, developing empathy. I have to be careful to be curious and not critical or judgmental in this reflective process.
Reflect with someone. I’m fortunate to work with team members and leaders who provide a safe place for reflecting and learning together. It’s not a gripe-fest, where we all vent to each other about all the hard things. It looks like someone else being curious with me, wondering about me, asking me about my thoughts and feelings. It’s also me doing the same for them. Again, without judgment.
Let us know what helps you to show up every day as your best self!
Share your thoughts about how you take care of yourself in the comments below!
Haley L. Vincent, MA, CCC-SLP is an early intervention speech-language pathologist working in Memphis, TN. She received a bachelor of science degree in communication disorders from Murray State University in 2005 and a master of arts degree in audiology and speech-language pathology from The University of Memphis in 2007. She began her practice working in the outpatient pediatric clinic and neonatal intensive care unit at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital and transitioned to community-based early intervention in 2011, working for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Her continuing education has included The Hanen Program’s “It Takes Two to Talk” certification course and training in the Sequential-Oral-Sensory (“SOS”) Approach to Feeding. She recently completed a 9 month series on Infant Mental Health for Home Visitors and is working towards an endorsement from the Association of Infant Mental Health in Tennessee in September 2017. She also has experience as a resource/foster parent for Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services. She and her husband Andrew have 2 little boys, ages 3 and 4, one biological and one adopted from foster care. You can reach Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org.