This week’s episode features my conversation with special education professional, mom, and military wife Carla Swartz. Join us as we discuss balancing a busy career, parenting, and a spouse in the military.
Military spouse or not, we all need to learn to rely on others during busy times
Carla Swartz is a special education professional who lives in western Pennsylvania with her husband, who’s currently on a long deployment with the U.S. National Guard, and their two children, a 21-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. She works for a public cyber charter school as a Regional Director of Special Education.
Prior to moving into administration, Carla taught special education for 10 years, which has always been a passion for her. As Carla’s children grew, her career blossomed and she found herself ready to move into an administrative role, which she has been doing for the last 4 years.
Carla has found that as she has grown older, she has learned to better balance her career with her husband’s career, as well as her family life. In Carla’s free time she loves to read, trail run, and shop for antiques. She’s also a member of the TPW Community Facebook group, which is how I connected with her.
A typical day
Carla is an early riser (between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m.) and likes to start her day with a treadmill workout while she listens to a podcast. She has found it a bit challenging to stick with this schedule since working from home but knows she is just not her best without her morning exercise. She needs this time to herself in order to have a successful day. Carla also takes breaks throughout her workday to listen to music and dance a bit around her office to clear her head, rather than be in work mode the entire day. She sets an alarm to remind herself to do this each day.
Although her husband has been on long deployments before during their marriage, Carla has found that with this particular deployment she has been especially challenged with finding a balance as a mother. Every day she tries to focus on only the priorities, whether that be personal or professional–what absolutely needs to be done and when that will be completed.
If she has any remaining energy after completing the top priorities, she will work on other things. However, at this point in her life, Carla is comfortable with having things left undone at the end of the day. She knows she can always get to them the next day.
She tries to be very cognizant of her time, prioritizing only what is most important for her and her family. Carla has found that as she’s gotten older, she’s realized that getting everything done perfectly is not a realistic goal and not important. If you set yourself up for perfection all the time, you’re going to feel like a failure all the time.
Carla also thinks it’s important to ask for help and rely on others to help you get things done, such as professional peers or family. Carla explains that she got to this way of thinking over time through trial and error and maturing, but also through making mistakes and getting burnt out. She got to the point where she was getting overwhelmed and making mistakes and realized that she had to ask for help, and it was okay. Asking for help didn’t come naturally to her, but she’s learned she can’t do everything and isn’t meant to.
Carla is grateful that her parents and in-laws live nearby, as well as good friends she can rely on to help her when her husband is away. If you are in a similar situation to Carla but don’t have family close by, she recommends stepping out of your comfort zone and searching out people in the community who can help. Be open to new relationships, join mom groups, and put yourself out there. Community matters to all of us, but it’s especially important to those whose life partner is away for long periods of time due to military service or other work commitments.
Biggest productivity challenges
Very early on in Carla’s career, she set up an expectation for herself that her day was not done until all her work was done. This became very difficult to maintain over time, though, because as a teacher, there is always more work to do.
When it comes to Carla’s role at work, there are certain times of the year that are busier than others, such as at the beginning of the school year in the fall, and during those times she knows she will be working more hours.
When her husband is home, they try to balance things as much as possible so Carla can focus on her work, and the children help out too.
Carla allows herself to feel okay about letting some dishes stay in the sink or not keeping the house perfectly cleaned up because she knows her work needs more attention at times. Each stage of your life will be different, but there will never be a time when you can “do it all”. Give yourself grace. There will always be work to do but your children will not always be young and you won’t always be able to spend quality time with your spouse. Cherish the time you have with your family.
Carla’s husband is currently on his third deployment (he’ll be home at the end of May) and she thought she knew exactly what to expect this time, and had a good system in place. However, with her son in college and her teen daughter in a more independent stage, she has found it to be lonelier than expected. She has tried to find a balance between working her career while also parenting her teen daughter. Carla has learned to compartmentalize her feelings in order to cope with this. When she is working, she tries to not think about her husband but when she isn’t working, she allows herself to fully miss him, cry, and feel sad. But she doesn’t allow the grief of the situation to overwhelm her because it really isn’t healthy for her.
Maintaining her relationship with her husband while he is away can be a challenge. At times, the relationship is reduced to a sort of pen pal interaction, almost more of a friendship. It’s always hard to make adjustments to the relationship as he deploys and then comes back home, but she has learned to be okay with it without feeling guilty.
These deployments have also allowed Carla to grow as a person and be stronger, which is good. But when her husband returns home and she sees how much he has grown too, and without her, that can be hard. Although deployments are only a year long, they really seem to take about two years out of your life, because there are life and relationship adjustments that have to be made before, during, and after the deployment. After Carla’s husband returns home, it takes time to re-form routines and get used to having him around.
What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?
Carla has definitely had days where things have piled up and come to a head, especially during the pandemic. Her personal and professional roles have been combined, in a way, because everything is done at home. She may have days when one of her children needs her for something while she is working, and that can be a challenge.
During these times, Carla does what she has to, which may mean delegating things to people who can help her, or playing catch-up at work later on in the evening. Carla prioritizes by asking herself, “who needs me the most?” She is also okay with asking for help or being willing to work extra hours if necessary. In a crisis, Carla is very good about being in the moment and finding and maintaining calm, which is something she has learned how to do over time.
What’s on the horizon for Carla?
Carla hopes that the pandemic will soon come to an end and she can resume normal activities. She is looking forward to a planned trip to New Orleans with her husband when he returns home from deployment.
Carla’s last words for the listener
There is always going to be something to do. You will never have a time in your life when you will be 100% done with everything. Be okay with leaving things on your plate and not stressing about it. You only have one life and the people in your circle will only be here for so long. Let others in your life know you love them and make time for them. They are what is most important.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Connect with Carla
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Royse City, Texas