One of the superpowers that comes with being a nurse is the gift of prioritization. We are taught from day one in nursing school about concepts like “ABC” airway/ breathing/ circulation and Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but how does this knowledge translate into our lives away from the bedside? How can we show up for the people that matter most to us while working a job that is so demanding of our entire selves?
Serving as advocates at the bedside for patients, nurses are masters of prioritizing for others. We anticipate needs, facilitate care, educate patients and their caregivers, and collaborate on customized plans of care. However, I can’t be the only one who struggles with learning how to apply these skills to my life outside of work. As Cat Golden of Nurses Inspire Nurses says, “Human first. Nurse second.”
Many of my early years of nursing were spent without children, so I got into the unhealthy habit of putting all of my time and energy toward work in the name of being a dedicated nurse. When my daughter was born four years ago, I had no choice but to shift my focus. I wanted to make sure she knew that I prioritized her over my work.
A few years and another daughter later, the pandemic hit. Suddenly, everything was centered around the work the healthcare profession did around the world. This resulted in more challenges and unanswerable questions around how to prioritize our families over our job.
It is difficult to “leave work at work” when so much of our physical, mental, and spiritual energy is spent serving others. It often feels like there is not enough left to care for those that mean the most to us. So, how do we go about changing this? Here are some things I’ve done to let my girls know that they are my top priority.
Nursing is Part of a Whole
Acknowledge that my career is only part of who I am and I cannot give all of myself to just one small part of me. Practically implemented, this looks like remembering that I love to read and making time for that. It also means stopping to enjoy my local coffee shop. By recognizing that nursing is only one piece of my life, I am able to see things from a better perspective when I am at work.
Get out Your Calendar
Schedule intentional time with family on days off. This could involve going to the park or museum. It may even be as simple as reading a book together and coloring. To focus your attention, make sure that this activity is spent away from phones, laptops, and social media. I know my coworkers with older kids like to sit down and have conversations about how they want their parent to show up for them. Maybe the child doesn’t care who shuttles them to practice, but would like for the parent to be present for game day. I know one kid who wanted a parent to be there so she could verbally decompress for 30 minutes after school.
Stay present when not actually “there.” I travel alot for my work, which means there are many times when I am not physically there for my kids. In these instances, I collaborate with my husband and children to determine the best time for a video chat during the day. Sometimes, I read the girls a bedtime book. Other times, I just chat with them while my husband takes a break from child care. I am continually surprised by my kids’ genuine interest in what I’m doing. Typically, a quick run-through of my day provides quality conversation.
Put work on hold when a child or family member is in need. I am ashamed to say that I struggle with this. I can justify working daily with sick patients who need my help, but somehow find it difficult to call out sick when it comes to my own family. I struggle with the guilt of letting my work team down. However, I have realized recently that this is not my responsibility. I am not a manager and it is not my job to figure out how to adequately staff my team. On the other hand, my family is my responsibility. My kids can’t understand what nursing means to me if I don’t show them what a nurse does—care for others in their time of need.
Much like nursing, being a parent is messy.. It can be exhausting to constantly juggle your kid’s needs while feeling like you are falling short of the mark.At the same time, I have experienced some of the best rewards of my life through discovering new things about my kids—even more so than in my career. Balancing priorities is a futile myth, but finding the beautiful in the mess? That will always be a worthwhile endeavor.
Amy Moore, RN is an oncology certified travel nurse. She works and travels around the country with her husband, daughters, and puppy Peter.