Trending Topics

If you keep your head where your feet are, you can’t do everything, but you can do anything

Fully commit to being present, wherever the present moment leads you

Female police officer GettyImages-531609538.jpg

Photo/Getty Images

She was lonely. She was irritated. She was tired. She was ready to be home. She had just spent the past two weeks at sergeants school learning about how to be a good first-line supervisor.

She was the second female in her organization to be promoted to the rank of sergeant. After months of studying and preparing, she nailed the interview and came out number 1. There was celebrating both at home and at work. Congratulations from colleagues, the promotion ceremony, the cake her 11-year-old baked for her (which was terribly underdone but she ate it anyway, and yes it was the best cake she ever had). She was assigned to patrol and was likely going to internal affairs soon. On the drive home she was thinking about what it was would be like to investigate her fellow officers. How her relationships with her colleagues were going to change and how she was going to navigate the caseload. She was already feeling isolated as a female in this profession, and now as a supervisor even more so.

Her husband didn’t understand shift work (or police work, for that matter) but he tried to support her the best way he knew how. He wasn’t keen on helping her process dead baby calls (she learned that the hard way) but he did most of the school pick-ups and drop-offs and helped her meal prep. Five hours into her drive she was about to get off the freeway – home was in sight – so she shook herself out of work mode. It was time to take off the cop hat and put on the mom hat. Her mindset shifted. She was reminded how painfully desperate she was for a hug from her child.

As she pulled into her driveway, her phone rang.

It was her lieutenant: “Hey, Kelly. I’m going to need you to come in. We have a high-risk search warrant to serve and all my SWAT guys need to go to briefing. I need you to help cover.”

Kelly replied, “Yes, sir. I’m on my way.”

Click. And that was that.

She sat in her driveway, numb.

Parent hat, cop hat

As a parent, you don’t ever really get to take off your parent hat. As a cop, you don’t ever really get to take off your cop hat. Trying to wear both at the same time can be a recipe for emotional disaster.

So, what do you do? Do you walk in the door to say hello just to walk right back out again? Do you text your husband, tell him you’ll make it up to him later and grab Taco Bell on your way to work a 12-hour shift?

I will tell you, there is no right answer. I wish there was.

How often has it been the case that in your quest for the right answer, you end up telling yourself you’re a shit mom (a good mom would be putting their kid to bed, not going to work) a shit spouse (a good spouse would be kind, compassionate and present), and a shit employee (you would rather be home but your choosing (ish) to go to in). Instead of telling ourselves “You are doing the best you can” we often fall into the habit of telling ourselves we are failing – at everything. It’s called negative attention bias. And it’s awful.

But does it have to be awful, always? Is there another way?

Mindset matters

Can you have it all? Can you be a good mom, a good spouse and a good employee? It depends on your definition of good.

What if, instead of guilting yourself into depression, you commit to being the best version of yourself, wherever you are.

I was talking to a wise dispatcher who mentioned that part of her daily mindset training involves telling herself Keep your head where your feet are. Easier said than done, no doubt. If you trained yourself to be mentally at work at the same time you were physically at work and mentally home when you were physically home, you might lessen the guilt you feel about being in one place physically and yet another mentally. Fully commit to being present, wherever the present moment leads you.

I often hear non-public safety folks talk about work-life balance. For many in this profession, striving for balance is akin to setting yourself up for failure. There is no balance from coming home from a 2-week school and having to go work a 12. There is, however, comfort in knowing when you’re home, you’re home, and 13 hours from now, you would be home kissing your child good morning.

She could hear her kid laughing, her husband laughing. Rather than interrupt their fun, she decided to back out of the driveway and go straight to work. She chose this job, they didn’t. This was her fault, not theirs. And then she remembered, keep your head where your feet are, and at this moment she was home. She got out of her vehicle and walked inside. Her daughter and husband were playing Rocketship. Her husband was exhausted (playing Rocketship with an 11-year-old is no small feat). So, mom jumped in. She rocketed hard for 10 minutes. Laughed. Gave her husband a much-needed break. She kissed her daughter whose cheeks were wet from laughing so hard and told her she would be home in the morning to take her to school.

“Be safe mommy, I love you.”

“Love you too, baby.”

As she got back into her vehicle, she let out a huge breath of relief. She wasn’t lonely anymore. She wasn’t irritated. She was still tired, but she was motivated, she remembered her why. She took off her mom hat and put on her cop hat and as she began her drive to the station, she told herself she is a good mom. She is a good spouse. And she is a good employee, because to her, being good means being present. No, she can’t do everything, but she can do anything. And she’s good at it.

Dr. Cherylynn Lee is a police psychologist and works full-time for the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office as the Behavioral Sciences Manager, overseeing the mental health co-response teams, CIT training and the internal Wellness Unit, including Peer Support. Dr. Lee is a member of the county’s threat management team and consults on threat assessment cases around the state. She also serves on the crisis negotiation response teams for both the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office and the Santa Barbara Police Department and teaches in the FBI 40-hour Crisis Negotiation Academy.

Dr. Lee has a private practice in the Santa Ynez Valley where she sees first responders exclusively, specializing in trauma, post-traumatic stress and mindfulness. She is contracted with The Counseling Team International to offer counseling and emergency response services across the state of California. Dr. Lee has led many critical incident stress debriefings for OIS, LODD, natural disasters and as requested by both local and state fire and law agencies.

Dr. Lee is also a subject-matter expert with CA POST on both officer and dispatcher wellness and has participated in several training videos and initiatives aimed at supporting and encouraging wellness for departments and their personnel. She currently sits on the California State Sheriffs Association Wellness board. She can be reached at