The Profession and Parenting: Strategies for Making It Work - Alison Gardiner-Shires

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Balancing a career and parenting is not exclusive to the athletic training profession; it is something many parents, in many different professions, successfully achieve every day. So, what is the key? In this series, we feature real stories from Athletic Trainer (ATs) parents who “make it work.”

Alison Gardiner-Shires, PhD, ATC is the Associate Professor and AT for West Chester University Department of Sports Medicine since 2008. She is married to Mark Shires, MS, ATC, NASM-PES who is the Assistant AT for the Baltimore Orioles Professional Baseball Team. Shires has completed 19 seasons with the various Orioles Minor League Teams and is completing his first season as the Assistant AT with the Major League Team.

The couple has been married for 12 years and are the proud parents of a 4-year-old boy named A.J. (Arthur John). Their son attends pre-school and is getting involved in soccer and swim lessons. Gardiner-Shires describes how she balances their family schedule.

Board of Certification: What’s a typical day like for you and your family?

Alison Gardiner-Shires: During the baseball season, starting January through September/October, Mark travels to Florida for Spring Training and goes right into baseball season. We currently live in Pennsylvania and the Orioles Stadium is about 1.5 hours from our house. Mark’s schedule is busy, but we make it work by me taking the lead on maintaining the daily schedule for our son. During the school year, I take our son to his preschool and I am in the office by 9am. I have arranged it so I don’t teach classes before 9am and can take him to school.

In the fall semester, I have athletic training responsibilities – I oversee all our out-of-season athletes’ rehabilitation between 1pm to-5pm, Monday through Friday. My typical work week really is 9am-to-5pm, Monday through Friday in the fall semester. When the baseball season ends, Mark is at home and off work, so he can take our son to school every morning and pick him up in the afternoon. I have AT clinical responsibilities one semester a year in the fall when Mark’s schedule is less busy. This allows me to have greater flexibility in my schedule during baseball season.

I have summers off, which is important because our summers are spent travelling with Mark. A.J. loves baseball and loves going to Mark’s games. All of our siblings and immediate family members live just south of Baltimore, so our summer months involve all things baseball and family!

BOC: What are some strategies you use to make your professional and personal life work?

AG: Understand “give and take” in your relationship: One of the strategies we use to support one another is to recognize when each other needs support. It may sound simple, but for example, during Mark’s off-season he does all our laundry, grocery shopping and catches up on house to-dos. This is tremendous help for me because he is off when I am busiest with work in the fall semester. Similarly, I am off of work during several months of the baseball season, so I ensure things are taken care of at home and focus solely on being with A.J. and capitalizing on our time together. I explain our lives as a “give and take” that changes throughout the year.

Seek advice and strategies to manage your lifestyle: I read the book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown a few years ago. It really helped me to take a hard look at all the things I do daily to determine what truly is most critical to me, my family and my work.

Now, when I am asked to do something, I ask myself a series of questions to determine whether my answer should be yes or no. “Will this activity/project make the highest possible contribution toward my personal/professional goals?” If I can’t quickly say yes, then I probably need to say no or ask for some time to think about it. If I say yes, then I ask, “what needs to go off my plate for this new activity/project to enter my plate?”

This may sound simple and easy, but it’s an ongoing exercise for me. I think so many ATs want to do it all, and I am certainly one of those people. I used to think I had to say yes to everything. Now I understand that no is not a bad thing. Along with saying no, embracing help and asking for help is just as important.

Self-care is critical: I have realized I am a better colleague, teacher, mentor, mother, spouse, friend, etc. when I ensure that I can put time into myself every single day. I have to exercise every day, and I have to build in quiet time into my day so I can rejuvenate myself mentally.

As a professor, healthcare provider and mom, I am always caring for others. While I thoroughly enjoy doing that, I get mentally exhausted, so I build in time for myself every day. Whether it’s 15 minutes here and there or a 45-minute chunk of time, I have to do it. I will shut my office door or go outside to walk with headphones on when I am at work. My son rests/independently plays in his room for about an hour in the afternoon, so I can have some down time as well.

Plan, plan, plan: I could not survive without Google calendar. Mark and I have a calendar for our shared events, A.J. has a calendar for his school things that we need to remember and I have several calendars for myself/work.

Maintain communication: Communication is important for our relationship. Mark and I talk on the phone multiple times a day. Whether it be little things, catching up or important conversations, the phone is literally our lifeline. Also, Mark, A.J. and I do video chat every single day during the baseball season.

Be present: I have created strict boundaries between home and work and do my best to adhere to them. For example, I do my best not to check emails when I am at home. Also, I don’t teach summer classes because that is time Mark, A.J. and I get to spend together to break up baseball season.

BOC: What is your greatest achievement as an Athletic Trainer?

AG: I get incredible joy from working with all my patients on a daily basis. It’s so rewarding and fulfilling to help others overcome mental and physical aspects of injury.

BOC: What is the best part of your day?

Every morning when A.J. runs into our room to say good morning and give us hugs. He wakes up with such joy, love and positive energy every single day … it’s incredible and inspires me to do the same.

BOC: What advice would you give a fellow Athletic Trainer who might be struggling balancing their career and parenting?

AG: Focus on what works, not what doesn’t. I would especially say talk to and learn from other working parents. Have one or more working parent mentors/friends that you can go to for strategies and support. Engage with other working parents – whether it via social media, colleagues or people you meet. Support is there for you. Often, we think our challenges are unique, when in fact we all share struggles and have similar obstacles. Lastly, but maybe the biggest for me, know what’s critical to you so you aren’t stretched thin in all aspects of your life.

This article was originally featured in 2018 winter “Cert Update” as a part of a series.

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