Work-Life Imbalance

On a daily basis I find articles and blog posts promising good advice on balancing work and family. They only seem to help with making me feel more out of balance. How do these working moms do it?! There is a deceiving calmness to the advice they offer and I always ask myself the same question. What am I doing wrong? A harmonious work-life balance is like Bigfoot; I want to believe it exists.

On occasion, I have brought my son to work. He’s well behaved when he’s somewhere new and loves the oooh’s, awww’s, and attention he gets from co-workers. Although I don’t know much about cooking, I do know a 1 year old and an office environment full of things he can’t touch is a recipe for a tantrum.

The working hours are long and even longer when I am lonely for my son. Which is like always. Working from home sounds nice, but I can’t even fool myself into believing that it would be a good option to consider. Worth a try, but likely not a productive solution.

Fortunately, I have found ways of feeling closer to my baby during the hours of 9-5 when I’m doing my ‘other job.’

My son is always in the care of family when I am at work. Instead of a standard written report telling me about his day, I get pictures through out the day showing me the exciting things he is doing. For a moment, seeing his pictures makes me feel like I am right there with him. Fortunately my co-workers are good sports when I show them the pictures too.

There is also a special area in my work space where I keep a few of my favorite (and fabulously Washington, DC) photographs. I proudly display his hand prints we made during his first day in the office many months ago. Don’t be fooled by the neatness and organization. This is the only thing orderly about my cubicle. Might explain why a work-family balance feels so unattainable to me.

Occasionally, there are those days and opportunities for bringing my son to the office. By opportunities, I mean days when a lower level of productivity is acceptable. Mostly, those are just weekends.

With President’s Day just behind us, I’m reminded of how difficult 3 day weekends can be. You know what happens to the mouse you give a cookie to, right? Inevitably when I return to work, I miss my son a little bit more than usual.

If there is a such thing as a work-life balance, I am still looking for it. In the meantime, I have his pictures, baby-talk phone calls, and a wonderful greeting each evening when I come home. Although the quantity of time I would like to spend with my son is significantly less than I would prefer, the quality of our time together is wonderful. Perhaps it is the quality of family time that keeps work-life in balance. In that case, mission accomplished.

 

UPDATE 03.01.2012 Check out a follow-up to Work-Life Imbalance at Getting Work and Life More in Balance.

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Blog Post by Her Bad Mother: Love Lifts Us Up, To Where We Probably Belong

Aside

Blog Post by Her Bad Mother: Love Lifts Us Up, To Where We Probably Belong

I wanted to share a blog post by Her Bad Mother. She talks about another controversial parenting subject; stay at home dads. She addresses the judgements others make and the complicated way some dads feel about being the parent at home. As I mentioned in the comment I left; We all eat the bacon. It doesn’t matter who brings it home. – Jennifer

This will seem like a statement of the obvious, but still, it bears stating: when we moved to New York City, everything changed.

Everything changed, of course, in the ways that you might expect: we went from living in Canada to living in the United States, we went from living in a very small town to living in a very big city, we went from living in a detached house with a basement and a yard to living in a loft, we went from socialized health care to totally not socialized health care. But it changed in this way, too: we went from being a household in which mom worked in the home and dad worked away from home to the reverse. And that, my friends, has made all the difference, and a difficult difference at that…

Continue reading at Her Bad Mother…

Also, the Co-Sleeping controversy.

Guest Post: Rich in the Force

By guest blogger, Natalie Turner:

Blog: Four Jedis

First off, thank you, Jennifer, for inviting me to guest post. It’s my first time ever doing this. I’m honored, and flattered to say the least. I love your blog, reading your thoughts, anecdotes, etc… and love that you are a fellow working mama and you speak from the heart.

When Jennifer asked me to guest post, immediately I had all of these great ideas, and then one-by-one, they started to stink and I had writer’s block. I was pretty certain I was going to write about being both a working mom and a workout mom. Like 99% sure. I started the whole story. But then Thursday came. I was going to write about how important it is to let children express themselves. Not to say that every mom out there has to let their child get a mohawk, but rather let them pick out their clothes, their hairstyles, their look. And finally, Friday came. For the first time in probably 18 months or so, I had a really slow day at work (only because I’m awaiting the news of a redirection for the project on which I work). It was refreshing. I was going to get to do a bunch of things I normally could not cram into one week, let alone one day.

After hitting the gym at 9:15 (normally a 6 am-er), I drove to my 5-year old’s school (his blog-name is Anakin, just FYI) to grab lunch with him (there is an open-door policy for parents to eat with their kids every day for lunch – I try to go once a week). I went through the lunch line with him and per usual told the kind ladies, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Anakin and I took our hot dogs with salad over to the table and sat down. It was fun to eat with the kids and converse, at least for a little bit. One of Anakin’s teachers, Mrs. B., asked how the hot dog was. I replied, “It’s probably the first of 2 hot dogs I will eat this calendar year, so no complaints from me, especially since I don’t have to cook lunch today.”

Sitting next to me on the right, was Anakin. On my other side was our little friend, Ewok. On Ewok’s other side was a little boy… we will call him Palpatine. On Palpatine’s other side was another little boy whom we will call Darth Maul.

Palpatine heard my statement to Mrs. B, and said, “You know, if you eat out every meal, you won’t have to cook at all.” I turned to him and replied, “Yes, but eating out every meal wastes a lot of money and it’s not very healthy.” He responded, “Well I’m really rich so we eat out a lot.” Holy crap, I thought. What is wrong with this kid? My son doesn’t even know the meaning of the word “rich.” And how does he know his parents’ financials? He can’t even count to 100. My actual response to him was, “However much money your parents have means nothing to anyone. You should be rich with knowledge and kindness.” I then turned back to the more pleasant children at the table to try and refocus my attention on them. I could not help but overhear Palpatine turn to Darth Maul and carry on with his need for everyone to know of his family’s wealth. Apparently Darth Maul is rich too. The two “friends” began arguing with each other:

Palpatine: “My daddy is so rich because he is a loooooyyy-yer.”
Darth Maul: “Mine is rich too. He works in the movie indust-wy”
Palpatine: “Yes, but is your house right on the water? Mine has a dock.”
Darth Maul: “We can walk to the beach.”

I couldn’t stand it any more. I spoke up and stated, “It doesn’t matter how much money your fathers have. What matters is how much they love you and spend time with you.” It sounded good, right? Well it was actually kind of a low-blow on my part, knowing that Palpatine has a full-time nanny. Full-time meaning she works on the weekends too, and did I mention that his mom is a stay-at-home mom? Little buddy, Ewok, started to tell them what his dad did for work. I got Ewok’s attention back from the other two and said, “You know what your daddy does that’s even more important than that? He takes you to the movies, and takes you to sports, and plays outside with you.” He giggled.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

On the way home from school, Anakin and I talked about what went down. I asked him if Palpatine talked about being rich a lot. Anakin asked me what the word “rich” meant and I told him how Palpatine described it and then what it means to Obi wan and me. He said he didn’t, but quite honestly, that’s the 4th or 5th time I have heard of Palpatine’s wealth. Anakin knew I was upset about the situation.

That night, at the dinner table, Obi Wan and I told the boys the 4 things they could do throughout their lives which would make them “rich” in the way that is most important. These four things are:
1. Always be kind and respectful to yourself and others.
2. Always use your head and be smart.
3. Always tell the truth.
4. Always work hard.

While we are going over them daily, we are also leading by example. Don’t be that mom whose child’s poor behavior ends up in a Star Wars’ lover blog.

So proud, the real Yoda would be.

2002: Not a Cool Enough Year to Make a Movie About

I’m not sure if you know this or not, but 2002 was like ten years ago. I know, right? If my son had invented time travel, I could take you back to 2002 with me. But alas, he is still working on it. I vaguely remember a few events that occurred in 2002 (who I was dating, where I was working, what I looked like) but mostly it is an intentional and embarrassing blur.

2002 was the year I had my braces taken off. Not the oh-I-didn’t-even-know-you-had-braces kind, the metal-made-radio-signal-disrupting kind. Yes, I graduated college with a mouth full of braces. Without braces in the summer of 2002, I proudly started grad school and work on my Master’s in elementary education.

2002 was the year I had my second to the last boyfriend. My next boyfriend became my husband. Sorry to the first-runner-up. I’d like to tell you you’re better off without me, but I think it’s the other way around.

2002 was also the last year I had with my Mema. Enough said.

Without the invention of time travel yet (come on son, mommy’s waiting) it’s easier to look forward than to look behind. As you can imagine, a lot can change in ten years.

2003: My grandmother passed away.

2004: I met my husband.

2005: Moved to Maryland where driving skills are optional when acquiring a driver’s license and was involved in a nasty car accident. Also, I started teaching.

2006: Did we skip 2006? I don’t seem to recall this happening. Yes?

2007: Taught 7th and 8th grade and planned-me-a- wedding.

2008: Married on July 26th. Left teaching to pursue some political opportunities.

2009: Worked and worked some more. Also, moved to Virginia because it’s for lovers.

2010: I got pregnant. Yeah, Virginia really is for lovers.

2011: Birth of my son on January 13th.

Knowing my luck, if I could go back to 2002 and tell myself what would happen in the next 10 years, the flux capacitor in my car would probably get it wrong and I would end up in 1985. And if you have no idea what I am talking about, you are the first person I am sending back to 1985 so you can get yourself some pop culture.

Blog-Baby-Book: Walking

For some time now, my son has been disinterested in sitting and laying. Although he would rather stand than sit when he plays, he hadn’t realized that you don’t have to be hold onto the wall to walk around. On Monday evening, he let go.

Why the sudden walking? Because my husband reached across the room and offered his cell phone to our son if he walked to get it. If you need to know anything about my son; if it DOESN’T look like a baby toy, he wants it. Really bad.

Within minutes our son was less interested in the cell phone than he was in all the cheers and attention he was getting. Amazing what positive reinforcement and encouragement can do for a child.

And to be clear, he IS walking like you and I although it does seem as if he is much less clumsy than I am. He’s not cheating in any way and I’m not exaggerating (I think we all know moms who stretch the truth).

Within 30 minutes, he was running in circles and shouting gleefully. My house hasn’t been this noisy since I had a newborn and a grumpy husband. Pretty sure this was what all the moms were warning me about when they said, ‘Oh, boy. Just you wait.’

As a working mom, one of my biggest fears is missing these moments in my son’s development. I am thankful to have witnessed and share this milestone with my son, husband, and mother. Quite obviously, I am very proud.

Blog-Baby-Book highlights baby’s firsts and developmental milestones.

How I Met Your Father

My husband will hate that I’ve shared our story. I love him, but mostly I don’t care if this bothers him or not. It’s my story too. It’s the story of how we met.

When you are in high school, everyone wants to know when you will get your driver’s license.  When you are in college, everyone wants to know what you are majoring in. When you finish college, everyone wants to know where you are working. When you are working, everyone wants to know if you are dating anyone. When you are dating someone, everyone wants to know when you will get married. When you get married, everyone wants to know when you will start making babies. After you make babies, nobody cares about you anymore and their attention rightfully focuses on said babies.

After I finished college I started graduate school and was working full time. So what that means is, I got stuck on the ‘are you dating anyone’ question for a long time.

Eventually, I had heard it enough.

Most 20-something acquaintances were meeting their significant others in bars. I had hoped to meet my significant other in a library. Yes, nerdy but I assumed a library is the type of place where I might increase my odds of meeting a sober and intelligent person. Yeah, no.

Eventually, I looked on-line. Take a moment to gasp as you ponder explaining on-line dating to your grandmother. But after 2 days of searching profiles, I saw a picture that I liked. Yes I know, you don’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s how I picked my husband.

In a day we were chatting on-line for hours, in a week we were talking on the phone until the early morning, and in two weeks we were making plans to meet. But the scary thought of meeting him was almost enough to make me say no.

He called me on a Saturday night and told me he really wanted to see if our connection was what we thought it was. Despite the distance between Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, we knew it was something special. Don’t get any ideas of a dramatic meet-up on top of the Empire State Building. That stuff is for Tom Hanks (le sigh)!

My husband and I met the following day, September 12, 2004, at the airport. He splurged on a ticket, endured questioning from airport security as to why he was flying on such short notice, and our first date consisted of five hours together (and a supreme pizza from Pizza Hut) before he returned home.

This is where my story does sound like a Tom Hanks movie. The romantic-comedy kind, not the Academy Award winning kind. After my husband left that day, I immediately told my mother that I had met the man I was going to marry. As your roll your eyes at my absolute lovey nonsense, now ponder explaining that to your grandmother. Did I mention she’s feisty?

Finally on July 26, 2008, my husband and I were married. I don’t know what it will be like someday explaining to my children how I met their father. Will on-line dating be a norm or a thing of the past? But most importantly, we did meet.

Life Labeled as a ‘Working Mom’

Hi, it’s me standing on my soap box. Yes… again.

Moms make difficult decisions every day: Should I buy the generic diapers on sale or should I splurge on name brand? Breast or bottle? Is my child crying because he really needs something or is he crying because he’s a little fussy? Despite the unsolicited advice and lectures I have endured regarding my family’s ‘controversial’ decision to co-sleep, the toughest parenting decision I have made is little more complicated and selfish; my decision to be a ‘working mom.’

Being a mom is a super-duper important job! It is both challenging and rewarding. Moms don’t earn a paycheck for their hard-work, but they raise curious babies who become intrigued children who become responsible adults. Moms are responsible for nourishing their children, keeping them safe, and totally loving them! If it sounds difficult and complicated, that’s because it is.

You have my deepest apology for using the clichéd term, ‘working mom’ as you read on (if you kindly choose to do so). Labels should be for jars of baby food, not moms!

Being a working mom has been a difficult experience for me that I underestimated and was not prepared for. Sure I’m always struggling to find time, but what mom isn’t? The issue has been an emotional one that I can no longer blame on hormones.

After 6 weeks of maternity leave, I was back to work in March of 2011. Was I ready? Not at all! Although six weeks sounded like a vacation before maternity leave began, when you actually have a newborn, six weeks is no time at all. I have since encouraged other working moms to take extended leave if possible, unpaid or not. Yes, where maternity leave is concerned I offer my unsolicited opinion to other moms.

So why be a working mom? For some, it’s not a choice. As a first time mom, this was one of the first decisions I had to make in which I had to put my own feelings second to doing what was best for my family. I’ll be honest, it was a tough lesson to learn. I was, and still am, very selfish about my child. I want to spend every possible moment with him (and what mom doesn’t).

But there were other reasons for returning to work as well and I only have myself to blame. I have worked very hard to get where I am today (shout out to the working girls!). Opportunities in my field are limited and highly competitive; leaving meant the likelihood that I would never be able to return to the position I am in today. I had to ask myself if I was ok with that, and my honest answer was no.

You may have noticed I seem to be contradicting myself. Yes I am. But I did say this was difficult. Honestly, after nearly a year of being a working mom, it hasn’t really gotten any easier and I still struggle with the same emotions. I can’t possibly describe how much it hurts when another mom says something like, “Oh, I can’t imagine being away from my children all day.’ Yeah, pretty much sucks as much as the guilt you just dumped on me.

So why do it?

It’s a combination of doing it for the good of the family and doing it for myself professionally. So far, being a working mom has been the right thing to do, despite the challenges.

When my son is not with me, he has been exclusively in the care of family members who devote 115% of their time, attention, and love to him.  Not only do I save a small fortune in child care (we’re talking more than $1000 a month per child in the DC area) but my son is with the same people who raised me. Mostly, I think I turned out ok and my son will too.

His reaction each evening when I get home from work also dispels my irrational fear that my baby will forget who I am and love me less because I am not with him 24/7. Babies understand families and love a lot better than we give them credit for. Added bonus that perhaps me being a working mom can someday be a teachable moment for him.

Emotionally, it is fortunate for me that my husband and I commute together and meet for lunch each day. Most people don’t think of traffic as quality time together, but we make the most of it. It’s also nice to talk about the stressful parts of our day before we take our stress home with us. We leave our stress stuck somewhere in traffic and give our son the better parts of our days.

I have no immediate plans for leaving work. Things are good and we like ‘good.’ Although my family intends to remain on its present course for the time being, we are open to re-evaluating things when the situation warrants other consideration. If I have learned anything about how quickly children grow and develop, it has prepared me for the very real reality that I will begin homeschooling soon enough and the label of ‘working mom’ will someday have a different meaning for me.