Like working moms everywhere, I have felt that constant struggle to find balance – the elusive, perfect ratio of time away from the kids versus financial gain. I had the ridiculous notion that if I could only achieve that equilibrium, I’d experience a zen-like ability to cope with all incoming issues, demands, and needs without losing control, grace or my identity – and it would be fun, too, right? Ha! Not bloody likely. All I can really do is take this whole thing day by day, project by project, constantly weigh the benefits of all sides, and keep myself as nimble as possible for the sudden shifts and last-minute changes-of-plans. This undeniable chaos is life as I now know it, and in the last year or so I’ve actually grown accustomed to mayhem’s face. One irony: I’m more organized than ever (just view my excel docs of kids’ schedules and my perfectly-filed orchestrations) yet I find myself frantically running … at all times … in all directions. Am I doing this right?
The reasons I chose to be a working mom are many – and some are even true. In the past I have run the gamut of justifications, yet wondered in the back of my mind if perhaps ego had more to do with the choice to continue working than financial gain, say. Or did the decision to slow the career down and center on motherhood elicit a secret relief to finally be out of the fishbowl of my given career? Yes and yes, but there is certainly more to it all than that. If only it were that simple, but look, my ego took a back seat quite a while ago, and no, this decision wasn’t my “escape;” I am most definitely a “running to” kind of person, not the “running from” sort, which I think makes me the variety that gets eaten by bears. In any case, reasoning is a wasted effort and the plight of a working mom is an endless topic of cyclical discussion – why, this very blog stemmed out of the conversations Georgia and I have had with each other and others on the very subject. No, it’s time for a shift …
The choice to do this, or the justification to do this, no longer interests me. I do it because I do it. It’s what I do. I’m happy with my life, even with chaos, or maybe because of it – I have no idea, but I can’t imagine not doing this, so there you go. As for balance … perhaps acclimating to flux is a good first step? These days I no longer question the why or the how; I’ve either evolved or I lack the energy … regardless, I’m now simply living within the paradox and observing some surprising truths:
1. Ambivalence centers me.
The second I leave the house for a business trip, the very second I leave, I miss my children to such a degree that I’m in pain and question why I’m doing this to myself – the very children, mind you, at whom I was likely screaming not ten minutes prior.
My husband and I both travel for work and we talk about this experience ad nauseam. We have a sort of shorthand exchange now when one of us is away; the roles are interchangeable, because we have both felt the same dichotomy hundreds of times. The phone conversation runs something like this:
“Hi, how was your trip in?”
“Good. I miss the beans. How is everything there? Are they behaving?”
“No. So-in-so is being a pain-in-the-butt, and the other one is crying in her room in a time out. I yelled and I wish I hadn’t – they are driving me insane.”
“I miss them.”
The one travelling is aching for the kids to such a degree that they are actually jealous of the one at home who is attempting Matrix-like moves to avoid the sharpshooter accuracy of children pushing buttons. Yet, upon hanging up the phone, that same traveler will then blithely turn on a movie and watch uninterrupted while ordering room service … after all, when in Rome…. The end result according to my husband, and all evidence supports his theory: we are better parents upon our return for having been gone. I don’t suggest this is true for all people, but for us, the “missing the children” is time well spent – an investment with tax-free dividends. I don’t claim this as a justification – it is simple fact: I appreciate the children with more flexibility, I listen to their adventures with more engagement, and I smile more brightly in their presence after a few days away. Yet even knowing this, the next time I leave, I hate myself all over. Still, the pendulum hits center twice as often as the extremes. Can this be balance?
2. Perfect vision is far-sighted.
When I’m home, I’m home, and I become so insulated by the day-to-day business of raising kids and checking off tasks that I lose all perspective and small mishaps elicit too much angst. Life becomes … drama. The same goes for work when I’m at work, (which in actuality is drama, but you get my point): petty issues, bruised egos, heart-breaking disappointments or perceived expectations can suck you into an all-encompassing, surreal, and yes, narcissistic, show-biz world – and it weighs me down. Each world requires a high level of commitment to reach your potential, so you would think that keeping one foot in motherhood and one foot in my career would make me half as effective in each endeavor, but you’d be wrong. The distance and constant change of perspective help me view each area with greater clarity through the lens of the other and the result is: I recognize what matters more easily, avoid pitfalls a bit better and navigate each world more effectively.
My family’s love and support, for instance, keep me sane while I traverse what can be a pretty heartless career path, which isn’t surprising. But, I think I actually bring more heart to what I do because of what I have gained from motherhood. The lessons have also taught me not to sweat the stuff that would have driven me to histrionics in my twenties. And who has the time, anyway? I only get to jump in and out, so I tend to enjoy it. And because I enjoy it, I’m better at it! This all just builds on itself. Those unnecessary stresses, it seems to me now, crept up when I had too much time to dwell and no one but myself to dwell upon! Well, that’s not a problem anymore. To quote the newest Disney Princess, I “let it go” and in doing so, experience a new freedom with which I can begin to explore the full extent of my capabilities. Go figure!
Likewise, at home my work is still on my radar, so to speak, and that little “blip” serves to remind me how important it is to support my girls in their goals and dreams. It seems so corny, I know, but because I head out there on a regular basis, I feel the reward of working hard to do something, and I hope to help my children experience that for themselves. Even in these young years, when they experience setbacks, I use the example of my successes and failures to exemplify lessons and to illustrate that all experiences are survivable, worthwhile, and of value – I see these truths myself so much clearer from this home vantage.
3. Guilt is a pleasure.
The moment I stopped trying to justify my decision to work – a veiled attempt to assuage guilt – I realized that guilt is simply part of the deal, kiddos. Raised by an anthropologist mother, I’m wired toward Darwinian reasoning of human traits, and so guilt must have some meaningful, survivalist purpose, yes? And if so, why are we trying to rid ourselves of it? Could I live without guilt? Or perhaps the better question is: would I want to?
Guilt, as I said, is just part of the cake-mix of motherhood. It’s on the recipe card right under “love,” next to “worry,” and above a series of catch phrases like, “because I told you to” and “I don’t care what your father said.” You can’t really be a mom without these ingredients, right? The key is to manage the amounts and with guilt you have to be careful. Guilt is an insufferable Hydra – you try to chop its head off, and two heads replace it. With guilt on exponential growth spurts, you can’t function at work or home! So for me, remembering and accepting that guilt is an integral part of what I chose with this life, I don’t fight it quite so much and it obediently remains at its proper level. Allowed to inhabit its rightful place, guilt then serves to remind me that I fiercely love my children and my choice to live this life. It helps me make thoughtful decisions on what I should and should not take on. It is, in fact, a strange pleasure if you choose to look at it that way. And if it also makes me hug that little one a bit closer when I come home, well, then it has served its purpose there, too. Right, Mr. Darwin?
The bottom line to this whole bucket of crazy: Balance is an ever-changing tide, so stop trying to nail it down. Embrace the madness of trying to do it all, and the time you save from not fighting it may allow you to tame it just ever so slightly. But mostly, just Kelly Slater this thing, folks!! Surf whatever life you choose like the pro who never lost his passion – the joy is infectious and the view unparalleled.