Mom Guilt ~ Is Work Life Integration a Pipe Dream?
Making Tough Decisions
Sometimes decisions are hard. Sometimes tough decisions don’t have a perfect outcome no matter what you choose. But (almost) always, you just have to decide to do something and move forward, accepting the consequences of your decisions. Such was the case when M and I recently reassessed my part-time work schedule.
We all have different situations with respect to employment (formal or otherwise, because even being a stay-at-home parent is a full-time job despite not requiring a W-2 or 1099). I am fortunate enough to work for an employer that offers a multitude of very formalized flexible work options. When T was born, I began working three to four days a week depending on the time of year (we have a VERY seasonal workload so winters require many more hours than summers and my schedule adjusts accordingly). With two little kiddos now, however, and changing responsibilities at work, managing my former schedule became incompatible with our lives and jobs. So as a family, we made the difficult decision to increase my schedule to four to five days a week, depending on the time of year.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that I’m lucky just to have these options both professionally and financially. Some people can’t afford not to work full-time. We’ve made certain choices and been fortunate enough in our lives to make that possible. Others don’t have careers that allow such flexibility. I consciously chose a career many years ago that I anticipated would offer great flexibility when I decided to have a family down the road.
Trading Glamorous Work for a Glamorous Schedule
(Sidenote: All you college students or potential accountants considering job changes, some things about public accounting aren’t all that glamorous. But it’s currently one of the most in-demand jobs and it offers immense flexibility throughout your career to ebb and flow with personal and family situations. So while crunching numbers isn’t particularly sexy, working part-time on a schedule of my choice is pretty slick.
I’m actually writing this post from the balcony of my sister’s house in Los Angeles overlooking a rising sun coming up over the valley before my client meeting later today. Flexibility and the ability to work remotely aren’t too shabby…)
Feeling the Guilt
With this change in my schedule, I’m excited to have a bit more consistency at work and during our week. To be honest, I’m excited about a lot of things that come with this change. But T seems to love his “home days” as he calls them. He loves his “school days” too. He’s young enough that I’m not entirely sure how much he’ll consciously miss fewer home days, or if he’ll even miss them at all. Maybe he likes school better. They do play all day and seem to have a blast. We’re really happy with their daycare, so maybe I’m over thinking this or giving myself too much credit. (He does ask about and seem to want a “home day” a couple of times a week. And each time he asks, it makes my heart wrench.)
I’m really feeling major Mom Guilt about choosing to work more days and reducing the number of “home days” that we have. Selfish as it may sound, I’m excited for me. But I wonder how it will impact my boys, if at all, and just feel plain terrible with respect to that piece of the change. The first Wednesday that used be a “home day” and we dropped them at daycare was even harder than I anticipated. (I actually brought them to daycare a couple hours later than normal to contend with some of my guilt….)
Defining a Successful Integration
Articles and discussions in the media regarding working moms (and working parents) and struggles to find the “work-life balance” or “work-life integration” (as I call it) seem to conclude this balance is elusive. But I challenge that the elusiveness doesn’t begin in finding that balance/integration/mash up. Instead, the first challenge we encounter comes just in defining what exactly success in this whole balance thing looks like. Anne-Marie Slaughter recently shared a piece on her opinion that achieving said balance is impossible. And when her definition of work and family success included living in Washington while her family remained in Princeton, NJ, I understand why her definition of work-life balance seems elusive. I certainly don’t think I could achieve that either.
But I contend that my definition of work-life integration might be achievable. Certainly I can’t work the current job I have full-time, engage with my family as often as I’d like, and fully commit to this blog with as much gusto as I’d like. That would require far more than 24 hours in a day. While I may be able to do anything, I can’t do everything.
However, what if my goals include being a great mom and wife, working part-time though maybe not advancing at the same pace as some of my full-time peers, and maintaining a blog that grows over time but at a somewhat slower pace than a counterpart whose made blogging their full-time job?
(I’ve graciously accepted that my house won’t always be clean, my children won’t always be dressed to the nines, sometimes we’ll have pizza or peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, and the boys may not even have their hair brushed. Those are not my goals. Thus, failure achieving pristine homemaker status doesn’t constitute failure to find my definition of balance or integration.)
If my goals lead me to a similar place but at a slower pace, might it be achievable to balance all three? We make compromises every day in life without compromising happiness and success, so why can’t a “compromised” or “slower paced” professional goal still be considered success?
Take It Day By Day
I don’t have the answer today. The answer manifests itself each day only applicable to that particular day or period of time depending on the circumstances. The answer seems to change from time to time as family and work circumstances ebb and flow, my desires modify and mature, and priorities are reorganized. I previously wrote about certain aspects of guilt manifesting in my heart a few months back. What works today may or may not work tomorrow?
Consequently, in my life at least, no definitive conclusion about the elusiveness of this “work-life integration” exists. I can only tell you on a particular day if things feel like they are working. And when the answer is no, I can then put forth effort to identify solutions to fix the imbalances du jour (like changing up my part-time schedule or setting aside the blog for a few days).
I suspect many of you are balancing careers, families (and I don’t necessarily limit this definition just to children and a spouse), possibly a blog, and various other hobbies, commitments, and leisure activities. What do you think? What’s working for you? How do you accomplish all your personal and professional goals? Have you compromised your happiness in an endless chase for your definition of success in too many competing components of your life?
P.S. As a comfortable cotton dress I can toss in the washer, this is a perfect dress for a working mom with little ones frequently covered in peanut butter, chocolate and myriad crumbs from lunch!
Dress – Target (refashioned); Jacket – Target; Boots – Aerosoles; Necklace – self-made