By Guest Blogger Hillary Zaken
Dear working parent, I see you. I see you juggling work and childcare and self-care and your home and your chores and your relationship and your community involvement and your children’s extra-curricular activities, striving for that elusive thing called work-life balance.
Why, you ask? Please permit me to explain.
A few years ago, I was in a job interview, and the interviewer asked me to define my concept of work-life balance. Well, I responded, my mother set a precedent for me that enriched and defined my childhood. She worked as a high-level government official with a high-powered career, but she was always home for dinner (when she wasn’t traveling). She set a priority, family dinner. A very important priority, in my opinion. She started work early. She made sure she met her goals and exceeded expectations. In her career, she was ambitious, successful, and productive. And at home, she was always there for my brother and me.
So, I told the interviewer, while I think that true work-life balance is a myth, I am seeking a meaningful, flexible job I love, and the ability to have dinner every night with my kids, because that is extremely important to me.
Reader, I got the job. I am home every night for dinner with my kids (with very rare exceptions). And I don’t think about achieving work-life balance (too much).
My house is a mess, we live out of laundry baskets, and it’s mid-January and my yard is still full of leaves. Why? Because my meaningful, flexible job doesn’t pay a ton, and therefore doesn’t permit me the luxuries of a cleaning person or a yard service or other outside help. In fact, we live paycheck to paycheck.
I don’t always get my chores done, sometimes I reschedule dental cleanings three times, I don’t volunteer as much as I want, and sometimes the kids eat frozen pizza. There are times when I have to respond to work emails or texts, take calls, or monitor social media posts in the evenings or on the weekends.
And I am happy. Why? Because I don’t expect a perfect balance. Sure, I try to make sure my seesaw is not totally lopsided in the direction of work or in the direction of personal life. It’s always slightly askew, and that is a-ok with me.
I don’t seek the balancing act, I reject the tightrope and the scales, I celebrate the imbalance. I don’t judge myself if I come up short by someone else’s standards, instead, I fully embrace the imperfection of life. I understand that sometimes I’ll have extra work, and other times, I’ll have bountiful family time.
I teach my kids that nothing is perfect, except in math, and I model the embrace of imperfection. So please, working parents, be ok with your self-perceived flaws, not being internet perfect, and having a lopsided seesaw.
Having it all is a myth. And quite frankly, who wants it all or has time for it all? The sooner we all accept that, the better.
This doesn’t mean don’t work for what you want, or choose what makes you happy. Please, work hard. Be ambitious. Be the best you that you can be. Make the choices you want and need to make: get promoted, work 60 hour weeks, make a Pinterest-worthy dessert, take time for self-care, take your kids to six different sports practices. I am not judging your choices. You do you.
But please, please, do not strive for that elusive thing called work-life balance. A perfect balance is a toxic myth. If you focus on that, in my opinion, you are only going to get frustrated and feel like you are behind, not enough, maybe even a failure.
Our country’s work culture demands that we go above and beyond, that we be willing to work until the job gets done. That our relationship with our career and our workplace takes precedence over our relationships with our partners and our children, and that our job (or jobs!) becomes part of our identity (“Hi, nice to meet you. What do you do?”). This goes for all of us, from the barista at Starbucks to the corporate attorney to the chemist to the non-profit program manager to the welder and beyond.
STOP! Reject the pressure to be it all, have it all, do it all.
Instead, do what makes you happy as much as possible. Make choices that work for you today, and know that tomorrow or next week you may make different choices. Let some things drop and don’t stress it. Give up on so-called balance of work and life. Seesaws always go up and down.
All of our seesaws are lopsided, and that’s just fine. And no matter how mine sways, it always includes family dinner.
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