I’ve been a working professional long enough now that people start asking me to talk to emerging professionals about various topics in the workforce. Unfortunately, what irks me is that the most frequent topic I’m asked to speak about is work/life balance. I let anyone who knows me know that I have a lot to say about a lot of stuff and of course, as the mother of two children, I can't help but have a lot to say about work/life balance. Yet it bothers me that this balance is what I am "most well known for" in the professional realm. Sometimes, I wish people wanted me to speak about the other things in my professional life that I know a lot about. I’d like to think that I do a lot of things well and maybe there's someone out there who could learn something from what I have to say about it.
Today, however, I realized that on the outside, it must look like I do a really good job of balancing working full-time and managing a household. I guess I should be happy about that because, on the inside, I feel like my ability to balance my two worlds is not good at all. I’ve been under the impression that my ability to assess a resume and understand the tips for work place success as a young professional are far superior to how to raise two healthy, balanced individuals while also paying all my bills and surviving in this world.
I would like to think that people might see me as gender-less in the professional world and might focus on the work that I do and not the fact that what I do best is juggle having a job and essentially being a woman. The problem with this idea is that, in our society, it actually is an uphill battle to climb the professional ladder as a woman. Then, if you do a job, and you do it really well, and you’re a woman, and then you also raise a family, and theoretically do that very well, too, well that, apparently, is pretty noteworthy. It's panel-worthy.
I really wish that weren’t the case. I really wish it didn’t matter that I was a mom and I work. I wish, when people thought about me as a professional, they thought about me as a professional and that they wouldn't think about me as a mom, too. Listen, I’m not saying that women should hide the fact that they're moms when they’re working. As a matter fact, I don’t hide it at all. I’ve got pictures of my kids all over my office, I talk about them regularly, and they often make an appearance with me at work. I’m not afraid to tell someone that I have to reschedule a meeting or change the time of something I’ve committed to because my children are my priority and sometimes, I have to switch my schedule to address things that my children need.
What bothers me is that, regardless of photos in my office, or some occasional kid brag/bitching, it’s so obvious that I have to juggle work/ life balance and I don’t think anyone has ever asked Andy to serve on a panel to talk about how he manages work life balance. And it bothers me that, when I’m on these panels, there’s usually maybe one guy. I work in what I would say is a fairly progressive place, and there are several men who share this responsibility along with their wives or partners, but proportionally, there are still way more women to talk to about how hard it is to juggle professional life and child rearing. Why is that?
Here’s the thing: like I said, I’m not sure, that among all the women out there doing exactly what I do, I’m the best person to ask to speak on the topic as though I am an expert. I’m also a runner but nobody asks me to talk about being a really awesome runner because I’m not. I’m just a regular hobby runner. Work/life balance is also my hobby, just like running. I do it, I do it every day, I like to talk about it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve mastered it or that I do it really well. So when people asked me to speak about work/ life balance, not only am I pissed, but I feel like an imposter.
Don’t they know that I am not balancing my life very well at all? Don’t they know that every day, on the way to work, I cry a little bit because I feel overwhelmed? Don't they know that I lose my patience with my kids when I walk in the door from work and haven’t even taken my coat off, and they scream at me and tell me that I need to help them immediately remove a stuffed animal from their backpack, and I drop the F bomb in their face and then go hide in the bathroom? Don’t they know that, instead of creating a game day, or cuddling up with the kids on the couch and reading a story, I sometimes just hold my phone, open an app, and stare at it without even knowing what I’m staring up? Right in front of my kids? Don’t they know that every single time Andy tells me he has to work late, and I realize that I have to work late, a little piece of my soul dies because I’m so sick and tired of spending all of my time, when I’m not caring for the kids or working, figuring out who is going to care for my kids while I’m working?
I don’t want to be a role model for women trying to balance work and life.I don’t want women who haven’t had a child yet to look at me and think they can do it because I can do it. Because inside I’m really tired and overwhelmed and constantly questioning whether there really is such a thing as work/ life balance for a woman who has children. And if there is such a thing, you’re not gonna find it by observing my life.
Over the last three years, my running has come in fits and starts. I’ll get injured, sort of recover, and start running again, only to endure another injury. I keep trying to go back to it because I am persistent and stubborn. Similarly, with my hobby of juggling work and life, every time I think that I can’t do it anymore, I go to bed, get up the next day, and do exactly what I thought the night before I couldn’t do. This winter, I thought a great deal about whether or not I should start running again, but I have some serious doubts. My body is a bit broken and I need to figure out how to heal it before I jump back in. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can do a better job of managing my work/ life balance. Because I’m feeling a little broken and bruised from that, too. My mind and soul muscles feel strained and I’m worried. If I keep pounding on them, they’re going to snap. A runner knows that strength training is critical to long-term running success. I need to find ways to incorporate strength training into my work/ life balance so that I can continue in the marathon that we endure as working mothers.
Until that time, I'd prefer not to be asked to serve as an expert on any more work/life balance panels. I am open to serving as a panelist for many other topics, however: being a smart ass, making pancakes from a box, reciting Hallmark Christmas movies or maybe, just maybe, writing a blog.
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