“This brings me to the most important lesson I wished I’d known when I first had kids: There’s no such thing as balance, only priorities of the moment”
‘Work-life balance’ seems to be a mantra that everyone uses now, even those without kids. It’s this idea that you need an equilibrium in your life between your work-for-pay and your time away from work-for-pay. Mostly, I hear about how bad most people are at this work-life balance. To complain about how busy and overworked you are is like a currency in our society. Busy-ness (and complaining about busy-ness) proves your importance.
Erin Cochran wrote a piece for the Washington Post the other week about this topic. She essentially argues for the famous Madeline Albright line: women can have it all, just not all at once. As in, you can have a successful career and a happy family—but maybe not at the same time. Cochran quit her high-powered job to stay at home with her kids (though now she runs a small consulting firm, and clearly does at least a little freelance writing as evidenced by this article. Not sure if she still considers herself a stay at home mom or not, but she does identify as it in the article). Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about her main theme. Some days I agree with it—something’s gotta give if you’re going to do anything well. But another part of me is stubborn and wants to not give up on the ideal.
One quote in her article, though, hit close to home: “There’s no such thing as balance, only priorities of the moment.” When I was going back to working full-time in my PhD program (after an amazing 6-month maternity leave), I had many hard days. I intentionally and consciously wrote out my list of priorities to get me through those hard days.
My son (and family in general)
My physical and mental health
My job (and within that, professional activities that promote social justice).
When 4pm rolls around some days and I’m irritated that I didn’t finish everything I wanted during daycare hours, I take a deep breath and ask myself: What’s more important—reading this journal article or high quality time with my son? The answer always is—and always will be—my son. I want to pick him up by 4:30 each day so that I had 2.5-3 solid hours of hang out time with him. He is what matters to me. Knowing my priorities is a mindfulness strategy that allowed me cope with the stress of working-for-pay and being a mom.
Now, I don’t think that you are a bad mom or a bad woman if these aren’t your priorities. One of the beauties of living in the era we do is that women should (in theory) be able to set their own priorities. You prefer your career over having a family? Baller. Do it. There might be days in the future when I really don’t want to pick him up from daycare because this project I’m working on is really important and engrossing. They haven’t come yet. In fact, I have found myself less and less content with work, leading to more and more of those random thoughts: ‘maybe I should be a stay at home mom?’. I highly doubt I would every do it for many, many complicated reasons. But on days when my work just straight SUCKS, I fantasize about it…