Great Balancing Act

“So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I love reading this book to my son. I received it as a high school graduation present, and to be honest, I don’t think I read a word of it until one night searching through our bookshelf for something new to read to little guy. The book itself is beautifully written, and when I reached the page with this passage, I got goose bumps. It is a stirringly simple observation about life, and has become somewhat of a mantra me.

Balance in life means something different than I thought it would. I thought balance would mean keeping as many balls in the air as effortlessly as possible. Making it all work–home, family, community, career, health–without feeling the stress of near-certain failure, or the strain of never-ending commitments.

I am beginning to understand that balance may mean something entirely different. I am learning that balance means making choices and living with the consequences. I may want to do and be many things to many people, but balance can’t be achieved with all those things on my scale. They don’t fit. In order to find balance, I have to choose what is most important to keep in the equation.

Choices are tough because when something wins, something else loses out. But then again, that’s the point. I can’t do everything and do anything well. I have to make choices. I have to accept that there are consequences to those choices. There is simply no way to make all the choices at the same time. If this is such a simple concept, why do so many women like me struggle with the guilt in their choices?

My desires for how my life would unfold would be forever changed by the new outlook that was born right alongside my first child. Priorities changed for me, and I never saw it coming. Instead of doing everything as I used to, I would have to make some choices about where I would focus my energies, or else spend a good bit of my life fighting a losing battle to balance more than what fits on my scale.

Then came the guilt.

If I continue working, between the commute and my 9 hours, plus weekend events, I would barely see little guy. I’ll miss so much. Guilt.

If I quit, I will no longer contribute to my family financially. I will push us off the edge of “comfortable” and into the realm of “cutting it kind of close” every month. Guilt.

If I work, I won’t give it 100% because I’ll be thinking about what I’m not doing at home. Guilt, once again.

If I quit, am I derailing my career as I know it? Am I giving up on my potential as an independent and driven individual contributor? Oh, make it stop.

I am still trying to come to terms with my decision to stay home with my son. I am not torn as much because it feels right for me at this point in my life.

That’s the great thing about balance. The choices, though they guide the direction of my life, don’t need to forever define it. When my condition or needs change, I can re-calibrate as necessary. And I think with experience I will learn to fit more on to my scale.

I have also discovered that balance is an intensely personal in definition. What constitute balance for one person is torture for the next. I’ve had several people comment on my decision, saying things like “you’re staying at home? trust me, you’ll be b-o-r-e-d,” or “As much as I love my kid(s), I could never stay home. I need my time away to stay sane.” These are valid points for these women. And there is nothing saying I won’t change my tune at some point and find that being at home actually starts to disrupt my ever-changing definition of balance.

I have to highlight that because in addition to guilt, many women (especially moms) I know endure another stressful and persistent state: the feeling of being judged.

I don’t judge what other moms do–honest. I know the mental and emotional gymnastics that can take place for moms to make the right decisions for their families. I also know many women are not afforded the choice I have–circumstances dictate what they must do for work, and my guilt-ridden tug-of-war must seem somewhat trivial to them. This is not a judgment on what I think is the best decision, just the best for my family at this particular junction in our lives. I commend women who successfully balance more than I do, and hope to learn from them.

I haven’t mastered the balancing act yet. But I know I’m on the way to understanding a lot more about my priorities and how to make the right things fit into my life.

I have not abandoned my ambition and pursuit of my own career, simply made the choice to change course for a while and focus on raising my son and growing our family. That’s a choice I’ve made, complete with consequences. My goal now is to see where it leads me and try to let go of the guilt. After all, I have places to go.

“…you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

–Side note, I’d like to thank Leoarna, whose post “Career Mum or Career Woman? Let’s just let each other get on!” inspired this post. I’m not quite sure of the proper blogging protocol for such a shout-out, but I wanted to make sure it was noted!

Having it all, or losing my mind?

The other day I did something I thought I would never do—I took a phone interview for a job I really wanted with a 4-month-old strapped to my chest.

Before you resign to thinking I’m crazy, let me explain. I recently quit my marketing job in hopes of truly having it all—staying home to raise my new baby while securing satisfying (not scammy) at-home employment, getting back my bikini body, and having homemade dinner on the table every night.

In hindsight, go ahead and think it. I AM crazy. In the first couple of weeks since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to take calls and speak with potential employers or clients at precisely the same moment my little bundle of joy starts to scream his head off. His crying may or may not be detected the person on the other end of the line, but for me it is slowly tearing away at my heart strings (and sanity) with each passing second and each labored wail.

“My baby needs me,” I think to myself desperately while not quite halfway engaging in the conversation. I lose track of what I’m saying, what they’re saying, and needless to say, I haven’t landed work from these fruitless and painful conversations. Luckily, he has remained asleep for enough of my work time that I’ve been able to get through a few successful calls and land a few jobs. But each call I wait with baited breath for the screaming to begin, and I can therefore never fully devote my thoughts to the matter at hand.

After all, as much as I want to be gainfully employed at the same time I stay home to raise my child, I always know in my heart that I’m a mom first. And it’s why his yells for me are so heart-wrenching—I feel just as I did when I was working a traditional 40 hours in an office—like I have to choose to put work before my son.

So that brings me to the baby carrier phone call debacle. My interview was at one, and like all my “phone call” days, I carefully planned his feeding and nap schedule to perfectly coincide with my phone call. But as anyone who has ever had a 4-month-old knows, they like to eat perfectly planned schedules for breakfast and throw them up all over your sweater.

Not me–this is a lovely model using the fabulous (and sanity-saving) Moby wrap

As the time drew nearer, I heard him begin to stir in his crib. I couldn’t bear the thought of enduring the entire (important) conversation with him progressively screaming louder and louder. I knew I would be useless. I needed a plan B.

As I frantically paced the house thinking of ways to make him happy for one full hour while I took the call, it came to me. The only time he is (usually) completely satisfied and calm is when he is tucked in his little Moby baby wrap: attached to my chest. I thought it was risky, but it just might work.
Initially, all was well. I could concentrate on the call because I knew my most precious job was taken care of. Baby was happy. Until he wasn’t.

About 25 minutes into the call, I notice the telltale signs of an impending tantrum. I panicked. What do I do if he starts to scream? What is my explanation? Here I am trying to convince this organization that I can easily balance remote work and maintain a professional demeanor, and I have an infant about to lose his mind directly into the phone.

Fortunately, the job to which I was applying involved mostly non-phone work and writing, so I thought it may be OK. And when the crying started, I dealt with it as graciously as humanly possible. He settled soon after I wrangled the binkie into his mouth and my interviewer seemed to accept my hasty apology.

I don’t know if I got the job, but at this point it’s not looking good. And that’s OK. I am continuing to learn how insanely tough and rewarding it is to be a mom, and how my strong motherly instinct continues to surprise me. As naturally ambitious as I am, I am far more passionate about being a mom than advancing my career.

Having it all may be tough, or it may be downright impossible. All I know is I am on a journey to find out.