Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Failure of Work/Life Balance

Last week highlighted for me how work/life balance just doesn't exist.  Sure, sometimes it all works out but what about when it doesn't?  How do you explain that?  The term balance to me implies an equal distribution, not disappointment or stressed out planning.  Interestingly enough, over the past few years, I've heard a few working moms in executive positions, who have a voice, admit that "work/life balance" has its struggles.  So how do they deal with this imbalance?  What is their advice?  They claim that they've had success in shifting their focus between work (when work is the priority) and family (when family is the priority.) 

This is a flawed thought process.

Let's talk about why.  If I were to disappear from work, say by spontaneous combustion because wouldn't that be an interesting way to go, what would happen?  Well, any good business should have a contingency plan in place and really, no one employee should be considered irreplaceable.  If you are irreplaceable, than someone is doing something wrong.  Sure, my co-workers would bear the burden of my workload until another took over my responsibilities but no one would cry out, "We simply cannot go on without her!"

What would happen at home?  How would my children cope with the sudden loss of their mother?  I think we all agree that it would be a different story.

What I provide to my family is completely different from my responsibilities as a employee.  What happens on a day when both require my attention?  I'm left to choose family over work or work over family.  

So what happened last week?  Well, first there was the walking field trip.  At the beginning of each school year, the teachers send home a permission slip explaining that during the year, the class may embark on a walking field trip to the library, fire station or other town municipal buildings.  It's sort of a blanket permission slip so the teachers can plan trips quickly and not have to wait to receive permission slips back from parents.  Over the past three years, Emily's class has been the only one to take such a field trip and it wasn't met with much success.  Remember how there was a runaway tire from a passing truck and one of the moms injured her wrist when she stopped the tire from plowing into the kids?

Two weeks ago, we learned that Allie's class, Anna's class and Emily's class would all be heading out for a walking field trip on the same day to a town building.  I later learned from Allie's teacher that the three classrooms were going to split up into two groups.  One group would go first and as they were heading back, the second group would begin walking from the school.  Half of Emily's class would go with Allie's class and half would go with Anna's class.  Emily was placed in the group going with Allie.  That left Anna on her own, which she was perfectly content with.

Parents were invited to accompany their children but Rich and I quickly determined that work commitments would prevent us from doing so.  I had scheduled a meeting for that morning with 10+ other people, many with an outside accounting firm, and I felt that it would have been rude of me to ask for a schedule change on such short notice.  Coordinating schedules for larger groups is not an easy task, especially on short notice, and the meeting needed to be held that week. 

Allie had a meltdown.

Emily and Anna didn't seem to care that they wouldn't have parental representation.

And let's not forget that fact that I wanted to go.

I should mention that Allie's been in some sort of "phase" for the past six months or so.  The best way to describe it is a clingy phase.


"Can Grammy just drop you off at gymnastics?"


She had a rough time at school last year.  A girl (who is the most manipulative child I've ever come across) befriended her and then spent a good portion of the school year breaking up every other friendship Allie had or tried to have.  Allie was not as street smart as this kid and didn't know what was going on and ended up in trouble with this girl on multiple occasions.  It was a parenting challenge to say the least.  I shouldn't have a second grader making herself sick because she's afraid to go to school or crying in the school bathroom.  At the end of it, Allie's self-esteem and confidence were rattled and we're still dealing with the aftereffects.

It takes a village and after several emails with Allie's teacher, Grammy became the substitute parent for the field trip. 

Problem solved?  Well, almost.  "Walking field trip" and "Anna" aren't two things that go together very well.  All of the adults involved, including the school nurses, were concerned with Anna's ability, safety and comfort.  There was going to be about a mile of walking when all was said and done.  We knew that she would be able to do it but we needed to make sure she wouldn't become too worn out as she needed to get through the rest of the school day.  Hopefully, without tripping and falling. 

  1. Have Anna join Allie's class so Grammy would be able to assist her if needed.  Allie's teacher did offer this option to us.
  2. Have Grammy not walk back with Allie's class and meet Anna's class when they arrive.  Grammy can then help Anna on the walk back if she is tired.
  3. Have Anna's teacher bring the wheelchair (just in case) offered by the school nurses.  We were told that there was another student who may also fatigue from the walk and they were debating on bringing the wheelchair.
Responses to options:
  1. Anna doesn't want to be separated from her classmates.  Okay.  Fair enough.
  3. A possibility but Anna says she doesn't need it.  My guess is that she doesn't want a million questions from classmates.
It's a bit ironic that all the adults were concerned with Anna but when we actually asked Anna, she just shrugged and said she would be fine.

And she was.

Afterwards, I did ask her if she would have ridden in the wagon if I had been able to go.  The school nurses last year had thrown that out there as a suggestion.  A wagon with kids is less likely to raise questions.  She said, yes, she would have ridden in the wagon.  So now we know.

The second conundrum of the week was read in day that Friday for Allie's class.  (Of course, it would be Allie too.)  Hey, guess what?  Mommy has a meeting that morning and she thinks she'll look like a jerk if she misses the meeting so Mommy can't go to your read in.  Okay?

Mommy also feels like a jerk because she can't go to the read in.

What's a read in?  The kids read to a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, someone during class time.  In this case, it was scheduled from 8:30 to 9:00.  The best solution/compromise I could come up with was to leave the read in a few minutes early to catch a train that would land me at my meeting 15 minutes late.  IF the train was on time.

Allie's response:  "NOOOOOOOOOOO."

Finally, she decided that it would be okay if Grammy went but only if Grammy didn't leave early.

Mommy still feels like a jerk.   

[Items to note:  People at work are pretty flexible but at what point does it cross the line?  When do you become that person?  There has been a significant increase in medical appointments for Anna this year with all the kidney stuff and those are days or mornings where I need to be out.]         


Anonymous said...

This post describes so much of what we are going through as well. You just can't win at everything. I am going though a similar debate about priorities and what's worth it.

I am considering quitting my job and skipping a year of private preschool so that I can really spend quality time with my daughter before shes in school FT. I can't get this time back but I can get a new job when I'm ready to go back, right? It's hard to tell if this is realistic.

I started reading your blog when I was pregnant and I told myself if Sarah can do it with 3, I could do it with 1! Ha! So far, we are making it but my apartment is never, ever clean. It's so fun to read about your adventures and look ahead a few years to life beyond the toddler years.

Niki said...

I'm firmly on Team Life. It's just a job, and this isn't the Great Depression. You have the skills, experience, and credentials to be very valuable in the marketplace. If you're not at least looking for a new/closer job, you should be. The window of kids wanting and needing their mom is so small. I hate to hear of anyone missing it if there are other options out there.

MamaT said...

Sarah, I've been a lurker here for a while. Thank you for sharing your insights into life and parenting. I think I found your blog when looking for twin blogs. I have 4 children under the age of 4 and work a 60% schedule as a senior manager at a Big 4 firm... It's more full time than part time lately. I try to remind myself that I am a better person/mother for being engaged at work (this is just me) and that I'm modeling what following through on commitments looks like. I want my kids to see what hard work looks like and that we don't always get to do what we want when we want to. Really, I just want to say you aren't alone. Lots of us are struggling to figure it all out. One thing that helps me is thinking that I'm paving the way for others behind me - what advice would I give them or my daughters when faced with these scheduling dilemmas?! Hang in there. From what I can see, you are a thoughtful, loving mama... And that is priceless!!!

Anonymous said...

I hear you loud and clear. I wish I had good advice for you, but just know you are not alone.

Anonymous said...

What about dad? How is he doing with the work/family balance? Can't he attend school functions?

Anonymous said...

I'm with you and completely understand everything you've said in this post. I wish you luck in figuring it out and can only hope that it gets easier/better with time!

If I'm not intruding too much, may I suggest all three girls be in the same class? It would make it so much easier on you! Not that the stress would go away, it would just make situations, such as the one you described above, so much less stressful. I know many twins that have to be put in the same class just for that reason.

Good luck to you...and me, I need it too! :)

Teej said...

Oh goodness, poor Allie. Your story about her friend drama really makes my knees quake. My four year old son is such a weirdo (I say that with ALL THE LOVE!!) that I am really worried about him starting Kindergarten next year.

I like everything that MamaT said about the work/life balance issues. It is not easy.

Jenn Conroy said...

I'm a long time lurker as well, I found your blog when I was pregnant with my son who is now 4! I'm a manager at a mid sized cpa firm here on long island. I'm also a huge dmb fan and have been to over 100 shows so I can relate to your love of music and concerts as well! My husband is also a cpa who works in NYC. Balancing is never easy! We are lucky that my mom watches my son after preschool and i pick him up on my way home from work. I also am able to drop him off in the morning at school and come into work at 930 which is nice. My husband usually gets on a 645 am train in the morning so all of the morning routine falls on me as well as the after work routine. Luckily during tax season I am able to do most of my overtime from home but that involves me working usually from 630 to 830 in the morning which means getting up and showering at an ungodly hour. I am always thinking about what can change to give me more balance? A new job? Changing to a reduced workweek? Who knows, I just try to take it day by day and stay as organized as I can. Just know you're not alone! You're a great mom and give those kids a great life!! Ps. We are taking our first family disney trip in 3 weeks!

Lisa H. said...

Love reading your blog and am sorry for all that you are going through lately. I've been thinking about your post since I read it this morning and the comment about if you died your work would go on but your family would be aversely effected. I think that looking at it that way makes an issue that's not the least bit black and white and tries to put it into that field. From a personal example, what I mean is that I enjoy working and it satisfies a specific part of me. When that part of me is fulfilled then I can be a better mom to my daughter. If you don't like your work and tolerate it only to support your family--clearly an incredibly valid thing as well--then that's different. But, if you actually enjoy what you do then don't discount what you get from it. Life is full of choices, even within our careers. There are choices between follow this path or that one, work for this company or that one. There will always be some sort of loss. It makes sense that you want to be with your girls and that you're also getting outside pressure from them because they understandly want their mom. However, I hope that you aren't letting guilt weigh you down because your happiness and satisfaction is also equally as important. I also think the grass is always greener--before I had my daughter, I left a job that paid really well to pursue a different career. When I had her, it threw my new career off track and so as I'm finally starting to gain momentum with things again, I do wish that I worked more (my new career is mostly freelance) although we don't need the money, I need the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from it. One final thought--my mom raised me as a single mom for the first half of my life and she missed things I did because she was working. I think that's just part of life and of course it was disappointing at the time, but I got over it. So, I'm not discounting your feelings (or those of your girls in the least) but I guess more trying to say that these things happen even with one child and there's definitely no one "perfect". Hang in there and I hope this difficult time passes quickly.

Anonymous said...

No response, Sarah? So many great questions asked and so many great feelings expressed.

Sarah said...

Soon! Incorporating it into another post. Thanks!

CJ said...

I've been reading your blog for so long I can't remember. I don't know if it was before or after , but I've been reading. You are the only one left that still blogs from like 2008. Anyway, I am a working mom with twin boys that are now 6. They are in separate classrooms and I in NO way would EVER put them in the same class for my own personal convenience. They are different people and need to learn away from their siblings. On that note, Allie probably won't even remember wanting you to go to everything , but will remember the times you were there! Not all parents can make everything and she should be happy that Granny can be there when you cannot. Some parents don't have family/grandparents near to step in when parents can't make field trips etc... It's tough. Don't put on the mommy guilt but I know you will because I do too. At the end of the day, be there for as much stuff as you can, if you can't, try again next year... Your career helps take them to those awesome Disney trips and other fun vacations. Roof over their head, food to eat, clothes to wear. All mommys can NOT stay at home and NOT all dads can either. Show them when they grow up and have kids how it can be. It's not all hearts and flowers. Okay I feel like I'm rambling.

What I am trying to say, those girls will be fine if you don't make everything. :) Just try to be at the next class event.

Don't quit your job! :)

The Amazing Trips said...

Hi Sarah, we've never "met" but I have dropped by your blog before, because I, too, have triplets. My kiddos are a little older; just turned 11 last month. I also have an 8.5-year old ... and like you, I work full time out of the house. I'm in a senior technical role with a major energy company, and our family has been relocated cross-country twice in the past five years. With 20+ years of experience under my belt, my career is very important to me. But so is my family and I've learned that the quest for "work-life balance" is somewhat of an illusion for working parents with young children. That said: you can absolutely have both - so long as you have FLEXIBILITY in the work place*.

My husband and I made some decisions pretty early on, regarding how we would manage four children born in three years. Actually, it wasn't ever a thought out "decision" it was more like, "Um. Let's try this and see how it works...?" Ultimately, we've managed by following our hearts and adjusting our work schedules and expectations. We both worked P/T for a while, then F/T; then my husband resigned and started his own company, working from home. Great, right? Yes ... but, that requires him to travel - sometimes for a week (or more) at a time and then I'm home alone with 4 kids, a dog, and a significantly abbreviated sleep schedule because so! much! to! do! I'll just have to catch up on sleep, later. (That has yet to happen, although when it does, I'm due for a solid 3-year nap.)

What we have done, is tried to always put the kids first. I'm not there for everything, but certainly those things that will break my heart if I miss them. So I've bailed out of meetings with high flying executives from my company, in order to be home with the children for their birthday. It wasn't viewed favorably, but my kids will only turn five once. And I actually have scrapped meetings, last minute, because something critical has come up at school (Principal recognition ceremony!). If people are flying in from out of town, I wouldn't do it, but generally, I've got a good handle of what's on the schedule, so will block out the time on my calendar, so I'm not even available and there's no conflict. My husband can usually be there, but I want to be there, too. Just because he's home and available - doesn't mean I should miss it, so more often than not - both of us will go!

Even though my presence in the office is sporadic at times; I'll work my tail off to get things done (nights, weekends) and always strive to go the extra mile. Fortunately, my contributions have been recognized by management, and I've been given amazing latitude because of my familial circumstances. That's the key - you can't abuse the flexibility ... and you have to demonstrate why you're worth it.

I think that us working parents have to OWN these challenges and we must be VOCAL about them. The only way we can expect to have a change in the work environment is to let people know what we CAN do, and what we CAN'T. The more of us that say, "THIS IS HARD. I need help, in the form of flexibility, to keep my life and family on track"; I think the more effectively and efficiently change will happen. As much as possible, don't miss the field trips, especially if it pulls on your heart. In the end, you'll regret the things you didn't do -- more than the things that you did. And no one ever said on their death, bed, "Gee, I wish I spent more time at the office."

* Note, I, too, have worked for an evil boss that damn near made me resign forever. I didn't and am now stronger for the experience. Critical in this equation is a wonderfully understanding boss ... if you don't have one, you need to find one, STAT. They do exist!!

God Speed and good luck in all your endeavors. Savor your little ones, they are precious!

(Whew, that was a long comment!!!)

:) :) :) - Jen