Walking the work-life balance tightrope

It’s tough to be a woman these days, especially if you pay attention to all the gab in the media. Facebook COO and working mother Sheryl Sandberg says we should be “leaning in” and fighting “the man” for better career options. New mom and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently sent a message that working from home is no longer an option for effective business practice.

Sheryl Sandberg book Lean in cover

So where does that leave mothers who want to work but also be present for their kids? Forget about nurseries next to giant corporate suites or 24-hour nannies, what if you just want to put your kid on the bus a few mornings a week and be there when they get home?

I did the 50-hour-work-week-attached-to-a-crackberry-24/7 gig for more than 15 years. I loved my job and I was good at it. But after we moved to the burbs and I had my third son, the weight of my career and raising three kids, and trying to be a decent wife (poor Wilson!) began to wear on me.

There are some women who can do it all. There are others who make tremendous sacrifices to become incredibly successful. I envy these women. Because I couldn’t do it. Frankly, I think many women can’t. Thousands more don’t want to try.

And isn’t that ok?

I don’t know if you can have it all. Because “it” is different for everyone. I know that I took a healthy break from full-time work and now that I’ve returned part-time, things are much different.

I work two days a week in Manhattan. I don’t mind the commute, I don’t even hate getting up at dawn. I enjoy using my mind in that way again and feeling like I’m contributing something. I especially like that it gives me something new to talk about when I see people.

A stay-at-home mom’s life can be rewarding, but it doesn’t give you much to say at a cocktail party.

Work Life balance image

But the downside is that while I was once a manager calling the shots, now I’m a worker bee, subject to the direction of new managers.  There are days I want to kick ass and shine, but when you’re only there two days a week, people don’t see you as a rising star or someone with future potential. They barely notice you at all.

It’s been tough adjusting to not being on a clear career path. Sometimes I’m ambivalent about work and distracted by things going on at home.  Is that work-life balance or limbo?

I still have career dreams that I’m working to achieve. I’ve had to accept that the path I might have taken 10 years ago doesn’t work with my life now. These are my choices and I’m grateful to have the luxury to make them. But I have more than myself to consider. The decisions I make about the kind of work I do and the time it requires to do it affects each member of our family.

There are no right answers to these quandaries. But I’d like to have open, respectful conversations about it among women. I don’t know why there has to be so much polarization and judgment in the discussions. We’re all just trying to figure it out as we go.

I’d love to hear about your experience with fitting work into your life and life into your work.  Share your thoughts in the comments.

7 responses to “Walking the work-life balance tightrope

  1. I agree with Erica. I was also a single mother who raised three children while working two and three part-time jobs while attending college. My home and children were always clean. We rarely ate fast food, mostly home cooked meals. No soda or junk food, and very little TV time. Friday night was board game night. It was difficult at times, enjoyable at others. My children are adults now. They thank me for loving them and encouraging them to reach their goals. There is a balancing act that everyone, man or woman, has to live. Some give more time to work, others to home. Somewhere in between you can chase your dreams, be a role model, and have fun with the children/spouse/significant other. I have worked 50+ hours a week. The luxury I was blessed with was a mother and sisters who provided support – child care, emotional support, love and inspiration. They were all proud that I didn’t go on welfare. Instead I found a way to support my children and my self while showing my children and their friends it can be done. Remember, not everyone can take time off to be home with their children unless they receive help from the government or their family (many don’t have this support). So when talking about women, please keep this very large population of women in mind. Their children may be those well-adjusted, successful adults you meet along the way. Thank you!
    p.s. Thea – Your daughter is right, all families are dysfunctional in their own unique way depending on who is judging them.

  2. Thea Rosenbaum

    Well, it’s over for me now, but the guilt feelings linger. When my son came home with my future daughter in law my daughter greeted her with: welcome in our disfunctional family”. It seems at least she thought I made the wrong choices and should have stayed home more.

  3. In reading the Time article, I felt a little insulted about the “ambition gap” and the “invisible barrier in women’s minds.” It made it sound as if I’m either lazy or my subconscious convinced me to back off a hard-charging career when my kids were born instead of allowing for the possibility that I had actually made a decision about what was best for me. It’s not that I don’t believe I can be in a corporate boardroom, it’s just that I prefer a job that gives me the option to linger a bit in the preschool classroom on any given day.

  4. Great post. Lots to think about. Easy to second guess our decisions, but I think the happiest moms and partners i know are the ones who take a firm stand (either way ie stay home, work, part time, full time) and give it all they have. The most content women I know are the ones with the most going on (whatever it is).

  5. Erica Schon Pollak

    Brooke, you are correct that it’s nice to have the “choice” to stay home or work part time. I never had that choice being a single mother since my son was 5 yrs old. From a single mom’s perspective, you have no choice but to juggle the 50 hour work week, homework, dinner, laundry and cleaning without any help from “Wilson”. Women are amazing creatures……we can do anything and juggle anything we put our minds to. My son grew up feeling loved, well fed and never wanted for anything while I had a full time career. Things have slowed down for me since my son is now in college and become more independent. I have more “me” time now and I love it. Many times I thought I coldn’t go on because I was so tired; but I had to. So, for the mothers out there who are torn between work and home life……you can do it all and do it well ! Have faith in yourselves and your kids. Your kids will rise to the occasion and surprise you with their ability to cope with you gone and learn to help you so life runs smoothly in your house! Have faith !!

  6. Feeling you…in a literary way, of course. I think the polarization and judgment comes from our insecurities about the choices and sacrifices we’ve made and always wondering if the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side.

    Can we have it all? Yes. But we have to be honest about what “all” is. Obviously we can’t work an 80 hour week and offer our kids and partners the same amount of face time as a stay-at-home parent, but we can’t be a celebrity chef and a rabbi – meaning there’s only so much any one person can do at a time. For me personally, the trick is standing behind the choices I’ve made and recognizing that I may make different choices along the way.

    Also, we clearly need to go to a cocktail party together.