I’ve been asked several times lately “isn’t it hard to work full time and be a mom?” or “must be tough to work full time with young kids?”, or most recently “how did you ever go back to work when your maternity leave was over?” So I would like to take a moment to answer these questions, as much for myself, as for the curious out there.
First, I know and appreciate that my job offers a great deal of flexibility that many other working parents do not have. I am able to, mostly, dictate my schedule (which often means I’m sitting on my couch at night after the kids are asleep getting work done, but that’s another post on working a split-shift) so that I can read a book to my preschooler’s class or get to a pediatrician appointment during the day.
Now, to answer these questions. Yes, sometimes it is hard to work full time, but that’s because my job challenges me, not because I’m a mom. It seems to me when people ask these questions they are actually wondering one of two things: 1) don’t you miss your kids when you’re at work and/or 2) where do you find the time for your job and everything that comes with being a mom. Both of these are valid questions, but I don’t want to equate my paid labor and my unpaid labor. They are not the same – what and how I devote to each is different.
Do I miss my kids when I’m at work? I’m going to be honest here and say no, most days I do not. Does that make me a slacking mother? Nope, sure doesn’t. I think it actually makes me a better mom to my kiddos. I am intellectually, socially and creatively challenged in my job daily. I use a part of my brain that I just don’t when I’m at home, and that’s really nice. You know what else is really nice? Going several hours in a row realizing I haven’t thought about my kids once. (Of course, knowing they are in a nurturing, enriching, loving environment gives me the peace of mind to not worry about them. I don’t have to while at work, someone else I trust is.) It also helps that I feel like I contribute to the greater good of society through my job. Was it hard to go back to work when my maternity leave was over – of course it was, absolutely, and I have very strong opinions about this country’s version of parental leave. But both of my babies and I are alright, thriving even.
The trickier question is where do I find the time for my job and everything that comes with being a mom? When I’m working, I’m working. When I’m a mom, I’m a mom. What this means to me is that I focus as fully as possible on work when I’m working and I likewise focus as fully as possible when I’m with my family. This translates into work days that are hyper-calendared and packed full of checking off to-do lists. And mornings, evenings and weekends without email or phone calls. We have a no cell phone or laptop policy in our house as soon as we get home for the day. Our kids don’t see us checking email, social media or texting because we are solely paying attention to them and having fun together. Now, this doesn’t mean that I get everything done. I certainly don’t most days. There is laundry piled up and that to-do list has carryovers nearly every day. Am I tired at the end of every day, of course I am. Who isn’t?! So no, I don’t always find the time. I love what I do, both as a working woman and as a mother.
The most important element of my being a working woman and a mom, the single answer to all of the questions, is that in my relationship, my partner and I equally distribute the weight of caring for our home and family across both our shoulders. We are true equals as parents and partners. We both work full time and we both value being moms to our sweet, energetic, mess-producing, food-consuming, awesome children. We not only desire our home and family duties to be shared, but we have the ability and expectation to speak up and be heard when they go out of balance and one person is taking on more than the other for longer than she should. We deeply understand what unpaid labor is and value what the other does to keep our home and family running smoothly. We do our best not to keep score and tally up my three times vacuuming to her five loads of dishes. And when things start to feel misaligned, we talk about it and what we can do to realign them.
Striking a balance is critical. So much so that I’ve often wanted to just paint that word, BALANCE, in big letters across a wall in my house. And across a wall at work.