Work-life balance? With kids?
If you work outside the home and you’re anything like me, you too may have fleeting thoughts of “Ha!” and “Oh brother!” and “What-EVER!” whenever you see reassuring articles about attaining work-life balance as a parent. I say that, and I’ve even written an article or two like that myself. (Although, in my defense, I did try to make those articles uber-practical ... but still!)
The longer I try my hand at this whole parenting gig, the more clearly I see that any illusion of control I have is just that: An illusion. It may be possible to wrest a few things under control some of the time with some hard-core planning and scheduling, but for the most part it’s just a matter of taming chaos on a day-to-day, take-it-as-it-comes basis.
My best friend Dawn Browne -- a mom who has two fabulous kids and a high-pressure job -- summed it up perfectly, I think:
“There is no such thing as balance with children -- only days with blood and/or tears, and days without (including your own),” she said. “Conservatively plan for no bloodless or tearless days for the first five years.”
Here’s another one of my favorite gems from Dawn:
“There’s a fine line between ‘working better under pressure’ and mental illness.”
Bearing all that in mind, here is a list of 10 things no one bothered to tell you about work-life balance before you became a parent. Read on -- if you dare!
1. You will always, always, ALWAYS be tired and always will feel as though you could lie down and sleep for 15 hours straight.
2. Sleep deprivation will lead to a brain-crushing haze that will cause your sharp mind to fade for a minimum of one calendar year, and possibly even longer -– but you’ll have to fake it and pretend nothing is wrong around other people at work.
3. Sleep deprivation also will create in you a strange and inexplicable spelling disorder that will cause you to use the wrong “to,” “your” and “its,” despite your most careful intentions. You’ll also start to spell some words phonetically -- and wildly incorrectly -- all because you’re trying to do too many things at once in much too much of a hurry.
4. While it’s always been mega-challenging on all sorts of levels, work outside the home will become the biggest, most gargantuan, most Herculean effort you ever tackled. You will feel like you completed the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii at the end of most otherwise ordinary work weeks. (Not that I have ANY idea what completing the Ironman in Kona feels like, mind you -- but I watched a documentary about it recently and identified with it in the most uncanny way.)
5. When your children are very small, finding decent child care will be one of the primary reasons that work is such a big, gargantuan, Herculean effort. The stress and angst involved in your quest for quality child care will consume you and keep you awake at night.
6. You will only be able to claim $3,000 of child-care expenses on your taxes for the year, even if you must spend about $12,000 (or even more, in some cases) on care for one child in order to be a productive member of the work force.
7. After your pregnancy, you will have to spend precious time and money scrounging up at least some new work clothes for at least some stretch of time because it likely will take much, much longer than you ever expected to lose the pregnancy weight. (Shut up, Gisele Bündchen and Octomom!) Even if/when you do lose it, a “shifting” will occur and your old clothes may never fit quite the same way again.
8. Just when a real rhythm seems to set in and you finally feel mildly in control, your child will throw up all over his or her daycare provider/preschool instructor/elementary school teacher.
9. The throw-up incident will spark a frantic flurry of messages via e-mail or instant messaging or cell-phone texts between you and your significant other over which person should leave work to pick up the sick child and take him or her to the pediatrician. This negotiation will not be easy because both of you are already worried about how you look at work. (Re-read points 1, 2, 3 and 4.)
10. All of that said, no matter how tired you are, no matter how hard work is, and no matter how ill-fitting your pants feel, becoming a parent is the best thing you’ve ever done -- period.
(Photo credit: Dawn Browne. Photo caption: That’s a snapshot of my buddy Dawn’s work space at her home in Everett, Wash. She e-mailed it to me with this note: “Geez ... why am I so tired? And yes, that’s a diaper on the floor.”)