How to Balance Work and Life like a Pro

This blog post title is sure to bring in the hoards...don't worry I totally have the answer keep reading...

So the other night at a social event for lady lawyers, I was asked this terrific question: "how do you balance work and family?"

Many responses came to mind ... "hopefully pretty well?"  "I'm not sure"  "Umm... you tell me?"  I think I went with "Perfectly!"  Then laughed like a dork at my own joke.  Anyone who asks that question by now ought know how silly it is, and yet, I get it; we all still want to know.  And then when we know how YOU'RE doing it, we want to compare our own tactics and either

(a) gloat inwardly at our own magnificence,

(b) offer veiled suggestions on how you could improve, because ummm clearly you're doing it wrong, or

(c) wallow in self-pity.

I don't know which camp I am in.  It depends on the response, I suppose.  Though I rarely pity myself.  I happen to think I do things pretty well.  It comes from a kind of a "who the flip cares?" attitude mixed with an inflated ego that you can blame on my parents. My sense that I am doing okay in the work/life arena also comes from the fact that sometimes you just have to forgive yourself in order to move on and survive.   Do you know what I mean by that?  Let me set out an example.

When I did ask this question back to her, this nice attorney told me that she works for another attorney in town, she has a one-year-old, and she only works 20 hours per week.  Dang.  I have a two year old, and I work 40 hours per week.  Am I hurting my little babe by being gone from her so long?  I couldn't stay home full time, but 20 hours would be a compromise.  Hmmmm.

...But if I worked 20 hours I would linger in this position for years or take a step back.  They would give part of my job to someone else (if they even agreed to do it at all), and it would probably be the interesting part.  And the interesting stuff is the whole reason I like this job.  If I didn't have that part, then I'd probably want to move along eventually, possibly taking another step back in order to take a step forward.

...And what exactly would I DO for those 20 hours at home?  I'm not very crafty.  I wouldn't have enough time to learn how to pre-school my child (is that a verb?).  And my cooking is terrible.  Shoot.

And that leads me back to where I was before the conversation began: basically happy with my choices.

You guys....I kind of like working full time.  There, I said it.  I kind of like the consolidated periods of time I have my daughter.  Okay, yes there are days when we need to grocery shop and get a new backpack and stop by the pharmacy, and that all needs to happen RIGHTNOW.  And those days suck because I only get a few minutes at home with her before bedtime, but some days are going to suck.  That does happen.

If there were more crappy days than happy days, I would feel differently.  If I started missing her every night after bedtime, this would be a miserable existence.  If my job were not so interesting and pleasant, I KNOW that I would much rather be home.  And I reserve the right to change my mind.  But for now, it works.

But you probably didn't click on this little post to hear me think out loud, I do that enough with you all in person.  So here are a few little pearls of wisdom I have gleaned from my relatively short period of time as a FTWM (full time working mom...did I just make that up?):

  • Find a job you love.  Or at least a job that gives you some really exhilarating moments and challenging work from time to time.  Barring that, try for one that pays you oodles of money.  I haven't tried that approach just yet, but something tells me it would do the trick.  Why is this important?  Because you simply must have a strong reason to get yourself out of bed, through the door, past the daycare, and into your office, raring to go.  I've worked at a place that I hated, and thank GOD I'm not there any more.  If I were, I suspect I would spend every last hour staring at pictures of Lil O and accomplishing zero things.  I would still need to be there (or somewhere) because my family relies on my income.  But boy would that be miserable.  Forget that.
  • Set your boundaries and stick to them.  My boundaries include the rule that I leave every day at 5:00.  This is relatively easy because I work for a public entity (ha ha) and because of my awesome boss (but I'll get to that).  If I need to catch up on a few emails after 5:00, then I'll try and do that after I put O to bed.  But usually I find that things can wait.  This rule also had the bonus side-effect of making me more efficient with my time.  I need a deadline to set a little fire under my butt...and also the stare-down from my daycare lady when I show up late is quite motivating.
  • Get yourself an amazing boss.  Or more likely, work with your boss to get them on your team.  You need an advocate in the workplace who will stand up for you in meetings and say, "no, she is not late "again," she is taking her kids to the doctor and we already spoke beforehand."  That person should ideally be your boss.  My boss is pretty sweet, and she has been through all this before as a working mom.  But if you need some help creating this...
  • Keep your boss and coworkers in-the-know about the kid-related things that take you away from the office.  Some people want a clear line drawn between work and life.  I'm here to tell you, there is no such line anymore!  You can argue otherwise, but I would argue back that this line will ultimately do you a disservice.  This doesn't mean that you need to share every last detail of your life with your coworkers, OR your work details with your family.  Don't.  Please, keep a little mystery.  But don't be afraid to let people know that you have obligations outside of work.  They do too.  And while you are telling them about how you can't come in until 8:30 because you kid starts school at 8:15, be sure to ask how you can help them out more with the afternoon stuff.  Market yourself as a team player.  And when someone else decides to share some personal obligation with YOU, take that opportunity to be their advocate and back them up.  The favor is sure to be returned.
  • Remember that EVERYONE wants hours that work for them, and EVERYONE has things that come up that keep them from giving 100% to their work.  (At least they should...those true workaholics really worry me.  Something's got to give.  Will it be their sanity?  Will it be during my big presentation??)  So don't be shy and don't undermine your requests or refer to them as mommy time, kid stuff, etc.  It is important work.  It is THE important work of our lives, this family stuff.

So that's how you do it.  Got it?

Ok, there are like a billion more things I could say.  And I know I'm not the first one to say these things either.  But those are my thoughts, and this is my blog, so I shall start with this list, and then totally change my mind later.