Confessions of a Working Mom
I imagine every career driven mother is faced with a time where she realizes she is starting to walk a fine line between giving 150% to succeed at work, and where it crosses over into a lack of balance that could impact her children and the amount of time spent focusing on the parenting role. This scenario is not new by any means, but became very new to me a few years ago.
I was on the up and up of my career and little by little started doing more, succeeding more, and getting asked to contribute more at the office. I received multiple projects and promotions in a relatively short amount of time. The more I did, the more I loved what I was doing, and the more valued I felt at work. It felt like all of my hard work over the years was finally paying off and things were finally coming together in my career. I felt like I was literally living the dream of being satisfied in a role where career and passions collide. Little by little, however, I started noticing that my work was making it’s way into every aspect of my life. I started working more from home after I left the office in the evenings and had my laptop with me nearly everywhere I went. I was always connected via computer or by phone no matter where I was or what I was doing. What started as a few extra hours became an every night occurrence as there was so much to do and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I justified it to myself that it was only temporary and once I saw this project through, then my work life balance would be back to normal. Every day I would leave the office, pick my kids up from school, and get them home and fed. Once they started their homework or playing or watching their TV shows, my computer turned on and it was back to the grind of working. The more I did, the more I wanted to do.
I told myself that it was ok because the kids seemed completely fine, happy, and never went without. On vacations, my laptop came with me and I figured ‘what’s the big deal in spending a few hours here and there keeping up with emails and fires needing to be put out from the office’. I knew the problems wouldn’t solve themselves and thought the more I do today, the less I will have to do tomorrow. There were times I would take my laptop to my son’s baseball practice and was working from the bleachers while he was practicing. I told myself again that it was no big deal. Afterall, it wasn’t a game or anything so why not stay caught up with my work items while he is busy playing ball? I was constantly receiving comments and recognition at work about how responsive I was and how much I was able to accomplish in such short amounts of time. I was incredibly passionate about the work I was doing so the continuous recognition and success coming from these work habits only made me want to do more which inadvertently continued to create a workaholic monster!
I had heard about those parents that put work before their family and always thought it was preposterous. “How could these people put work first? Life is too short and kids grow up too fast not to cherish every moment” I thought to myself. Surely I was not one of THOSE parents….or at least that’s what I convinced myself. Afterall, it’s not as though I had kids tugging at my leg asking for dinner and I was denying them of food. And it’s not as though my kids were crying and I wasn’t tending to them and their needs or that they were missing out on extracurricular activities that I knew were important in a kids childhood. Those other parents didn’t even have time to get their kids into extra-curricular activities but I at least got them there even if I was pre-occupied while there, as I told myself. My kids seemed happy, well behaved, and generally well rounded kids so not only did I think I was NOT one of those parents, I thought maybe I had actually figured it out. I thought I really mastered the ability to be a crazy workaholic career woman while somehow never missing a beat as a mother. Maybe I was a real life super woman because I clearly was not one of THOSE other parents….or was I?
You would think my daughter coming home with drawings and stories from kindergarten of mommy and her computer would’ve been enough of a rude awakening, but shamefully that didn’t do the trick. It wasn’t until my son was in 8th grade where I realized I was wrong, way wrong! There was a period in particular over several weeks that I was carrying on with my normal work habits and the kids seemed fine. My son, in particular, seemed happy and even extra chipper from how he normally was. One day I received an email from his teacher indicating he had been behaving out of character. The normally very well behaved child who was always liked by his peers and respectful towards his teachers and elders had been acting out, talking back, and being plain rude to his teachers and classmates. After reading the description of what he was saying and doing in the email, I called him from the business trip I was on (go figure) to find out what was going on. While the conversation started with typical teenager talk of saying very little and a lot of “nothing’s going on” or “I’m fine”, it quickly evolved into a conversation that hit me like a brick in the face. I asked multiple times what was going on and said I was confused because he seemed totally fine and was doing great at home so I was trying to understand what was going on at school. After a long pause I could tell his voice started breaking up as though he were starting to cry. When he finally spoke in his broken voice he said “maybe if you ever took the time to ask if I’m ok or how I’m doing you’d know I’m anything but fine.”
I was completely caught off guard. Not only did I think he was fine but in the last several weeks particularly, he seemed even more outwardly happy than he normally was. With tears running down my face, I started asking questions and his responses continued to be emotional with what obviously was built up frustration and resentment towards me. At one point, before I fully had received an explanation of what exactly I had done, I said from the heart “I am sorry. I have obviously failed at something here and I’m trying to understand it”. He calmly and seriously replied “you haven’t failed as a hard worker, you’ve failed as a parent.” My thirteen year old son just gave me the most profound and humbling feedback I have ever received in my life. He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t being confrontational, but he WAS right. I had failed as a parent and I knew it right then and there. It wasn’t about intent or love because I loved my kids more than anything and never intended to hurt either of them. I don’t know what hit me more, the comment about failing as a parent or the direct correlation with how he recognized I poured everything into my job and was damn good at it….but my kids were paying the price.
My lesson in this was twofold. One, it served as a reminder to never judge someone or how they are doing by the surface as you never know what battles they may be fighting within. If you want to truly know how someone is doing, ask! Two, I learned that it really is the quality time that kids want, need, and notice when they have it or if there is a void. Life is too short and kids DO grow up too fast to let days, weeks, months, or years slip by. Yes there are always times that we might have to sacrifice some personal time to do work but there has to be a balance. I’m fortunate that my son not only noticed, but had the courage to call me out on my mistakes. Not everyone is that lucky, however. It’s not up to our kids to tell us where to draw the line, it’s our obligation as parents to know where to draw the line then do it! How many kids out there go through life never even realizing how much they are missing while their parent, their hero, is spending all of their time doing and thinking about work? Or even worse, how many know and feel the void but don’t have the courage to say anything? That conversation changed my life and while I will always be a hard worker committed to excellence, I am now more balanced in my life than I have ever been. I do so much more and spend so much more time doing quality things with my kids, which not only makes my kids happier but makes me a more healthy and happy employee. Life is too short to get so busy making a living that we forget to make a life. Are you crossing the line? If so, do you have the courage to make that shift? Your kids deserve it and so do you!