I am a career-life integration superstar. Or so I thought. While my husband was a full-time stay-at-home dad for our two children, I could sneak out of the house at 6 or 7 am to get to the office early while everyone was still soundly asleep. No mismatched little socks to fumble through, lunches to be made, or clothing and coaxing of groggy children to get me out the door, just the silence of choosing my own wardrobe, grabbing my laptop, and setting the course for my day.
As I dug in and committed fully to a demanding project, coworkers would marvel, “I don’t know how you do it,” as we met into the evenings or finished up on deadlines over the weekend. I would make a comment about having a wonderful husband, but I knew that I “did it” by making it home just in time to give goodnight kisses and not much else. I “did it” by focusing more on work than family for a while.
Now, my husband has returned to work and I have joined the ranks of all those two-wage earner families that juggle childcare, career, and a household on a regular basis. My work-life super cape is missing and I am perplexed at not being able to do it all. No more 7 a.m. think-time sessions to focus on my one biggest idea. Instead, I am trying to trick, bribe, or cajole my four-year-old and three-year-old into their car seats as I run around trying to beat the clock. I find myself frustrated by trying to fit the mold of all those blog lists with titles like “10 Things Happy People Do in the Morning,” “Successful CEOs Do This,” or “The Key to Focus” where someone wakes up at 5 a.m. to meditate and then does mental mapping before breakfast, followed by a full work day, all on their own.
I’ve started to realize that my career-life integration simply doesn’t look like that. I can’t seem to see enough alternative models to affirm that there is any other way to success. For all the talk about flexibility, the guilt vampires start creeping up as I roll into the office at 8:45 a.m. (or 9 a.m. on a “Mom, I’m tired” day), or not at all if I want to work offsite. I am faced with the reality of a 24-hour day that involves more people, other than me.
What I have realized is that integrating one’s career and life not only flows throughout a day, but is also charted out over months and years as we take turns focusing on and nurturing ourselves, our families, and our professional aspirations to different degrees at different times. It takes adjusting, tweaking, and most importantly, perhaps never perfecting, as our kids grow and change and our careers evolve simultaneously. As working parents who love our children yet also have professional goals and a drive towards productivity and growth, the path is not always clear. However, if we are serious about the retention and cultivation of working parents, perhaps the most important thing we can do in addition to having a flexible work culture, is to truly support each other and speak out loud about alternative models, which may include a path to success that doesn’t start at 7 a.m.
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