Moms are always talking about work/life balance. We search for that elusive work arrangement that will be darn-near perfect: the job that allows a mother to stay connected in her field and contribute to the household income, but that isn't so all-consuming that she misses her children's childhoods. And work/life balance isn't just about balance of time, it's about mental balance as well: How do you find a job where your mind is equal-parts consumed with important, professional issues and with raising a family?
Just reading that paragraph, one comes to the conclusion that the perfect work/life situation is so idealistic that it must be fictional, a non-existent dream that we can aspire to, but never achieve. One has to all but accept that there is no perfect solution when it comes to work/life balance, just better solutions. And yet still we chase that perfect solution.
Let me stop for a minute and note that all this work/life balance stuff is what the Internets like to call a "first-world problem." Or, really, it's not even a problem that everybody in the first world has the luxury of having, because there are certainly plenty of mothers right here in America for whom the issue of whether or not to work is, really, a non-issue. It's not about work/life balance, it's about having enough money to survive.
But here in my privileged corner of the world, we talk about work/life balance a lot. And even closer to home -- well, my home -- this summer has brought a whole new experiment in work/life balance as I've begun to dip my toe into the world of freelance work.
And let me say, I think freelancing is an excellent arrangement for me right now. It was really great to dust off the part of my mind devoted to professional issues, which remained dormant for quite some time. It was good for me -- not always easy, but good for me -- to have to juggle personal and professional responsibilities. I really began to cultivate a "no time like the present" attitude toward all responsibilities, which helped me to stay on top of things. Case in point: I have never been so caught up on the laundry in my life. And I liked how working from home meant Nathan got more time at home to just putter around and learn to entertain himself.
Now, of course, no work arrangement is without its drawbacks. As my more seasoned freelancer friend Sarah and I discussed recently, it seems that with even the best work arrangement, things work smoothly about 80% of the time, and then 20% of the time you're scrambling. While 80/20 is obviously a relatively favorable ratio, it is that stressful 20% that stands out in your mind and has the most potential to drive you crazy.
But, as I said, there are no perfect situations, just better situations. And I believe this summer I discovered that it's better for me to at least be doing some amount of professional work.
I think Leigh Ann perfectly summed up my feelings yesterday. Leigh Ann was discussing her return to work after a year of stay-at-home motherhood. She talked about all the important, life-sustaining roles she filled as a stay-at-home mom, and about her additional endeavors like blogging and writing a book. And all those things are great, she said, BUT:
"It's irrational, this need to work, in the world. To feel indispensable. To feel like I'm filling a role most other people couldn't fill."And, honestly, that is exactly how I feel. Sure, I play an important role as a stay-at-home mom and a wife, cat owner, human, etc., although of course my inner critic has to jump in and say that I'm not that important because I only have one kid. But, I mean, I do some useful stuff. For example, I serve as the magical go-between from dirty clothing on the floor to clean clothing hanging in closets. I'm the one who knows where Walgreen's is when there's some kind of emergency toilet paper situation. I cook, clean, and serve as the family's social director. And on the side I write this little blog, which, while not financially lucrative, has netted some payoff in terms of free samples. So, in some ways, I manage to make myself useful.
But, there is just something about an outside person you aren't related to by blood or by marriage saying, We want to pay you to perform a task. We'd like to invest some of our organization's precious capital in you, because we believe you can be helpful and useful to us. And maybe the work you're doing at your paying job is just as trivial as the everyday minutiae you face at home, and maybe it's even more trivial, but in the end you are compensated with money, which is an important and measurable commodity.
And sure, your family is always going to be more important than any job. Motherhood is priceless, which is why most mothers don't want a job that would keep them away from their children all the time. But motherhood is also often thankless and presents few opportunities for evaluation. If all you have to worry about all the time is whether or not you're being a good mother, you will go crazy. For example, when it occurred to me that I was viewing Nathan's preschool parent-teacher conference as my own personal job evaluation, I knew it was time to look for some outside professional opportunities.
Thankfully, an opportunity presented itself shortly thereafter, and I spent the summer enjoying the challenges of balancing my new work/life endeavors. Just when I think I got fairly competent with this balance, I finished the project I was working on. And now I'm desperately craving more work.
I do have some irons in the fire, but it's just in my personality to worry until I have a legally-binding contract. Again, my family does have the luxury of not needing my next paycheck in order to survive, so this whole thing is really just about my mental health. It's better for me to work. And it's better to have a steady stream of work so that I don't have to go back and forth between crazy hectic and idly bored.
I know I have to have faith that something else will come along. But I'm not good at having faith. I want to have a contract.
And that's the state of my own personal labor this Labor Day.