The Mythical Work-Life Balance

Today, on my second day of spring break, I am pondering the always just beyond my reach balance between work and life. Although this may slightly be me using my slicing to procrastinate doing anything else, it is an ongoing ponder and a real struggle for me.

When I started working from home, my son had just turned two. I worked half time, and easily fit the 20 hours a week into his nap times and before he woke up in the mornings, with occasional forays into my online classes while he watched “Sesame Street” or played. As he got older, my job and working around his schedule got a bit more complicated and my hours got longer, but still, I generally worked around his needs, and I was always there – volunteering in his classroom, attending his daytime performances, walking him to and from school, running his lunch in if he forgot it, and so on. On occasion, I needed to attend a meeting when he was home, and I usually worked in the early evening while my husband cooked dinner, but my nights and weekends were free, and while Miles knew I worked, it was fairly abstract and did not impact his life.

When I left my online job and returned to the classroom, he was just about to start 3rd grade, and had no recollection of Mom ever working outside the home. I lured him in with the promise that we would now get to spend winter break and snow days and spring break and summer vacation together without me having to go back to the computer and work. (There may also have been the enticement of saving money to take cool vacations in there too! Someone wants to go back to Disneyland and back to Hawaii. My son likes those places too. πŸ˜‰) Mostly, he has adapted well. He likes the after care program at his school and gets to play with many of his friends there. He gets to spend a little more time with his dad (and time at Dad’s office, where there are colored pencils, a kid sized nook behind the drawing table, and the promise of lunches “out”) on the few days when I work but he is off school. I am indeed home during vacations and not tied to six hours a day on my computer and hundreds of virtual students. On paper, it sounds like the perfect transition.

But, there are cracks. For the first time, I missed a performance – mainly because he told me the day of the performance, and I could not get a sub to cover an hour and a half in the middle of the day on that short of notice. I had to leave school during my prep period to get to his Learning Celebration for the trimester that just ended, and that meant that I was late enough that I missed some of the presentations. He misses being able to play on the playground after school with his friends. By the time I arrive to pick him up after my school day ends, playtime is over and everyone has gone home, and we need to get home to start dinner. My husband (who owns his own architecture firm, and thus has no boss to whom he must answer) has started taking some time off work to make sure Miles gets to the occasional doctor or dentist appointment. While Miles certainly copes with these little things and takes most of them in stride, I feel guilty, because it is different and I am not there, when for years and years and years, I was.

Then there is the problem of my own work. People reading the SOLC blogs are all involved in education, so I don’t have to preach to the choir about teaching not being a 40 hour a week position. I am luckier than many, because I only have 86 students, and only one class for which I need to prep. The fact that the class encompasses reading, writing, literature, grammar, vocabulary, geography and history (both of which I have never taught) at a new grade level in a new district with new software with which I am not familiar and on which I received no training just makes things more complicated. Even working flat out, using every minute of non-meeting filled prep time during the school day and all of my before and after school time, it is a struggle just to stay prepared for the next day’s lessons, let alone grade anything. I am generally home just before 6 and try to spend some time playing with my son and talking to my husband, and then it is the whirlwind of dinner and bath and bedtime and no, I really mean it, you are supposed to be in bed now time, and it is usually 8:30 or 9:00 before I surface for air. At that point, I have about an hour that I can spend with my husband before he conks out, morning person that he is, and I am mentally drained and physically exhausted myself. Although I am usually up by 5:30 in the morning, I am decidedly not a morning person, so I generally eat breakfast groggily and read a bit or watch a tiny bit of “my” TV shows before getting Miles up at 6:15. So, in theory, this could be a time that I did a little bit of work. In practice, though, even when I worked from home, I saved the heavy lifting of grading for later in the day, when I felt alive and my brain worked.

This leaves the weekend. Along with soccer and kid activities and play dates and birthday parties and grocery shopping and trips to the library and stabs at keeping the house marginally clean and marginally organized and laundry and time to do occasional fun things as a family, I have to also squeeze in time to prep for classes and time to grade. There simply are not enough hours in the day. I find myself nostalgic for pre-child days when I could – and did – put in 16 hours on the weekend, despite the fact that I know what that did to my health and my temperament.(Bad things!) That’s the only model for keeping semi on top of teaching responsibilities that I know, and it is not one that works for my life now; nor do I really want to return to that type of life. So I am just left floundering, wondering how I am supposed to manage all of it, with no clue how to move forward without hurting someone, missing something, or leaving responsibilities unmet.

And now, pondering time over, I need to work on grading for a couple of hours while my son is out of the house. It won’t be enough, but it’s what I can do. Tomorrow marks the first day of break that he does not have organized activities, and I have promised that we will do fun things together. Although I may feel guilty about work, that it is still a promise I intend to keep.

6 thoughts on “The Mythical Work-Life Balance

  1. The work/life balance is hard for moms! (Still, in 2019, it seems harder for moms than dads!) I am forever trying to find it. I think this has been a good year, but that is because I have limited my children’s activities to two total! And I have lowered my housekeeping standards during the week dramatically! I hope you get to enjoy your school break this week, and that you get to spend some time with your son, not with your marking.

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    1. Housekeeping standards? Hahahaha! I think I abandoned those about 2 years ago! But I did get some marking done today, and plan to spend the rest of the week with my son. Thanks for your supportive comments!

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  2. Wow, I feel the pain in this post so keenly. I think so many of us have walked in your shoes and if we had the answers for how to do it all, we’d be billionaires. I’ve gotten rid of the word BALANCE because it infers that things must somehow be equal, I am working toward HARMONY. Finding some kind of set point that brings more peace and joy. Some days it is more work, others it is more family and me. The trick is to not guilt yourself for not being EQUAL. It’s a work in progress, but now as my youngest is facing graduation this year I fear I will have more time than I want on my hands. Sending you strength and peace as you work through this messy wonderful life!

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    1. I love the idea of HARMONY vs. BALANCE. I will try to think of it that way, and if I can manage to adjust my thinking, that should help. I have a lot more years before empty nest sets in, and I know I will not actually want all the time on my hands at that point, but oh, it is sometimes so hard to deal with at this point.

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  3. I’m a believer that there is no such thing as balance. In my ten years of teaching(all of which I have been a mom) I have never come close to balance. The scale always tips one way or the other. The thing that I’ve learned is that I have NEVER regretting letting the scale tip toward my son.

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    1. I have never regretted letting the scale tip toward my son either. πŸ˜€ I think my problem now is that sometimes, I just don’t have enough control over my life to allow that tipping to happen. But I’ll figure it out. Probably. Eventually.

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