jenward

Mommy Law: Watch Those Corners!

“I arrived exactly on time and went inside.  Within minutes, a nanny came running in as another nanny went running out.  It was probably time for a shift change.  I entered the house and headed to the music room.  Three of the daughters came bounding in to show me their guinea pig, and I could hear the youngest daughter singing upstairs.  Since the parents didn't come to greet me, I knew they were still at work.  I began the piano lessons as usual.”

This was my life before law school.  I ran a piano studio.  I taught oodles of lessons each week, mostly from my home studio.  Occasionally I also played "ambassador of music" and travelled to my students’ homes to teach on their pianos.  In the process I came into contact with dozens of different families.  I watched, listened, and learned as they struggled with the same issues of balancing that I struggle with today.

With four girls, two ambitious parents, and guinea pigs, the family I just described was one of the busiest.  Some weeks when I arrived for our regular appointment the family wouldn't even be there.  Usually this meant that they had made other plans and forgotten to tell me.  This family was happy.  The children were well taken care of.  Both parents had ambitious careers.  In order for all of these things to happen, they were comfortable cutting corners on some of the details of home life.  And sometimes things fell through the cracks.

Other families I worked for balanced their lives through meticulous organization.  In one case, the parents were both successful professors and took turns being in charge of all the afternoon and evening activities.  They established a schedule at the start of each semester and they stuck to it.  One parent would handle pickup, after-school activities, dinner, and homework on Monday and Wednesday while the other parent had the freedom to be entirely absent those nights.  Then they traded roles on Tuesday and Thursday.  These parents were committed to having one of them involved in every aspect of their children's lives from 3:15 until bedtime.  In order to do this they had to cut corners.  They each made the most of their days when they were free to be absent from home, and they worked late into the night after the children went to bed.

A third family I worked with took more of a divide-and-conquer approach.  The father commuted a long distance to work each day, and it was very important to the mom to be present at her children's after-school activities.  In order to balance this with her busy realty business, she did much of her work by phone and email as she went with her kids from school to activities to homework to dinner.  She was with her children every afternoon, but then she cut corners by working seven days a week and having her home life and work life constantly intertwined.

Each family I worked with made different choices about how to balance, delineate, and blend their home life and their work life.  As I noticed the routines they adopted and the corners they chose to cut, I learned more about my own comfort with these lifestyle choices.  Through this process my own personal balancing act began to take shape long before I started law school or gave birth to my daughter. 

If you are curious or concerned about how to sculpt your own work-life balance, you might enjoy exploring the issue in the same way.  Observe how others manage balance in their own lives.  Then consider what corners you would be comfortable cutting.  Are you a person who would be comfortable focusing undivided attention on your career by hiring help and letting go of some of the details of home life?  Or are you somebody who won't be comfortable unless you are participating in after-school life some afternoons or evenings?  Would you be comfortable staying in constant contact with either work or family via telephone and computer?  Are you comfortable keeping a rigid and carefully prioritized calendar, knowing that it may mean you have to schedule your life weeks or months in advance with little room for spontaneity? 

As you consider your own balancing act, my advice is to watch those corners.  Notice the corners that other people cut and talk to them about why they make their choices.  In the next twelve months I plan to do exactly that and to share some of my experiences along the way. 

Now tell me, what would you like to hear more about from me?  And what corners have you chosen to cut in your life?  I would love to know, so I invite you to share comments freely.

2 Comments

Peg

jenward,
  This sounds like it is going to be a fascinating Ms. JD series.  I have always said that work/life balance is all about a set of choices.  Personally, I think that striving to be "balanced" is a misplaced objective as is treating work and life as two ends of a seesaw that you’re trying to balance.  Instead, I think it all comes down to being happy with your choices.  For some people, it seems to be all about money.  I can’t count how many friends, family and strangers I have heard say over the years that they have figured out that having the woman work would be cash-flow neutral due to the cost of childcare, gas and other expenses that they would incur by her doing so—and so, therefore she doesn’t work.  I don’t doubt that their calculation is accurate, I just wonder if it really matters.  For me, working is a large part of my personal satisfaction calculation and I wouldn’t be happy without work.  For that reason, I divert a lot of financial resources to being able to work (e.g. nanny, tuition) Of course, I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t a part of my kids’ lives, or god forbid if I didn’t have them anylonger.  The time I allocate to the different parts of my life are the choices I have to make and its the neverending struggle to find the right mix in order to be satisfied.
   Also, it may go without saying, but these choices are a very high class problem to have.  Due to my good fortune, I have a lot of choices.  Many, many women and men do not have the choices that I expect you will be discussing.  Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them… IMHO.

Anonymous

Although I make time to spend with my family, I am constantly distracted by the things I have to do relating to work. My to-do list constantly lingers and I can never fully engage in family activities. It doesn’t help that my Blackberry constantly reminds me that I have things pressing. I’d like to know how you practice being present as you balance family and work. Is it even possible? 

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