Thursday, July 31, 2008

Looking Back on the Pros & Cons of Full-Time Work

Since I am lucky enough to spend most of my work time in the comfort of my home office, I decided it was time to trade in my birch-veneered particle board Crate & Barrel computer desk for something, well, a little more me. Asking my Mother-in-Law for advice, she took a tour of her "basement store" of castoff antiques and not-quite antiques and came up with a rough-hewn shaker table that is just right.

Going through the detritus that had accumulated over the last few years in that comparatively hideous C&B desk, I came across a magenta, sequined (?) journal; the first page was a pros and cons list of leaving my full-time Big 5 consulting job. Reviewing my shaky, over-caffeinated handwriting of the good, bad and ugly of leaving my post-MBA job, two things stood out:
  1. How much has changed! In the two years since I wrote that list, we decided to have another child (who just turned 1), I joined a start-up firm, and the twins finished Kindergarten.
  2. How right I was ! The number one pro of leaving full-time work meant I had more time with the kids and the number con was yet again, spending TOO much time with the kids.

You mothers out there with full-time jobs wondering if there is such a thing as too much time with your children, the answer is yes. Every woman needs a break. But how much is too much of a break? Does work actually qualify as a "break"? I remember one time, when the twins were about 20 months old and screaming at the breakfast table as I left home, I got to work, sipped a cup of coffee with my iPod blaring great tunes, and thought "they pay me for this?"

But suffice it to say there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Work too much, you'll regret missing the time with your children. Take a break from work and you've thrown away your career. Or so mainstream media would have you believe.

A recent CNN article "Working Moms Look Back With Mixed Emotion" tells me there are no real solutions. No matter how much you plan for your work/stay-home decision, you're never going to be completely comfortable and you may even have some regrets. But that's okay, really, it is. That's because there is no right answer.

I say again, there is no right answer. There's only the right answer at that time for you and your family, if any conditions change (and they will) it's time to re-evaluate. And when you do re-evaluate, remember that at the end of the day, it all works out. Because it has to.

Mom, is it hard to be a Mom?

I've always thought that I had things under control as long as everything went as planned. Throw in a sick kid, a flat tire or a leak in the roof, and the wheels fall off the family bus. My wrinkle this week? Husband on business travel.

While my husband lived it up in Sparks, NV for an industry conference (said with a hint of irony, Nevada in July? Come on!) this week, I wrangled three boys and a workload that suddenly spiked due to some great press coverage. Anticipating a rough week, I upped my babysitters hours a bit, planned some easy meals and even scheduled a luxurious lunch with a mentor, replete with pomegranate martinis.

Was it a smooth week? Not by a long shot. Did I yell more than I'd like? Absolutely. But all told, we came out of a week of solo parenting unscathed and I have more than a lot of respect for legions of single parents who do this day-in and day-out. But as I was tucking in my six year old son tonight, he sweetly asked, "Mom, is it hard to be a Mom?"

Before I launched into a long diatribe of what's hard and what's not, I asked him why he wanted to know. He didn't have a good answer, and maybe he didn't know why he had the question, but I thought it important to try and figure out what he was getting at. Looking at his freckled nose and sun-bleached blond head I finally replied yes, it is hard being a Mom. There are a lot of people depending on you and you have lots of work to do all the time but it's by far the best hard job I could ever ask for. The smug grin on my six year old's face told me that was all he needed to know.