Why a Work-Life Balance is Crap and What You Can Do About It

visiting yellowstone I’ll let you in on a little secret, one hard earned from 14+ years of parenting my fanny off: there’s no such thing as a work / life balance.  It’s B.S., an urban myth, perpetuated by smug parents trying to win the lifetime game and the ultimate prize of Best Parenting Award of All Time.  It’s all crap, plain and simple and I’m here to tell you why.

I’ve been seeking this mystical work / life balance from the early days of motherhood.  It took me 10 years to graduate from college, and as such I was in the middle of my junior year, studying Psychology when I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful baby girl.  A few weeks after she was born I started a new semester in college, deep in the throes of breast-milk leaking through my shirts, the dark purple sleep-deprived bruises of a newborn at home clearly visible under my eyes.  I slept less than 3-4 hours a night and my husband took care of our daughter while I attended labs and late-night classes.  My husband worked full-time and attended school part-time and we passed our baby girl back and forth between us at all hours of the day and night in order to fulfill our work and studies.  She didn’t need much from us then, thankfully, but she did a few years later at the age of 4 1/2 when I was finishing my senior thesis and internship.  I spent bedtime snuggling her, reading stories with her gently tucked under my arm until she fell asleep, at which point I swapped out ‘Dora the Explorer’ for ‘Statistics and Psychology’.

Baby Girl attended preschool at my university which afforded me the luxury of driving to and from school together as well as peeking in on her on my lunch break through a two-way window.  I crammed all the time I could get with my daughter while she was awake and even when she wasn’t, all in the hopes it would be enough, and that someday she wouldn’t remember the middle-of-the-night nursing on my lap while I furiously typed out class papers on my laptop above her head.

work life balance

It turns out, she doesn’t remember anything.  At all.  I sobbed my way through all sorts of missed milestones, locked away in a library carousel or a university bathroom stall, knowing her life would be a million and a half times better (that’s an estimate from my exhaustive statistical knowledge) for having two college educated parents.  In the end.  My daughter is 14 now, and the tradeoff was worth it, even though if you looked on paper at the time I spent with my daughter in her early years and compared it with the amount of time I was in school or studying, college would technically win.  But she won in the end, and so did I.  There’s no way to make it all equal, the time you spend at home, at work, at the gym, and at the school play for which you have stayed up all night making an owl costume, hot-gluing your fingers together in the process.  Life isn’t symmetrical like that.  There’s no giant balance in the sky measuring the hours you put in at work vs the time you’ve spent cutting up hotdogs and grapes so your precious small people don’t choke on their dinner.  It will all come out in the wash, in the end, that you will have tried as hard as you can at both work and life.  Nothing else matters.

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