“Why don’t you just put aside all that work and focus on your family right now? It’ll all still be there in 15 years, but your daughter won’t be little forever, so don’t waste your time.”
The message came from an anonymous account on Twitter, and it practically screamed at me from my bright computer screen. An hour before, I’d written a tweet about how busy I was and another mother apparently had taken it upon herself to inform me that my career could wait and I should pay attention to my child instead.
Of course, I was reading that biting message from this unknown person while taking a break from cleaning the kitchen after another rousing round of “how far can my 1-year-old throw her scrambled eggs?” followed by the even more popular “let’s chase the dog and destroy everything” game that usually follows breakfast.
My daughter was napping, giving me a maximum of two hours to clean, shower, and get some work done to prepare for some upcoming talks. So naturally, I hopped on social media to do what a lot (most) millennial moms do: share about what I had going on with a bit of sarcasm and self-deprecating humor, poking fun at how much I had to get done while being so tired.
The “focus on your kid, you workaholic, selfish, bad mom” response just cut me down at the knees, making me feel small and worthless, as if I was the worst mom to my daughter, the worst wife to my husband, and an even worse person for thinking I could ever write any decent book or give a talk that anyone would care to read or listen to.
So, sad and slowly becoming angry, I fixed myself a cup of coffee and prepared to fire back a snarky tweet to Madam Judgey-Wudgey who thought I should quit my job and ignore any professional responsibilities and just focus on my child.
But, as my fingers hovered over the keyboard and I read her words again, my eyes lingered on the first line of her snarky message: “Why don’t you just put aside all that work and focus on your family right now?”
Far too often we compartmentalize our lives. We can mistakenly convince ourselves that we are only able to do one thing at a time, so we parcel up our lives into “home” and “work” and “friends” and “family” and whatever categories we think we need to keep it all separated. But this risks us living a disjointed life that lacks integration and harmony.
This isn’t to say we bring our babies to conference room meetings or trade stocks at the dinner table or bore our families with constant chatter about our weekend ultimate frisbee league or annoy our friends with too many updates about our frustrating boss. There of course needs to be an “off” switch at times so we can focus on what’s right in front of us, being fully present to our families, focused on our work, and enjoying the company of our friends.
There are certainly boundaries to maintain. But maintaining boundaries does not mean keeping work and family and social lives completely separate, or simply stopping one because you think you can’t juggle it all. If we compartmentalize and segment, then we lead double lives. We should strive to live an integrated life where our work and our families and our social lives inform and influence one another. If we don’t, then we run the risk of becoming very unhappy and quickly burnt out, trying to keep things separate rather than see the good that each does.
When we strive for balanced integration within our lives and allow the work we do, the people we love, the friends we spend time with, and the homelife we maintain to inform and be in harmony with each other, then we can be our most authentic selves. I can’t just “turn off” the fact that I’m a mom when I hang out with my girlfriends. That’s part of who I am, and of course I want to talk about and share about my “mom life.” I can’t just forget that I’m a writer when I’m spending time with my husband, because I want to share with him the things I’ve written, just like he wants to share with me about his classroom and experience with his students.
If we live only in a “this or that” mindset — rather than adopt the attitude of “this and that” — then we box ourselves into something false. In a culture that judges people on just our productivity, output, and influence we can begin to feel like we have to choose between family or a career, marriage or a social life, my job or a vacation. And while finding the right balance between all of these facets of life can be a challenge, it is far easier to find that balance if we recognize that each element of life informs the others. Balance is found when we don’t just segment things, but recognize the gift that each responsibility can be to the others, when those varied interests and roles work in concert within our life.
Being a wife makes me a better mom. Being a mom makes me a better speaker. Being a speaker makes me a better writer. Being a writer makes me a better friend. Being a friend to others makes me a better friend of Christ. Each component and responsibility and title and role fit together within the fabric of our identities.
So, I say: don’t put aside what you’re doing — do it well, and let it be a gift within your life, and to all the other things you are also doing. Don’t let anyone tell you growing in your career while also raising a family is somehow shortchanging your family: believe, wholeheartedly, that your work ethic and commitment to providing can be a gift to your family. Don’t believe the lie that somehow choosing to stop working and stay home makes you lazy or unambitious. Own your choice and acknowledge that your decision was what’s best for you and the people you care for.
Find the balance not by ending your pursuits or ignoring your responsibilities. Find the balance by allowing what you’re doing, in varied places and ways, to inform your entire life.