I’ve recently rejoined the ranks of the working stiffs – and by that I mean the ranks of the non-freelancing working stiffs. It’s been quite a few years … 12, to be exact … since I worked in Corporate America. This job is great – it’s the steady work of a busy employer, with the perk of getting to work from home. There’s a lot to learn, and some days I feel as though I’m drowning in options and information, trying to pick a seashell from the bottom of the ocean – seeing so many and simultaneously running out of air and needing to surface.
To continue the metaphor, I know my sea-legs will arrive soon. My writing has taken a big hit as I try to right my ship a bit, and I’m still really wobbly at trying to figure out my balance between work and home.
My husband has picked up a ton for me, and as crazy as it sounds, I’m still homeschooling our son. Part of the benefit of working from home is the ability to continue to be his primary educator, but it does complicate things a bit. We end up starting lessons an hour earlier than we used to, and I find myself checking his work (math, language arts, handwriting) later in the day when we have lunch together.
Dinner isn’t always as beautiful affair – and sometimes I find myself furiously boiling a pot of stew that should have had a long, slow simmer, trying to get it ready for my family. One of the first days of working/cooking/trying to be SuperMom, I realized that my super-powers had failed me badly. I logged out of work, put dinner on the stove, and took myself and a box of matches outside to do a leaf-burn in the backyard while our son raked. Trouble is, I forgot to turn the burner on to low. I went in 30 minutes later to SMOKE, an absolutely SCORCHED meal, bubbled-stuff all over the stove, the outside of my pan, the cabinets, and the floor … and after a well-placed curse, called the dog. The dog cleaned the floor, I opened windows and began the cleaning/scraping/pitching procedures, and called my husband. Who, like a champ, stopped at the local grocery and picked up a rotisserie chicken to save the day.
As we talked about it later, my husband said, “Don’t worry, it happens.” He was careful to not make me feel guilty or to pile on what I was already berating myself with. My response was telling: I replied, “Yeah, but not to ME.”
If any one of my friends had told me the same story I just told you, I would have said, “Give yourself some grace, space, and time. It’s a new, big thing you’ve entered in to, and you need time to acclimate.” In other words, I would have extended grace to my friend. But apparently, I can’t do that for myself. I still feel the need to Do It All and fit that old Enjoli commercial.
You know the one – sing it with me:
I can bring home the bacon
Fry it up in a pan
And never, never, never let you forget you’re a man
Cause I’m a wo-man….
So, lessons I’ve learned thus far in my newfound work experience:
- It is an absolute lie that as working women (inside or outside of the home, work-from-home or work-away-from-home) we can “have it all.” Women who believe this lie will beat themselves up, never feeling adequate, as though they’re doing a good job, or will end up feeling as though someone is getting cheated in the deal. Accept that you can’t have a perfect house, un-burnt food 100% of the time, or the kind of food your grandmother served and cut yourself some slack. I’m preaching to the choir here, ladies.
- I told my employer during the interview process that I wouldn’t sacrifice my family for the job. I was told that the company would never ask me to do that, and I was grateful for the information. There is, however, a responsibility I have to set boundaries in my workday and to honour my own time commitments. The company won’t ask me to sacrifice my family, but that doesn’t mean I won’t volunteer to sacrifice my family – either intentionally or otherwise.
- I have to learn to leave stress in my mail-program, to close the program at the end of the day, and to do something that is the antithesis of stress. For me, this is knitting. Even if it’s only 15 minutes of knitting, it’s enough to clear my mind, give my hands something to do, and to allow me to not take it out on someone else. I also find that if I can release worry & stress, I don’t take it to bed with me, clenching my jaw during the night and causing pain for me the next day. I’m worth it, but moreover, my family is worth it.
- There will always be “one more email” to answer or “one more phone call” to make. If I let it, the job would be self-perpetuating and I’d never run out of things to do. So I need to make a clear delineation for myself – I will close my email program at the end of my day. I will turn off my phone. I will leave work-thoughts for the workday. And tacit with that is I will make time for myself and for my family.
- On days when I totally blow it and bark at my husband or my son, I’m sorry goes a really long way to making up for my boneheaded behaviour. I don’t want to give either one of the men in my life a complex by not being able to manage my stress of emotions, so admitting when I’m wrong is totally helpful.
I’m not done learning how to balance. I still have crazy-wobbly days when I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams. I’m glad those days seem to be fewer and farther in-between now. I heard a rumor that UPS was going to deliver my sea-legs this week. So I’m watching for The Brown to bring me a box that has my intestinal fortitude, calm, and ability to balance. I’ll let you know when it does arrive. Or maybe you’ll hear the overjoyed reaction of my family out here in Dexter and I won’t have to announce anything myself.