Jun 26, 2013

Work-Life Balance in the Family (Or, How to Cut Yourself Some Slack)

I’m sitting at the computer with two deadlines breathing down my neck. My office door is cracked open, and just now, I hear my younger daughter’s feet padding across the kitchen floor. She’ll peek her head in the office any second now.

My fingers fly, rapid-fire, over the keys. I whisper a prayer that Phineas and Ferb can babysit Anna for one minute while I cram a few more sentences into a writing assignment.

Summer vacation is in full bloom here, and I want to give our two daughters the best parts of me during these fleeting moments of their childhoods. We have museums to visit, picnics to pack, and pranks to pull on their mischievous father. Yet I’m a work-at-home mom, and my load hasn’t slowed, even though the final school bell tolled a month ago.

I have been praying for more work-life balance here.

My editor emailed the other day, reminding me that I had agreed to write a short essay here at The High Calling on that very topic: work-life balance.

Oh, the irony. Then again, maybe the essay was part of God’s answer to my prayer.

I confess to my editor that I see mostly the imbalance in my life—the ways that I’m struggling to find a way to …

“Mommy?” Anna interrupts me mid-sentence. “Can I have waffles and juice? And can we swim again today?”

I push away from my desk and give her a tight hug. “Good mOOOORRN-eeeeng!” I use my best sing-songy voice. I will grab a few more minutes at the computer when the girls head out to play with our new farm kittens. But first, waffles.

After breakfast, I call Dad, age seventy-five.

“How did you do it all those years, Dad?” I ask him. “How did you find balance?”

Dad was the CEO of a large farmers’ cooperative in our region when I was growing up. He was a very busy man, but always seemed to achieve work-life balance, even though nobody used those terms in our house back then. Balance looked like all those hours spent under the evening sky, tossing the Frisbee together, before Mom called us in for supper. Balance happened in our basement, when he and I hosted H-O-R-S-E tournaments with our Nerf basketball hoop.

Balance was also his own cracked-open office door. I’d ride my Schwinn to the co-op on summer afternoons. If his door was open, I’d walk in, with a pouch of Big League chewing gum stuffed in the front pocket of my frayed denim shorts. Dad would push away from his desk and give me a tight hug.

Dad occasionally worked Saturdays. I sometimes walked the five blocks to the coop with him. While he analyzed grain markets, I peeked over his shoulder. He let me sit at one of those brand new IBM computers, where I traded pretend stocks and commodities. I printed reports on the dot-matrix printer, tore off the perforated edges and proudly showed him my spreadsheets.

Mostly, I cherished the Frisbee games. 

On late afternoons, I waited at the end of the driveway with a Frisbee. I could see Dad in his work shirt, walking down the cracked sidewalks toward home. He’d brush his fingers through his thick, black hair. I wonder now if maybe he was brushing away all that had happened in the day.

Because by the time he reached me, he was ready to play. He didn’t even change out of his work shirt.

“I loved playing Frisbee with you,” he tells me over the phone while I wipe down countertops. “I loved jumping in the air to catch that Frisbee, and then throwing it back to you, watching it slide along the edge of the evergreen trees. I have to admit, I had a heck of a lot of fun.”

And, he adds: “I never thought too much about balancing work and life; it just was what it was. ...  God didn’t even have me decide that. Though sometimes, when I see you and Scott with your girls, I’ve wondered if I spent enough time with you kids ...”

His voice trails off.

“You did, Dad! You really did! You were—and still are—an awesome Dad,” I assure him.

I hang up the phone and return to my office to finish that essay for The High Calling. I’m thinking maybe it’s okay to let go of some of my guilt and to stop this parental tendency to overthink or to assume we're doing it all wrong.

A door creaks open. Maybe the girls are headed out to play with the kittens, whose eyes opened for the first time yesterday.

But instead, I hear our older daughter, Lydia, walking toward me. She is an aspiring writer and wants to know what her mother is writing.

She sits behind me, reading every word, just like I did with Dad and his spreadsheets.

Lydia gives me a hug, letting me know—I think—that I’m more balanced than I give myself credit for.

Click the graphic to read more great articles in the Work-Life Balance series.

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Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee. Image by Junyu Chen. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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