I am lucky to have and live a full and adventurous life, one which I love with all of me. This doesn’t mean I have everything, but I have chosen what I do give myself and this makes it worth the struggles inherent in any life. I am a single parent, a writer, originator of several different creative ventures, and I work full time. I work as an event planner and relationship coach for a singles/matchmaking company in Chicago. The work is diverse and interesting to me, and I love what I do. It is also a job for me, one for which I do good, hard work, and then receive a paycheck. There is dependability and freedom in knowing how much money will be coming in, and there is the ease that comes from knowing the boundaries of when and where my work begins and ends. It is a privilege, not a burden, to be a parent and to work outside the home. But it comes with its challenges, the difficulty of juggling schedules, commutes, figuring out what to do when my child is sick and I still need to be at work, and finding good childcare I can trust. A couple of things that I have learned, and that we have chosen, to navigate work life balance with as much ease and enjoyment as possible:
- Allowing my son to do things for himself. He makes his own lunches and takes care of his own room and is independent and feels good about participating in his own life. If he needs help, he asks, and I will stop things if I can, and help. But he seems to truly thrive when he is given the respect and dignity of being able to find his own solutions and create his own rhythms. This also means I just have to give up asking him to share my own standards for things. We learn to respect each other.
- We travel together, a lot. This is our time. To be without any work. To adventure and listen to music and see new things and know this world as vast and waiting to invite us in. It is time that is ours.
- Honesty saves me. I know there are times that my son is disappointed or doesn’t get the answer he wanted. But learning to just be direct and honest, about my own limitations and about reality, and to communicate clearly with him, protects from the “but you promised. . .” There is flexibility, but no pretense.
In addition to working outside the home, I also teach different writing courses, offer writing groups to adolescents and young adults, and I co-created BEYOND, an experiential travel writing company, with my collaborator Marybeth Bonfiglio. Together we have brought our years of experience with writing, exploration, and workshop facilitation, to offer adventures all over the world for other writers and creators. I am madly in love with this work, and what we have created for others. And yes, being an entrepreneur, has its own freedom and challenges, especially when it comes to traversing parenting with working from home. There is always more work that can be done, and I know at times my son feels like BEYOND is my second child, with whom he must share affection. Here is what I have learned in the trenches that helps keep us sane and happy:
- We have no phone zones/times at home. This is when we are together and I choose to put my phone far away from me or turn it off. I love my phone, but I know how it feels to him, when it’s constantly pinging and that feeling, that there is always work and it’s never done. So we agree to times, and set it down, as a war of marking a kind of “stop working for now” space.
- I set up a schedule for myself. If I am working during the night, I tell him, and then I work. If I am choosing to not work that night, I tell him, and then that’s what we do. It is chosen and communicated. I think boundaries and clarity are significant, and a true way of demonstrating respect and love.
- I share my love of this work with him. I let him know that this is what I have chosen, and why I have chosen it, and he gets to see me working, and see the reasons that it is interesting and fulfilling for me. Working is not a curse; it’s a privilege. So I share my passion with him.
I don’t think there is a right way to do any of this. There are just choices, and being open to move beyond convention and find what actually works for you and your family. For me, that means combining part time work outside for the home for a company, and working part time for myself. Life changes, and then we change with it, and I hope I am simply making choices that are congruent with my values and that which I love.
Because yes, it’s about love for me, not balance. It is learning how to say no to a great many things, so the yes that I do say is bigger and truer and serves what matters most to me. Which is sometimes bringing a home a paycheck so I can take care of myself and my son, and is sometimes spending time with my son, and is sometimes making peach pie or writing my novel or going out and dancing. Some things just don’t get done, ever. And I’m OK with that. We do not eat complicated homemade dinners. We do not play educations games. We do not live in a big home because I just don’t want to keep it picked up and we would rather travel more. But we do go get ice cream a lot. And we have morning sing offs. And we fight, and then talk about it. And I’m so far from a perfect mother, and I’m not interested in pretending I am one. I’m me. And he is himself, and my son. And I’m grateful for work, and for him, and for this life. It is about love.
Guest post by Isabel Abbott