“Ah balance—the elusive goal for women now and forever.
I wonder, will it always be so?”
Jess Lawson, my protagonist in A Better Next is giving voice to a question raised by most women during their lifetime. Why is it so hard to find the right balance in your life? Be it struggling to get through the demands of school or college while working, or maintaining the household during the crazy years of child-bearing while trying to keep a career going, or the pinnacle of challenges—maintaining your own family, career and home while trying to care for or manage the transition planning for an older parent.
I have experienced each of the above scenarios and know how complicated it can be. But, I also recognize that they are, “first world” problems, and that I have been lucky during my lifetime not to have been denied a roof over my head, been exposed to war or famine, have not been trafficked or lived in a society which marginalizes women to a degree that many countries do.
I also was not burdened by health issues myself, or with my own children. My heart goes out to those families who have to sort out medical care and foster a special needs child. The calculus needed to juggle the dynamics of that extra challenge would be mind-boggling.
Knowing all of that, I am still amazed by what parents have to do to provide their children with a safe and loving environment to raise them to be constructive adults in today’s world. When I was juggling career, family and a household, I often envied the couples who had parents close by who could happily step in for last minute calls if a child fell ill, or who could meet the bus if a meeting was running late with a client. And, maybe start dinner…..
I wasn’t THAT lucky. I was a high-achieving professional in a dual career family with a calendar of demands for both adults and children that needed to be adjusted every few days. Time for a work-out or yoga class wasn’t on the list. Date night, not a regular habit. Balance—not a chance.
I worked hard to simplify daily life as much as possible. I remember choosing a child care center close to my workplace so drop-off and pick-up wouldn’t be uncertain based on traffic or weather concerns. But, even then, it was brutal to be the only woman in the Boardroom with thirteen men every Tuesday afternoon. I was the one watching the clock as it ticked closer to 5:30 PM knowing that while each of them had a wife at home cooking dinner, I would be facing a stiff fine for being 15 minutes late to pick up my children if I didn’t get there on time.
My stomach would churn as the men droned on, seemingly not adding any new value to a discussion which circled around at a molasses pace, someone throwing in a gentle dig about someone’s golf game, or a side conversation wafting to all about the best airline bargains for a week-end getaway. No time pressure for them.
I was still fairly junior in my executive role then, and wasn’t quite ready to submit myself to imagined comments that might be made behind my back if I sprinted from the board room to pick up my kids. Being female was already risk enough, adding obvious signs of the distraction of motherhood to that equation would make life even more complicated.
I like to think it would have been different if there was another woman or even another man with childcare responsibilities in the room. Today, there would be.
But, what if I had tried to make a difference in my workplace culture in that very boardroom by just standing up tall, looking at each man in turn and stated in a matter of fact tone “Let’s wrap it up boys, I’ve got kids to get home.”
Hard to say if it would have enhanced or limited my career—but it sure would have felt good! And, I know now it would have been the right thing to do for women everywhere. And families by extension.
Balance is a goal at every stage of life. Keep trying to find it for yourself.