The Balance Myth and Business Trips

I just finished a book called The Balance Myth, after reading a Wall Street Journal article called “The Mommy Business Trip: Conferences Appeal to Women with a Guilt-Free, Child-Free Reason to Leave Home.”

Women are stressed by the competing demands of mother, wife, career and friends. We feel guilty every time we make a choice that prioritizes one over the other. We wish we could celebrate one day with no laundry. We miss sleeping late on a Saturday. We are tired of multi-tasking from the moment we wake up in the morning until we lift our tired feet into bed at night. We imagine going postal in the deli line… or is that just me?

The problem is that most women – and men – do not get to choose between career and family. They do not get to go on Mommy Business Trips or talk about “balance.”

Many women run single-parent households. Some speak English as a second language, and are trying to build a better life for their family in a world that is foreign to them. Some hold two jobs and rush home to latch-key kids, hoping for the best, because that’s all they can do.

And many men work 80-hour weeks. They work through dinner and wish they had more time with their kids. They miss their sons’ music recitals or their daughters’ soccer tournaments and every parent-teacher conference. They don’t get to exercise. They wish they could sleep through the night, but their minds will not shut off the pressures of work. They wish someone else could take that business trip so they could spend time with their wife and kids.

If you want to be great at anything (school, career, parenting, hobby), you have to put the time in. You have to make sacrifices. You have to make choices. You have to work hard.

But women are told we could have it all: career, family, fun, adventure, friends, plenty of sleep, and two hours a day to work out. We only needed to want it badly enough. And now, completed exhausted, we are either disappointed in ourselves or spoiled or both. We want Mommy Business Trips to the Ritz Carlton to make us feel better. We want “balance”.

But there is no “balance” once you decide to be a parent. As my husband said when our first son was born, “it doesn’t look good on paper, but…”

That’s the thing I have learned by being a parent, wife, writer and friend. Those who have the luxury of making choices need to make the ones that fit them best. While every mother I know loves her children, they do not all love the process or daily practice of being a mother. And all intelligent, educated career women do not find happiness at work.

And that should be okay. 

I find that the people most energetically seeking “balance between work and life” are not content with their choice. Or they feel too guilty about it to be happy. Oddly, the women and men who have no choice aren’t the ones complaining.

The author of The Balance Myth says that she loved her career. She loved being a driver for her company’s success. She writes about how once she put work and family on one calendar, instead of bifurcating her life, she could do it all. But her book about balancing work and family talks a lot more about her work than her kids. Except when her oldest son goes to college, most of the stories about her kids are about when they got in the way of her work (due to nanny issues or behaving badly because they spent all day in the office).

It is clear that she loves her kids. It is also clear that she made a choice. And she seems happy with that choice, which is why she found success and did not need “balance”.

The book is not about balance. It’s about how she managed to be successful in her career. Not about her life as a parent. It’s about the life she chose.

I too made a choice. And if I write a book, it will be about conversations overheard when driving fourth graders to the museum, a review of Rise of the Guardians or Wreck It Ralph, feelings walking out of a tough parent-teacher conference, worrying about my kids’ bad dreams, listening to a run-down of the latest drawing of a time machine they want to invent. It will not be about finding balance between writing and kids…because like her, I will write about the life I chose. Motherhood. Unapologetically.

I love being a mom. I am an over-educated, hard working, once-successful, thought-I-would-never-get-married-or-have-kids woman who discovered that the best job in the world for me is raising my children. 

Maybe I should be writing book. Maybe I should be a VP of Marketing somewhere. I should have changed the world. I should be contributing significantly to our finances. I should be wearing business casual and high-heels and running board meetings. I should be carrying on with the fight our mothers fought to get us to C-level.

And yet, I am happier than I have ever been, even though I find myself losing sleep, looking at a never-ending pile of laundry, missing grown-up conversation, re-learning geometry (which I hated the first time) to help my kids with their homework, cheering at soccer games where five year olds consistently score for the other team, and foregoing the Mommy Business Trip that none of my friends would ever take anyway. I freelance when my kids are at school, because I have decided that I am a mom first, and a smart, successful person when I can fit it in.

Sometimes I wish the world still perceived me as a smart, successful person. But I feel lucky I had the choice to make. I wish more women – and men – had the same.

I am not going to belittle what I do each day, because I love it, and I love who I do it for. And I am not going to claim I am doing more than my husband or friends or the mothers who came before me. I am certainly not going to judge those who make a different choice. I admire them (though I do not want to be them), as I know they sometimes admire me (though they do not want to be me), because in being true to ourselves, we are finding success… and even balance.

No Mommy Business Trips necessary.

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