Having it all..

This is probably going to be a recurring theme for me.

The last few weeks I’ve been a bit blue about work-life balance. Somehow in my friend circle, there’s basically no mom I know who (i) has a solid career (ii) has a kid(s) (iii) is not crazy stressed all the time. Well, I take that back – I know two. I’m not sure how they do but I have guesses. In one case, she had her mom, her dad, her uncle AND her aunt around to help with kid #1 (and later with the other kids). In another, the mom was almost tenured by the time she had kid #1 so she was able to go on sabbatical during his early childhood and had generally established herself. I think the shock to my system came when I learnt that a friend (who I thought was handling things really well) quit her job. I’m not judging her at all for it — just a bit sad about yet another talented woman who couldn’t put the pieces together.

I get a bit more about why they quit (or never worked) now. Because it’s just so physically exhausting. Lately, I’ve been just so tired and drained. I do love the work that I do but I wonder if it’s worth it. Possibly this is temporary – deadline burnout + getting sick + GD diagnosis. But also, I’m just tired and anxious. Or maybe my tiredness is making me anxious.

You know the main reason I don’t want to quit? Because once I quit, I have no idea how to ever get back onto an on-ramp. And there’s some ego about not giving up but frankly, this is stupid and ego vs health, health wins.

I’m lucky enough that we don’t need my income to live comfortably. (Well, unless I actually go towards a big data job that actually pays six figures instead of NIH postdoc salary.) Actually, frankly, it might be easier with just Hubby working – we could move closer to his work which is a beautiful town with a great school district. And I could have enough time to myself to take care of myself, to take care of baby, to be more centered. Clearly I’m already fantasizing how to pull this off.

But.. I don’t know what I’d do when baby is 5 or 10 and in school and needs me less. That’s what I worry about – what will I do then? How do I keep in touch enough that I can shift gears again? How do I keep up the intellectual life that I love without some version of work or school to center it? How would I keep myself from getting lonely and isolated?

I’m not making any decisions yet – anything I think right now is going to be a bad decision borne of stress and panic attacks. But increasingly, I feel out of control of my life and my body and I really don’t like the feeling at all.

 

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15 thoughts on “Having it all..

  1. Late to the party, but for what it’s worth from an internet stranger, I found the balance MUCH easier with a baby than while pregnant. I’m a single parent, and had the baby just after tenure, so I’ve been able to step back a bit without losing the career. And I think it’s easier in some ways not to have a choice. But being pregnant while working full time was really really hard, and I was surprised at how much easier it was after he was born, at least after the initial months of adjustment.

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  2. These are really, really tough questions. The fact that you’re trying to deal with them while under physical stress and pregnancy exhaustion makes it so much harder.

    Would there be any possibility of returning to a part-time position after leave? That might let you keep the intellectual stimulation, and keep your foot in the ‘working world door’, but give you more breathing room for personal and baby care. From the non-academic world, I know my MegaCorp is so into experienced data scientists that they’d probably be very open to a part time role.

    I know that once baby is here, there will be a whole new set of stressors and health challenges, but perhaps waiting till then to see how you feel will be helpful. Are you able to reduce hours any using FMLA protection now while you’re pregnant? Maybe that can help your health?

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    1. Hmm, so I’m not sure about the possibility of working parttime. And of course there are issues such as what that would signal career wise.

      For now, I’m managing by (a) working from home more than usual (having the flu makes everyone say please stay at home) and (b) not putting in crazy hours anymore.

      Yeah, I feel like with baby, things will change a lot so it’s hard to make decisions now without that information. For all I know, it might be easier because we have 2 sets of grandparents who are ready and willing to help out (a lot) with the baby while now, I’m pretty much the only one who can do anything for baby.

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  3. So I agree with above that saying one can “have it all” is unattainable for most. The truth is, there are sacrifices everywhere once you become a parent. Some are big, like jobs/time/money, some are small like daily life occurrences…peeing alone, sitting down to eat a meal while it’s hot, etc etc. The truth is, both my husband and I make daily sacrifices to make all their work. It is just how life is and no one is resentful. The other truth is, you won’t really know what you need to do until the baby comes. You may find that you WANT to take some time to stay home vs needing to. And it might be different as the months go by. I have adjusted and readjusted things over the years, and it’s all been fine. Yes, stress is always there. Having another human to care for no matter how old is stressful! Sometimes there isn’t enough time in a day. But it’s worth it.
    Also, I had GD with one of my pregnancies and it was diet controlled and finger sticks and not too bad to deal with. And the baby was fine. Wishing you some peace.

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  4. Hey I haven’t been commenting as much since I can’t comment from my phone anymore. Been reading though. First of all, sorry about the GD diagnosis. Sounds like you are going to re do the test so hopefully the results are better. Anyway, as you might remember I was diagnosed with GD later in pregnancy. I was diet controlled only. Taking the blood sugars and having a more restricted diet was often frustrating and stressful but it wasn’t terrible. And even though I didn’t manage it perfectly, there were zero negative effects on the baby. She was born healthy, passed all her blood sugar tests, and did not grow huge or anything. I know another mom who was in a similar position and had the same results: no negative effects on baby. So even though there are a lot of scary possibilities attached to a GD diagnosis it is something very manageable, from my experience. As for my health I haven’t had a follow up yet but I’m assuming until told otherwise that I will be fine too.

    And the work/parenthood balance can be tough, for sure. I don’t know if there’s any point in generalizing about it as everyone’s experience is different and I think it is best handled by implementing solutions that work specifically for your family. I am a pessimist in the sense that I think “you can have it all” as a general principle is disingenuous at best and misleading at worst. I think realistically that for every goal you meet, a sacrifice is made, and that includes even the best possible scenarios (and goodness knows we do not always get the best possible scenario). For example think of the best thing that every happened to you or the best decision you ever made: then list a few things you had to give up because that great thing happened. There’s always a sacrifice. I say this not to be discouraging but because in my experience it’s easier to be happy when expectations are in line with reality.

    Now for my part I’ve been a full time working outside the home mom…..so far. It has been alright for the first 2 years with one child. We can afford really good childcare and my daughter is an easy going and independent child who likes the environment. My husband and I have always been about 50/50 on childcare and housework (and honestly when I was pregnant and sick he was doing way more than me). We have two sets of grandparents in town. So all that is a factor. Even so, I certainly do feel limited in what I can or even want to commit to my job or career. It truly isn’t a priority lately and while I feel kinda guilty about that sometimes I don’t see those feelings changing for now. I also know the situation can change with 2 kids in the picture. So like you I’m taking it one day at a time. I dont expect to live in a utopia in my lifetime (and I don’t believe in trying to create utiopias) but I do believe that there are ways to make the best of the choices and freedom we have and the more we do that the better things can get.

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    1. That certainly helps knowing that the babies/kid are ok even after a GD diagnosis! My mom’s been telling about many of my cousins/friends who have had GD and everyone’s kids are for the most part ok.

      You’re right about everything being a sacrifice. Till now, we’ve both pretty much just optimized for careers but now it’s a bit of a shift in how to think about things.

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  5. Here’s my experience. I work from home with a very flexible employer until 3pm every day and I love it, I wouldn’t exchange it for being a SAHM. It allows me to be a person outside of childcare while also being a mom after hours. Maybe it’s because my family is far away and if I didn’t work, I’d be looking after baby pretty much nonstop. It also works because I have trusting and understanding colleagues and a job that is not overly stressful and can be done remotely. When I have a really bad day, I can afford to be less productive, I know the world won’t end and I don’t fret over it.

    I really like how you honestly bring up this concern. Most of us deal with it sooner or later.

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  6. Oh hi yes, I am an Internet Stranger who took a detour via the off ramp and… it’s all hard. I don’t have answers, but I do have a job that’s part-time but more-or-less fulfilling and worthwhile, and we have plenty of money for our needs, and we live somewhere nice. My job has fantastic boundaries – I’m mostly done by 3:30, I can always leave if the kids are sick, it’s literally 2 miles from my house- and some down sides, but on the balance side it’s unbeatable.

    And I still don’t know how I feel about my career taking a backseat to my spouse’s. We could still change that, of course, but the cost to do so is high and would the result be better? (Likely no.) And we live near my parents, who are taking my three (THREE!) kids for 16 days this summer so the spouse and I can go to Australia for a conference/vacation/lots of wine. And the kids will get half their tuition paid by the spouse’s employer. And so on. I’m not saying you should quit your job! I’m just saying, I did take the off ramp, and the on ramp still isn’t clear, and it’s okay anyways. There are ways to make it, eventually, be okay, no matter which path you choose. You are a smart, well-educated person with lots of skills, and those skills will be valuable no matter what.

    (My boys are now 9 and 6, and Surprise Baby is 3. Speaking of unexpected career detours. She’s a delight, but SO MUCH SURPRISE. It is, in fact, much much easier now that they are old enough to talk and put food in their own mouths, and I did eventually get terminally bored of being a SAHM. It took 3 years, then the spouse was a visitor so I stayed home for 4 years total.)

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  7. I’m still trying to figure all of this out. Having kids has definitely done a numbe on my career. Things like working late, being flexible and taking on the lion’s share of a project I can no longer do as I have to account for things like child care, illness and making sure my kids have one parent who is on top of things. It’s hard as I use to believe I could do it all.

    But the truth is, I also see how toxic that life is if done for too long. And those who do manage to juggle it all usually have other support systems in place they don’t talk about (faculty tend to be very guilty of not talking about this). My kids, for better or worse, have forced me to put up solid boundaries on my time. It’s already cost me a job, but frankly it was a job no one in it was happy about. And those who respect the boundaries and limits tend to be the ones you want to work with long term.

    I guess my point is I don’t have any answers, but I do know that often it takes a transition to find out what works and what doesn’t. And there is nothing to feel ashamed about with that.

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    1. That’s very true. I’m realizing that parts of my job don’t respect boundaries (and perhaps some of this is my fault as well). Mentally, I’m starting to make peace with the fact that perhaps, it might make sense to shift to a lower gear job/career.

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  8. Ahhh the beautiful dilemma once the gift of a child finally comes true. I have faced this for the past few years. Pre kids I had a super fun, super lucrative and super fulfilling job. I was advancing fast and so proud. Once my son arrived I just physically could not leave him with either a nanny or day care. My heart actually felt broken when I tried. So here I am, a SAHM. I still miss that job. But here is the good news:
    – my husband and I have defined roles. It sounds old fashioned but so many both working parents fight endlessly about child care and home care and who is doing more and whose turn it is etc. we avoid all that and our marriage feels the benefit. We are both less exhausted and stressed.
    – I still can work from home on my own time. I have started a few businesses (two failed and one still going) that make me feel fulfilled and keep my resume going for when I want to join the work force again. I work on them during nap time and any down time I can.
    – I have decided no woman can ‘have it all’ so to speak so we choose what matters most and let go of the rest

    Wishing you luck. It helped me to keep remembering I have just been praying and pleading to have this ‘dilemma’ while I was TTC. Xo

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