Rethinking a Work Life Fit Issue: Am I late again, or on some other schedule?

by cv harquail on January 4, 2011

As I was gearing up this morning to look over the past year’s blog posts, I found myself being pulled down by that feeling that I was “late again”.

It seems as though I missed another key seasonal window … while other bloggers spent the time between Cristmas and New Year’s crafting recaps of the past year and making plans for 2011, I was putting snowsuits and mittens in the dryer. Over and over.

let it snowman.jpg

As working moms go, I know I’m not alone in this feeling that I’m often behind. But I am starting to see that it’s not the management of work, but rather the management of family, that explains my experience of being behind schedule.

When you are the primary child-caring, working parent (as I am) your first responsibility is to make sure that things flow smoothly for your children. When holidays and ‘breaks’ arrive, these are almost never down time.

Sure, I had my ‘out of office’ auto-reply set so that colleagues wouldn’t expect prompt email replies from me, but it wasn’t because I was vacationing. Instead of being “at work” doing work work, I was at home doing family work — hosting relatives, wrapping gifts, cooking, packing, unpacking, driving, shoveling, and doing all that extra stuff that needs to be done when kids are off school and families are celebrating. I was the person working to make the holidays happen for the rest of my family.

And while I genuinely loved the holidays for the family time that they are, the holidays just aren’t a time off. They aren’t time to catch up on work. They aren’t time to step back. The holidays are a time for me to be fully there, in the family, so that there is a family.

For me, the holiday break actually began yesterday, with my kids’ first day back at school, and my own first day back at work work. What I’ll have is not really a break in my work so much as a comparative reduction in work-life chaos.

I will go to my office, and it will be quiet. I will spread papers out on my desk, and they will not get mixed up with receipts from Amazon. I will organize ideas on my notepads without the second running column of a grocery list. I will look at my computer screen, and it will not show me my progress on Pokemon Platinum.

There will be reflection, there will be a consulting proposal, there will be a fun conference. And there will be peace. Briefly.

I will aim to nurture that peace by hushing the nagging voice in my head that says I’m late, that tells me I’ve missed the window, that suggests that by the second week of January no one will care to look back on 2010. christmas banner.jpg

I aim to nurture that peace by embracing (okay, maybe just adjusting to) the fact that my own work schedule is lagged two weeks behind most everyone else’s for a reason that has nothing to do with my desire to get my work work done. When my break arrives two weeks after most other peoples’, it won’t be because I am late, but rather because I have been there, the whole time, with and for my family.

As I read this over, it sounds a little like an apology, or some kind of over-emotive ratiocination of a variant of procrastination. But it isn’t.

It’s just work and life, and finding ways to understand how they fit me.

See also:
Why Walking The Talk Can Be Harder Than We Plan, by Chrysula Winegar at Work. Life. Balance.
Another World From Which We Came, by Julie Daley at unabashedly female

Images: The ‘Let It Snowman’ recording snowfall in our yard, the Joy-Peace-Love banner my girls made for me this year.


marion chapsal January 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Oh, I love this post so much! It’s filled with honesty, simplicity and courage. It gives me hope and comfort, makes me feel connected with you and thousands of others working parents. Yes, these Christmas Holidays didn’t feel at all like an Holiday for me neither, although it’s so hard to actually admit it, when everyone’s rejoicing and celebrating. Made me smile, the cooking, the new beds to make, the washing macj-hine and drier … When monday arrived, what a relief and a peaceful time at home! I only started to really get to work after taking some planning quiet reflective time.
Such a blessing to read work weaved with life!

cv harquail January 4, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Hi Marion, thanks so much for your comment! I know I’m not alone in this feeling of temporal displacement. Sometimes I do feel uncomfortable voicing these concerns, because I don’t want my kids, family, etc. to think that I begrudge them the work. But certainly, pretending like it’s a vacation, or even worse being resentful that it’s not a vacation, makes things really difficult. Better to claim it and reframe it, that to wish it were not so.
On the other positive side, now blog readers won’t be surprised by a post in two weeks about last year! cvh

Chrysula Winegar January 5, 2011 at 10:52 am

I loved this post (and wished I’d written it!) as it so beautifully gets to the nuggets of focus and priorities whilst acknowledging the truth of trade-offs along the way. My week was almost identical. Wonderful. Full of rewards. I echo your comment above “better to claim it and reframe it, than to wish it were not so.”

Wally Bock January 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm

This is insight poetically rendered. You’ve captured one of the core trade-offs that everyone who has relationships wrestles with over and over. There are times when a relationship, with a child, a spouse, a friend demands attention and other things, including work, must wait. When you are raising children, the rhythm of their lives becomes the rhythm of your life, but sometimes, even they must take a back seat, perhaps for a spouse who becomes disabled. And later, when they’ve grown they can still get sick and you find yourself taking the weekly rate at the hotel near a university medical center. There are friends who become ill and have tragedies in their lives and parents, too, and they all have a call on you and your time and your energy. In the end, they are all part of the web of life and so we do what we can and adjust as we must.

I have bookmarked this post to share with friends and some clients. They will find it valuable.

cv harquail January 6, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Hi Wally- thanks so much for your kind words. While I had only this specific situation in mind when I wrote the post, it’s clear from responses that there is
much more going on for us, at all stages in our family & relationship journeys. There are so many ways that we feel challenged with w-f tensions, and for me this one that ‘the whole world’ is moving forward while Im playing constant catchup is particularly hard. Your mention of other times reminds me that I not only need to Reframe for myself, but also perhaps that I could be more generous in reframing why others fall behind — not out of some failing or lack of commitment but actually in honor of some larger commitment Cv

Lois Melbourne January 6, 2011 at 11:11 pm

This is so well said. It expresses so much, that I know so many feel. When we put others first, but few people know it or notice it…it can be exhausting.

During the ‘break’ we moved our company offices. It doesn’t matter that I am the CEO, I was untapping boxes, sorting stuff, etc along with the team of college interns I hired. I did this so that my employees did not loose their holiday time with family. But I also decorated the house, wrapped presents, shipped packages, helped sister-in-law make Christmas dinner, sent out hundreds of Christmas cards etc. I was exhausted. I had tons of conflicting emotions. But when it comes right down to it…My son and husband had a great holiday and it was the right thing to do.

Sigh! Holiday memories will last much longer than anything we do at the office the last two weeks of the year. When we give to our family holidays, we create foundations that will ripple through society. So it is worth it. Just tough to do.

Cheers to all those that made the holidays special!

Rachel Maxwell January 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm

I am simply grateful that you waited until after the holidays because my life was too filled with family work along with work work during the holidays for me to read anything anyone had written! I found myself deleting hundreds of emails from those productive folk who somehow manage to find time to do more than put out the work related fires during the holidays. Blessings on you! Great post.

Jeremiah Stanghini January 8, 2011 at 1:30 am

While you may not feel so great after this kind of a post, let me tell you, I am so glad that this was my introduction to who you are and what you’re about. I found my way to your blog through a blogroll (couldn’t pass up a name like “Authentic Organizations”) and I started reading the first post.

At first, I was a little shocked at what I was reading. I didn’t expect such a personal post, but then again, this is the blogosphere, right? After I finished reading your post, I checked into your about page to read about where you’ve been – great!

Piecing together your bio with the first post I’ve read of yours just puts things in perspective. Of course, people who have PhDs and are in an academic field still have families to tend. I think that sometimes, (at least for me), when I get to thinking about academia, I forget that ‘academics,’ too, are like everyone else – making money to feed their family and keep them happy.

I’m not usually one to ‘follow’ blogs, but you can count on seeing my name come up in your comments in the future. 🙂

With Love and Gratitude,


Michael Cash January 14, 2011 at 11:54 am

As a new parent I am slowly but surely creating a system of balance between my work and personal life. Organization, multi-tasking and routine are now even more important in my day-to-day activities, especially as my little girl will require more and more of my attention. But that’s what I want. I want to make as much time for her as possible, but still keep my career fulfilling and lucrative.

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