An Inconvenient Truth? Maybe My Career Is Actually Hurting My Family.*

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[image credit]

[*Alternate Title:  “In Which Melanie’s Feminist Card Is Revoked, Hell Freezes Over, And An Inconvenient Truth Is Recognized”]

I am exhausted.  Tomorrow is Saturday, and it’s also the one day a month where we do the billing in my office and I need to come in to help.  Normally that’s not an issue at all because DH has the kids, except for that one weekend enough where he goes up to the base for drill weekend.  That was two weekends ago, but despite this, we still need child care tomorrow because DH is being called in for a rare (for him) weekend day of work.  It’s just one of those weekends.

Our family is growing up and DH and I are experiencing some growing pains in our respective jobs and overall careers.  He seems busier, I’m still as busy as ever, and my preschooler is starting to talk about how she misses me and doesn’t want to go to school.  On the other hand, my toddler straight up IGNORED ME when I walked into her classroom mid-day to drop off a snack for a party.  So there’s that.  That’s a good thing, I guess?  No, wait.  Anyway …

It’s dawned on me lately that maybe this lawyer thing I do most days out of the week (and every week of every year … I don’t take vacations) is actually hurting my family.  And this is where the other bloggers and most readers of the blog are about to rush in to pat me on the back and tell me noooooooo you’re doing the right thing/what’s best for your family/what you really want, and don’t let anyone tell you differently!  Yeah, I know, but it’s not really about that.  This is really about me finally coming to terms with the choices I’m making and the natural consequences of those choices.  I talked a little bit about this last week.  I know I can do better.  The question is how.

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again yet expecting different results each time.  Like, for example, how every Friday I put off my blog post until the evening, expecting to get it done in a timely manner under conditions where I’m actually not about to fall over from exhaustion.  Or how I tell myself every time I’m running late that 20 minutes is enough time to blowdry my hair, get my stuff together to get out the door, stop for gas, and make it on time to a meeting.  So maybe I’m insane, because since DD1 was born three and a half years ago, I have been going to work, doing the child care shuffle, rinse and repeat, yet I wonder why the kitchen is still a mess and the laundry hasn’t folded itself magically.

Let’s not get sidetracked on mundane household chores, however, as important as they may be to a functioning household.  They are a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself.  So what is the problem?  The problem is that with both DH and I busting our asses all day at our jobs, no one is managing the homefront.  At first, this was just annoying, and maybe just a little bit funny.  Stereotypical, commonplace, and the stuff of terrible sitcoms.

And then the not so hilarious stuff started happening.  Bills went unpaid, or worse, overdrew our account.  Stuff around the house started breaking down and was left unrepaired.  Basic pantry staples were being depleted much, much faster than we could replace them.  DD1 lost her hat and one glove (just ONE, how annoying is that?), and I was just sending her to school without them.

Stuff has been happening with me work-wise as well.  Due in part to starting a new job, but mostly due to my own feeling of AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!! that sometimes factors into my day-to-day life, I had to un-commit myself to some professional pursuits, which feels fucking awful, not gonna lie.  That was the subject of my post last week.

And then DH’s job stuff got … more complicated.  I noticed he was coming home later and later, something he never used to do.  He also revealed to me that he experiences just as much stress as I do in my job—he just always kept it to himself, for fear of upsetting me, especially when I have the need to talk about my own work life so much.  Oops.  This was hugely eye-opening for me:  have I been minimizing my husband’s own professional trials and tribulations at the expense of my own?  That was never my intention.

So back to the problem:  no one running the household.  Look, this is CT WORKING Moms, not CT SAHMs, so you’ll get no grief from me on the issue of dual-career parenting (or SAHD parenting, for that matter).  I’m not here to announce that I’m doing a complete 180 in my parenting or work choices, or my attitudes about career and motherhood.  And yes, we could go into all the pros and cons about being a WOHM versus a SAHM and do the usual analysis of how both entail certain tradeoffs, and that neither is better than the other, objectively speaking.  It’s highly subjective and personal to each family situation, so, like any good lawyer will tell you, it just depends.

And that’s how I feel about my own family situation right now:  I can’t speak for every family, nor should I, but for my family, I am wondering if I just need to swallow a difficult truth about the kind of life I am giving my children and, yes, my husband, who once upon a time saw himself married to the kind of woman who would be home with his kids and probably have a job of some kind too, but not a career.  That is, not a career that demands you to sacrifice your family at the altar of status and success.  While DH is certainly an enlightened modern guy who wouldn’t stomp his feet and demand that I spend all day barefoot in the kitchen (and honestly, I would not have married him if that was his M.O.), I do think, based on some of our earliest conversations, that he truly believed he would someday raise a family with a woman more interested in tending to the home and her children–and perhaps even pampering him a little bit after a long, hard day at work–than with her own professional and personal pursuits.  He tells me now that he simply changed his outlook over time, but I wonder now and then if the truth is that he simply ceded that vision of his family to my overriding concern with my own career.

The other day, a client thanked me profusely for the work I do.  It was such a touching moment, and I got a huge charge out of it.  I was in the zone, and had a flash of insight into why I do what I do:  I love helping people.  I thought about how DH and my two little girls feel about me, and searched my memory for the last time I got a similar rush from the love I feel for them and the way I am helping them too, hopefully.  Basically, that feeling I get when I am reminded why I practice law, even though it can be frustrating, is the way I also want to feel about being a wife and mother.  I think I forgot that somehow along the way, probably right around the time I was blogging about how my kids actually hurt my career, instead of the other way around.  And if neither my kids nor my husband are not giving me enough of those moments to remind me why I wanted marriage and a family in the first place, then it is totally my fault for not being there to experience those moments.

 

10 comments on “An Inconvenient Truth? Maybe My Career Is Actually Hurting My Family.*”

  1. Just wanted to pop back on here quickly to thank everyone for the great comments. I wish I had time right now to respond individually to everyone. I am going to try to do that in the near future, but I’m just focused on treading water for the time being.

  2. You have got to take a vacation. Really. Not only for your kids but for yourself. You’ll burn right out and no one wins. Why haven’t you? You don’t have to go anywhere.

  3. Yes, totally on board with all sentiments in the piece – but it’s not about one woman, or one family, and the circumstances particular to them. All of us do our work and care for our families in the larger context of the policies and institutions in this country, one that systematically disregards and undermines the value of the unpaid labor of caring for each other. Hence our policy failure to implement paid sick days, paid family leave, flexible workplaces, and access to high quality, affordable child care. In a society where the only work worth doing is paid work, the unpaid work of raising children and caring for others is always an afterthought, and conflicts like this are inevitable. Do we believe it is possible to alter things enough to provide both money and time to care for our families? And if we do, are we willing to make it happen by exercising our political will?

  4. Thank you for sharing these stark realizations. I know it is not easy to think them, let alone put them out there for the world to see. But, for what it’s worth, your story really resonates with me. I have two girls similar in age to your own and am also a full-time working, commuting mom. My husband has also recently taken on more demands (and hours) at work. I could go into our recent story, but I won’t bore you — just know that you’re not alone! And thank you for putting yourself out there!

  5. I don’t think this is an unusual situation you are facing. As kids get older and more complex they need more from their relationship with their parents — and are better at vocalizing their needs and wants. The parent-child relationship is just that, and it needs attention and effort as much as any relationship. So if you work long hours you are missed more than when they’re babies. And of course it’s easy for all of us to take our marital relationship for granted more than is healthy. I hope you find your balance. I think a good place to start is by scheduling vacations. Your kids and dh will benefit from that extended time to reconnect with you. And you probably need that recharge time more than you realize.

  6. Melanie ~ like the other commenters said, I do love the courage and strength in your raw honesty and vulnerability. You’re an amazing person, Dear Sister. This is the year of “radical balance” and I have a feeling you are finding your way there. I’m inspired.

  7. Major courage to share such vulerablility. I am right there with except in the midst of a job search and struggling with how I am going to make the balance work again. Thank you for opening up to us. You inspire me and I have no doubt you will figure it out.

  8. This takes guts: ” And if neither my kids nor my husband are not giving me enough of those moments to remind me why I wanted marriage and a family in the first place, then it is totally my fault for not being there to experience those moments.” To admit to us, tough, but to admit to yourself, that’s some real courage. It sounds like a tough place to be, AND, it sounds like you know where to start: noticing, or creating an opportunity for, a few more of those moments. Good luck! I admire you.

  9. Great post Melanie- I am right there with you. Maybe it’s becoming a new mom? Because my focus and enjoyment has always come from success in my career. But there has been a shift in how I view my time- and questioning what my ultimate goal is as a full-time working mom. I’m not saying this is how all working Moms feel (or should)- but in the end, it is my family that matters- not the material things I can provide because of the income I bring in. I learned this as a child to two full-time working parents…so the question for me is- What now? Am I just having new-Mom brain? Or is this really the red flag? The inconvenient truth shining so brightly that I’ll need to address it? Good read…thank you!

  10. Mel, this is such an honest piece. I love how you are always able to write about your personal experiences in such an open way. What you’re going through sounds really hard. One of my college friends is a lawyer at a top law practice in NY and she works an insane number of hours. Even when she lived in CT and worked for a legal practice in Hartford, she worked crazy hours. I’ve always wondered how lawyers balance life and work because it seems particularly hard in your professions. I hope you know how wonderful of a person you are, even if you’re not feeling that right now. You are kind, compassionate, care about others, would do anything to help the people you care about (and have helped me several times at the drop of a hat) and you love your family to pieces. Even if things are feeling totally out of balance right now, your girls (and husband) know that you are truly a wonderful person. And I’m always here to help with anything, I’d even help with cleaning 🙂

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