Well, that's a weighted title if ever there was one! The question of how to succeed professionally while still being present for my kids has mulled around in my head ever since I was expecting my first child (I now have 3!). Over the past 8 years, I’ve tried out all permutations of the “work-life balance” from full time stay at home to full time work and some part time work and consulting thrown in the middle of those two.
When I decided to leave my position to stay at home with my first child, I received much criticism from others. It was early on in my career and I was growing in a leadership role at a very desirable organization. The general gist of what I was being told by many went something like, “You have worked so hard and are so educated, why would you just give it all away?”. The comments back then took me by surprise, but I now know that it is specifically all the hard work and education that allows me the freedom to make the decision to take a side step away from the workforce. On the flip side, when I decided to go back to work full time with 2 kids, I equally received criticism about how I would be able to manage a demanding leadership role at work and take care of a family while working full time. Notice how the naysayers never came back to talk about how all the education and hard work were now being put to use!? My point in sharing these anecdotes from my own experience is to highlight that caring about the perception of what others think will almost never leave you feeling whole.
So what’s the magic equation to finding that balance? How do we figure out how to stay present with our families while growing professionally? The reality is that what “balance” looks like will be very different from one person to the next. The decisions we make are a culmination of all the lifetime experiences we’ve had. What’s going to look “balanced” for me, may tip your scales in side sweep motion- and that is A-OK because our society needs exactly this variety.
In genetics, there’s this term called the “threshold effect”- this is where after a certain amount of a substance, drug, or exposure a shift happens and a change occurs. What’s fascinating is that each person likely has a different threshold - the point where the change will occur. I think socially we function the same way- where we each have a different threshold for what makes us make decisions that impact the way we live; each of us holding a different threshold for what makes us happy. And this is so amazing, because this variety is what makes our world shine.
How does someone figure out if stay at home or work full time, or the inbetweeny part time work is the best fit? There really is no easy answer since different permutations will make sense for different times in your life. Simply put, the only way you’ll have balance is by reflecting on and figuring out what truly makes you happy. And once you do-work really hard towards building that life. I think once we figure that out for ourselves, it suddenly matters very little what the next mom is doing. When we truly understand that the decisions we make for ourselves are the best decisions, there’s no room for judgement of others. It’s when we are in conflict of what feels right and what we are doing that we start to look all around us and question others’ decisions.
I know some moms who feel complete and whole when they are fully immersed into their full time careers, and others who are perpetually feeling a lack of something when they working. For me, I may still be figuring all the kinks out. But I do know now to pay attention to what makes me feel whole, what makes me truly happy, and am working hard towards making that life work for my family. When I am feeling whole, I can give my whole self to my family and to the patients that I want to help.