I went back to work two months after I had my son and thought I had it all together. Yes, I missed him. Yes, pumping sucked. But I found myself falling into a groove that worked for me. Every morning after he ate, I snuck in a quick snuggle and read him a book before I headed into work. I picked him up from daycare every afternoon and put his jammied butt into bed at 7 p.m. every night. My husband and I would cuddle up on the couch and watch a tv episode while basking in the glow having it all. Good jobs, check. Good kid, check. Good life, check. I felt like I’d found the magic unicorn that is work-life balance and it felt great.
.And then…James hit 6 months and the bottom dropped out from underneath me. Work got busier and busier, so I started taking work home every night. James started eating solid foods and we were trying to save money, so I started making it myself in the evenings. This cut into my evening work hours, so I started waking up a little earlier to do some extra work in the morning. Of course, then my body decided to stop producing enough milk, so I started getting up even earlier to fit in an extra pumping session. One thing after another started piling up until suddenly I was buried under a heap of responsibilities and obligations.
These days I’m up at 4:30 a.m. and am asleep at 11:00 p.m. at the earliest. I no longer read with my son in the morning. I feed him and immediately hand him off to his father so I can run out the door; I feel a stab of guilt every time I see an article about the importance of reading to your child. Recently I’ve started propping a book in front of him while he plays on the floor. I know, it’s ridiculous.
Nick and I no longer cuddle on the couch at night. We mostly sit in the same room while working on our laptops. If we’re not doing work for our day jobs, we’re probably sniping at each other over who has to clean-up the kitchen or pack our son’s lunch. I feel like no matter how many hours I put in, there’s never enough time. I’m always behind. Behind on a proposal for work. Behind on cleaning the toilets. Behind on calling down my client list. Behind on finally getting that doctor’s appointment scheduled. Behind on finally starting that exercise routine.
Almost every morning as I’m dragging myself out of bed, I wonder to myself where that magical balance went. How was it within my grasp one day and then gone the next?
I know this sounds like whining, because it is. I’ll own it. I am whining. I am also tired, constantly hungry, and often feel like I’m one dirty dish away from losing it. In fact, I have no shame in admitting that I have actually shed tears of frustration over a sink full of dirty dishes.
A former boss of mine firmly believed that everyone should have a personal saying, a life motto. Hers was “Get sh*t done.” Mine used to be “Fake it until you make it,” however these days I’ve adopted a new life motto: “Just Survive.” It’s straight to the point and is honestly where I’m at. Forget work-life balance and “me-time,” I just want to make it through the day.
How do I just survive? Mostly by lowering my standards.
- If I get a chance to meal prep on a Sunday, great. But if I don’t and we’re eating frozen turkey burgers and cans of soup for dinner every night, it’s good enough. Buying fancy organic soup has helped me feel slightly better about how often this happens.
- If I get a chance to vacuum the floor every morning so it’s not a dog-hair carpet, great. But if I don’t, I throw a blanket on the floor and hope my son doesn’t ingest too much dog hair. A little dirt doesn’t hurt, right?
- I’ve found that hoarding is also an incredibly useful survival skill. I have snacks stashed everywhere. I have toothbrushes and deodorant stashed everywhere. I have “lovies” stashed everywhere. If I can’t rely on my brain to remember everything, I can at least rely on preparation.
Most of all, survival is about giving up the guilt and the envy. It’s about accepting the fact that work-life balance isn’t a reality for me right now. Instead of getting frustrated and angry over how other women seem to be able to get everything done and still make time for cocktails with the girls, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not in that place right now. Hopefully one day, but that day is not today, and today I need to #justsurvive.