work/life balance – what’s that?

Like many parents in this country, especially those who are the primary caretakers in their family, I’ve had a spotty work history due to the demands of my family.I will spare you the details of my off-again, on-again employment history, but suffice it to say I’ve worked full-time out of the house, full-time in the house, part-time out-of-the-house, and have also been a full time stay-at-home parent.  My kids have been home with me, in part-time child-care, in full-time pre-k, and in school. Now we’re all home together, as I work at home part-time and my kids are homeschooling full-time. Except for camp. Blessed camp.

The worst situation for our family was when both my husband and I were working full-time. And by “full-time” I don’t mean 40 hours/week each – “full-time” in this day and age means at least 40 hours for salaried folk (in my case) or entrepreneurs (in his). For 3 horrible years I was working around 50/hours/week and he was working  60-80 hours/week. We had no balance. If we had two NT (neuro-typical) kids we maybe could have kept it up, but since every minute at home was spent dealing with an ETL child (his behaviors, his therapies, his dr. visits, his rages not to mention the daily, horrible drama that homework created) our lives were seriously stressful. Oh, and work – of course work had its own stresses. So it was stress and anger and worry and performing as good employees and good business owners and good parents from dawn to dusk. Not that we actually pulled any of that off.

That was truly a dark time in our family’s lives.

Thank goodness we were able to make changes. First, I went part-time, then I quit altogether. I liked my job, but not to the detriment of our family, and although I readily self-identify as a feminist, I’m also a family-ist, and if taking care of the needs of my family turns out to be what this woman does, well, I’m going to do it.

Next, we have minimized the demands on Little J: first, we pulled him from after-school care – we didn’t need it anymore, then we pulled him from school, which has helped with the rages and overstimulation and taken away the dreaded homework problem, and we’ve changed a lot of our expectations of his behavior. We’ve simplified our lives a great deal. We only do those extracurriculars that we enjoy and we make it a point to go away together at least once a month – typically something very budget-conscious, but important regrouping time for our family.

I know our family is in a privileged situation in that we can afford to have me not work full-time, but what’s clear to me is that me moving to at-home caretaker has not been so much of a choice, but a necessity. We simply could not have gone on the way we had been when 2 of us were working outside the house. Our family would have imploded. My husband and I would have probably separated. I would no doubt be seriously ill – when I quit my job I was suffering from a couple of stress-related physical problems, which have thankfully turned around since I’ve been able to get more balance in my life.

I have no idea what would have become of our relationship with Little J. Things were bad. Very bad.

And we’ve made sacrifices in order for me to stay home. Although my salary wasn’t large (I worked for public schools in North Carolina, for Pete’s sake), it was still a salary, and it was a loss. We haven’t put any money in retirement for at least five years, my kids have no college fund except for what grandma has set up (thanks Mom!), and we are certainly not keeping up with the Joneses, although thankfully there are no Joneses in my circle of friends. When I do the math and realize my lost potential earnings should I have been able to work full-time the past 10 years, I feel sick. And if I had the time to retrain for a different career that made more money, thinking of that possibility I feel even sicker.

So I don’t do the math. Because what is the alternative?

I know that people make sacrifices for their children all the time – some people sacrifice time for money, some people sacrifice money for time. It’s part of being parents. But I can’t help but think (actually, I know) that parents of special needs children are forced into the full-time caretaker role more than the rest of the population, whether they wanted to be in that role or not.

What do you think? What’s your story?




Similar Posts:

4 thoughts on “work/life balance – what’s that?

  1. Hi Adrienne,
    I’ve found something always doesn’t get done. During the school year, my bedroom is a maze of laundry, and the computer room is piled with books, magazines & work related items. I made the decisions not to teach summer school anymore, but trying to catch up is harder than I’d anticipated. When I go back to school in the fall, there will still be messes I didn’t get to. It’s hard to find peace in that; acceptance of what I can do and can’t do has become my focus but I’m still struggling to accept it.

  2. Since before my kids were born I have always worked at least part-time and always at the same place. I was full time until my son was born and then went part time for a few years until my daughter was in kindergarten. At that point I went back to full time, the decision was made because the company was downsizing and part time positions were more easily cut (therefore if I went back to full time my job was more secure). I carry the health benefits, which are pretty outstanding compared to what many others have, so I need to work. My husband also works full time (more than full time, sometimes gone several nights a week in a row). That leaves me in the primary caregiver role. I feel like I have 3 full time jobs (my real job, my home responsibilities and managing my son’s special needs). I would love to return to part time but I just don’t see that in my near future. I don’t think I could ever completely quit because I really need time out of the house, time when I don’t focus all my mental energy on what needs to be done for him. It is tough though, we have several appointments a month plus the emails & phone calls with the school. I think I have the equivalent of 10 peoples thoughts going on in my head at one time. Somehow we manage but sometimes I just want to bury my head in the sand and act like this isn’t happening.

  3. One piece of language I’m trying to reform is the use of the term “work/life balance.” If language shapes our reality even just a little bit, then “work/life balance” – although its meant to be have positive connotations – must be reinforcing some negative views of life for all of us. Work and life are not somehow distinct “realities” that we can balance. “Work” is surely not meant to be devoid of “life.” Equally, considered, engaged and relational work can surely be part of a highly connected, health-ful life (even potentially a very big part of it). I know the term is coined to try to get us to live in a more “balanced” way but I suspect it simply allows those who see “work” and “life” as mechanically disconnected realities, to continue with that problematic viewpoint – and to continue tinkering with work to make it a “bit more friendly” rather than reforming the notion of work and its part in a whole life..

Leave a Reply