By Lori Weinstein, JWI
I had done it all: worked full time, part-time, downtown, from home, started my own business, even ran someone else’s business. From the time that my son was born, through the births of his two sisters and through their early childhoods, I was engaged in the chaos of career building in an inhospitable environment to prioritize parenting over work. I searched for balance (a fiction that I was well aware of) but my main priority was to be 100% mom while being the best employee as I could be.
I needed a career that was flexible enough to accommodate the single most important aspiration of my life – being a mother. Looking back on it now, it is funny how things have changed in a generation. Back then, flexible workplaces, benefit packages for less than 40 hours a week of work, and ascending any sort of career ladder when one prioritized family life was a self-inflicted tactic for career derailment.
I write this knowing something that is both true and ironic – having children and making a career out of a dedicated feminist framework created moments of irreconcilable conflicts.
For a period of time, the mom in me won out. I never missed a soccer practice, was part of a co-op nursery school, led the brownie troop, was a room parent, and hosted regular, energetic gatherings of half a dozen kids for play dates, sleepovers and fun outings. I had the mom role down and as far as my children could tell, work never got in the way of their lives – just mine! I worked all around the edges of their lives and they never doubted that I’d be there for carpool, gymnastics, and baseball practice.
Then an offer arrived that changed our family forever. It forced us to bend to a different formation, yet ultimately deepened our roots and strengthened our foundation. I was offered the opportunity of lifetime to lead the re-engineering of a century-old Jewish women’s organization that sought to take the brave steps of reinvention in order to be vibrant force in the 21st century. Its mission was my passion – ending violence against women and girls. It offered me all that I could have wanted, but it was beyond a full-time job. It was a round-the-clock-job. I traveled often, the hours were long and I was in Israel three times a year. My part-time work life came to an end.
I remember how upset my children were when I started my new job. Living in a community of mostly stay-at-home-moms, they felt cheated that I was no longer home for carpools, cupcake baking and play dates. One day I had been home and then, just like that, I disappeared from 8 am to 8 pm – returning to cook dinners that often didn’t begin until they should have been in bed. I wondered about the damage I might be doing, about the things that I was missing, about how difficult it is to not be there when one of your children needs your love, your counsel, and your affection.
If there was one thing that saved the day during this transition from mostly-home-mom to mostly-gone-mom, it was my sofa. A large and loving sofa with muted colors and beautiful flowers waited for me to arrive home every day. When the chaos of getting home set in – I simply moved my 9-, 7- and 4-year-olds over to the sofa where the decibel level quickly dropped, and where each person got to share the high and low point of their day snuggled and nurtured by our sofa.
Here is my advice to everyone who feels double-booked: give up on balance, know your kids will survive, probably thrive, and they will go on to admire the life you are leading by example. Oh, and buy yourself a large and loving sofa – something that can contain the noise, hold the love and bring everyone back together after a day apart.
Lori Weinstein is the CEO/Executive Director of JWI, an organization committed to fostering women’s leadership and protecting the rights of all women and girls to live in safe homes and thrive in healthy relationships. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, and has three grown children and two young golden retrievers.
This blog is part of a special RACBlog series, “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century,” dealing with the many issues that affect working families, and featuring everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.