Let me tell you about the moment when I realized that even though my work is incredibly important to me, I need more separation, and I need to be able to shut off sometimes – not just in a half-assed way (where I’m technically playing with my kids but 60% of my brain is devoted to the email I need to remember to send by the end of the day), but all the way.

And I need to do this on purpose, because it doesn’t come naturally.

This realization has happened to various degrees many times over the years, but it really happened – like, can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head-happened – a little less than a year ago, when I was visiting a Children’s Science Museum with Indy and Goldie. They were playing with this massive model of hills and trees and buffalos, and I was half-watching them play and half-checking my text messages because even though I’d taken the afternoon off I still needed (wanted?) to make sure everything was cool work-wise, and suddenly I looked up and realized how photogenic and symmetrical the background was and how great the colors were, and thought, oh hey – I should Instagram this! It’s cute! And symmetrical! And those colors!

I went to open the photo app, and they moved a little to the left. And suddenly the background wasn’t symmetrical, and they were standing in front of a brown wall, not that pretty green one. I heard myself start to say “Oh honey could you go back to where you were standing before? On the other side of your sister…?” and then realized:

What. The fuck. Am I doing.

I am literally contemplating asking my children to stop playing so that I can “capture a moment” that isn’t even the moment that they’re in. (I did take a photo. It was in front of the brown wall, and it was really cute. And then later, when I was home and they were napping, I sent it to my mom.)

I’m a blogger. I blog about my life because I love doing it and because it is how I make a living, and a lot of being the type of blogger that I am involves taking photos on my own, or with my friends, or with my family. But even though I’m massively aware of the dangers of this type of work (making the people close to you feel unsafe, compromising your family’s privacy, allowing what other people think – and say – about you to matter more than it should), I am not always very good at ensuring that my work doesn’t blend into – or directly interfere with – my life.

There have been (many) times when I have prioritized a beautiful image over the messy, extraordinary thing that is reality. That’s sometimes okay, I think (like in this post), but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it makes me mad at myself. But when I was sitting there at that museum and realizing that I was not just missing what was right there in front of me, but actually about to stop my children from playing to take a photo of them playing…it broke my heart.

And so I try to set rules. I don’t follow them perfectly – sometimes I get overexcited and scream SAY CHEESE NO WAIT DON’T MOVE SAY CHEESE AGAIN!!!! because I’m a mom and I’m a dork and sometimes I can’t help it – but I do try. I’ll happily spend an hour lighting and setting up an image of a pasta dish or a handbag, but when it comes to photographs of the people I love I really do just try to keep my eyes open, take the shot if and when it appears before me, and if I miss it…well, so be it. Life is better and more beautiful anyway.

But Here’s How I Really Feel.

I do think that the tips that I posted in the work/life Blog Advice post are good ones, but if you take them to suggest that I know what I’m doing about this whole “balance” thing, let me clear that up: I am not that good at it. I’m just better at it than I used to be, and am still working to get to a place that I’m happy with.

It’s so hard.

Because those “rules” that I’ve tried to set for myself that I mentioned up there? I screw them up a lot. I let my kids watch too many episodes of PJ Masks because I need to (want to?) scroll through my emails. Sometimes I tell them I can’t play with them because I have work to do but that I’ll be done soon, and then the hour that I said I’d be done passes, and more hours pass still, and there I am still typing and typing and typing because I’m wrapped up in something and I can’t stop, and when they come in my room to ask me questions I’m so focused on my screen that I don’t even hear the words coming out of their mouths, and they have to repeat them. Sometimes they give up and leave in search of something more exciting to do than volley questions at a person who isn’t listening.

Worst of all, I sometimes even get mad at them for distracting or interrupting me. They’ll come over and tug at me, asking a question or asking to play a game or just asking for a cookie, and even as the words (“You guys need to give mommy a minute so she can finish her work”) come out of my mouth I hear two different people in my head: one is yelling at me that nothing – nothing – is more important than even a single moment with my children (how can you look away from those beautiful faces time passes so fast) and the other is yelling at me to stop feeling guilty about being a goddamn adult who loves both her kids and her work – and for fuck’s sake don’t apologize for it, because men sure as hell don’t.

The logical part of my brain knows I’m not doing anything “wrong,” exactly…but the emotional part feels like I’m  falling short in every way possible. My work makes me distant sometimes. It makes me obsessive a lot. I often prioritize it even in moments when I don’t “need” to just because I get excited about it, even though I want so, so much to prioritize my children (always, always, always).

I also know that if a friend of mine were to say these sentences to me I would tell her to take it easy on herself.

I want to be great at what I do for a living. I want to be great with my kids. And I don’t always know how to make both of those things happen in my one little body and brain. I wish I did. I wish I didn’t feel so guilty, so much of the time. I wish I could do something concrete about that guilt rather than just living in it, but I have a feeling that no matter where I go, it’s going to come right along with me.

Despite all of this, I am certain that balancing our work life with our family life is something that we are far, far, far too hard on ourselves about. Society is unfair in its expectations of us, but so are we.

We screw up; of course we do. Every day, all the time, there are (so many) things that we wish we could do better or differently. But we also love our children, and we do the best that we can.

And that is good enough. Because finding that elusive balance — “having it all,” like the books say we can: it’s a myth. And it keeps us from noticing what’s right there in front of us: our rocky, lovely life, where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing ever is.

Mother and daughter laughing in black and white

{ Read “Finding The Work/Life Balance Part I: In Which I Actually Answer The Question” HERE }


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