DIARY

Finding The Work/Life Balance, Part II: Me In The Museum (And How I Learned To Put Down The Damn Camera)

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.

IMG_0899

My son, helping me style a product shot. 

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 “doing the best that we can” is a wonderful thing to do.

Mother and daughter laughing in black and white

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

MORE BLOG ADVICE POSTS, FOR YOUR HANDY REFERENCE:

  • LaraR

    I liked you ‘weekend snapshots’ posts, but maybe they are not so comfortable for you anymore taking all this into account

    • jordanreid

      actually, i don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re no longer a weekly feature – i tend to just put up shots from the weekend if and when they make sense (and usually in the context of another post rather than a ‘here’s what we did’ roundup) – if we go to, say, a cool new park there’s a 99% chance we’re going to take photos anyway because that’s what we do, and i like writing about interesting local places. but i don’t feel pressure to write about every weekend, and there are lots of weekends that pass lately when we don’t take any photos at all. beyond that, i’ve noticed that there are many (many) times when i’m doing something i would have previously whipped out my camera for – dinner with a friend, say – and now i’m just trying to…have dinner with a friend. it’s nice 🙂

  • Laura

    Thanks for this post, Jordan. I struggle with this a lot, and I don’t even have a husband or kids (yet — hopefully one day!). I think there’s this misconception that the work/life balance challenge is mostly about managing expectations set by other people (your boss, corporate america, etc.), but for me, the challenge is about pulling myself & my mind away from work that I truly love. No one is telling me that I need to spent X amount of hours or produce X amount of work-product. It’s that when I’m engaged in a project that I care about, it can be all-consuming. I literally cannot think about anything else. And I hate that that means that sometimes I’m not as present as I want to be around the people I love. Thanks for making me feel like I’m not alone!

    • Laura

      P.S. I love this picture of Indy helping you style a photo. It’s such a sweet moment — the precision and focus and thought that he’s putting into it.

    • jordanreid

      all of this, YES. your comment is so dead-on how i feel. i have so loved the comments under these posts; it is such a relief to know that i’m not the only one who struggles with this.

  • Olivia

    Again, knocked it out of the park. I find myself saying those “wait one minute, mommy has a phone call/graphic to make/tweet to send” words way too much. It’s a little funny/sad that my son knows what a Tweet/FB post is at age 2…

  • Nita

    Loved the post. I think you would also love this TED talk by Shonda Rhimes who also discusses work/family/play struggle. Please watch if you haven’t already!
    http://www.ted.com/talks/shonda_rhimes_my_year_of_saying_yes_to_everything#t-999540

    • jordanreid

      i will, thank you for the link! i read an interview with shonda, actually, in which she said something to the effect of “people ask me how i ‘do it all,’ and the answer is i have help.” amy poehler said something similar in ‘yes please’ – “how do you do it all? because i have a wife, and her name is [whatever her nanny’s name is].” i thought it was awesome, and – beyond that – a great way to honor the women who help us raise our children, and so often don’t get nearly the respect or gratitude that they deserve.

  • This post was really meaningful to me, Jordan, and I know it will be to a lot of other working parents, especially those that may have more unconventional, outside-the-office jobs. I used to photograph weddings and portraits, and now I hardly photograph anything, because I got so burnt out on the expectation that I had to be a historian of my own/other people’s lives when OFF duty. Family and friends would expect me to bring my camera to events, and would occasionally give me a hard time if I didn’t get enough photos to document their experiences. And because of social media, I started making my weekends into photoshoots, as you say – picturesque picnics, exciting events, for-the-camera-walks-by-the-lake. Anything for a good photo! It became too much pressure for me, and most importantly, took me out of some really important life experiences. I became a watcher – a historian – instead of a participant in my own life. And we all know life is too damn short for that. Thank you for sharing this post! You seem to have struck a really nice balance for yourself, and I hope it gives you and your family lots of joy.

    • jordanreid

      thank you so much, thao – i’m so glad you liked the post (and that you’re finding balance for yourself, too).

      re: people expecting you to document their own occasions – something funny i’ve noticed over the past year is that while my friends don’t seem to expect me to photograph their events (and certainly don’t get annoyed if i don’t), i almost always do it anyway, because i know how exciting it would be for me to be able to be super present for my own child’s birthday and not have to think about taking photographs of them, like, blowing out the candles or whatever. i guess i haven’t burned out on it because taking photographs of other people hasn’t been something i’ve done much of, and it’s actually turning into a hobby I’m SUPER into (off of RG, I’ve been doing a lot of this). but i can totally see burning out on this if i made my living as a professional event photographer (and if people gave me a hard time about not being their official documentarian, oh my goodness!).