The way I would have written it, just a few months ago, when I was thinking intently about parenting, might have read this way:
I don’t know a single working parent who hasn’t had to choose between children and job.
The way I would write it now, the way I am writing it now, reads instead like this:
I don’t know a single human being who hasn’t had to make a hard decision in a moment of divided loyalty.
The thing is, these two sentences are actually identical.
The working parents I know, including myself, have all faced hard moments of divided loyalty that most often seem like choosing between children and job.
[Do I step away from the important meeting to answer the call or not? Do I give my child a slug of Tylenol and send them to (school, childcare, etc.) so I can meet a work deadline? Do I stay at the office for an extra 30 minutes while I’m in the flow, or do I get to the (play, soccer game, birthday party, family dinner) on time and hope that I can get back in the flow tomorrow?]
It isn’t just working parents who face moments of split loyalty, having to choose between “work” and “life.” Anyone who cares for, and is in relationship with, people (partners, children, family, friends, neighbors) and who also applies time and talent in exchange for money (which is how I have come to describe “work”) has faced (is facing, and will continue to face) making decisions about which one takes precedence at the moment, “work,” or “life.”
But “work” is a set of relationships, too. And the central connecting point between the two spheres (because you know I love Venn diagram as much as I love a 2×2 grid…) is that pesky, often problematic, essential relationship with Self.
Going back to yesterday’s idea, what if the imbalance isn’t one of time or energy, but of relationship?
When a professional relationship (manager, peer, direct report, or other colleague) pulls at your independent, whole, true self in a way that is inconsistent with your values, it produces inner conflict.
Overly simple example:
Co-workers pressure you to go to lunch with them (“come on; you need a break!”), but you want to work through the day so you can leave at a certain time.
That’s a relationship conflict, not a work-life imbalance.
Wanting to be in relationship with co-workers, to enjoy that dynamic, is normal and human, just like it was in kindergarten, middle school, college, and in the neighborhood. We are wired for connection, everywhere we go, throughout our lives.
Relationships in which we can be true to our whole, independent, wonderful selves are the foundation of true community – that top corner quadrant of Independence and Interdependence.
But the key to those kinds of healthy, interdependent relationships is internal, not external. It’s the relationship with self.
Back to the example: The only right answer in that situation (go to lunch or work through it and go home on time) is the decision that’s right for you. Making a decision that’s right for you requires some inner work. It requires being honest with (true to) yourself about what’s important to you, to your values, and why.
You might ask yourself: What’s important to me about this situation?
Asking and answering that question requires brutal honesty. You might, for example, have to confront that you care what your co-workers think about you. And then you might ask yourself, why is that? It is ego or integrity?
Think this is belaboring an unimportant, hypothetical situation?
Maybe. But here’s my case: It is in the seemingly unimportant, small, incremental decisions that “work-life balance” either is or isn’t settled. And the central dynamic in these moments, I’d argue, has nothing to do with time and everything to do with relationships, including the relationship with self.
Enough for today? Agreed.
Tomorrow we’ll Review, taking it back to my beloved 2×2 grids. Fair warning, this silly lunch example is coming back. New characters? The pandemic. And Gen Z.
Tomorrow. See you then.