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By Shirley Jump

A friend recently asked me, as a fellow mom and full-time writer: “How do you juggle work and being a mom and make sure you’re doing a good job at both? I feel guilty when I work and guilty when I don’t. Well, all except for at night. But the work I can get in from nine to midnight just isn’t enough if I want to do this full time….”

My answer: You don’t.

I’m not trying to be flip about this, just realistic. There are going to be times, NO MATTER how hard you try, when you feel like you are only doing a good job at one or the other, times when you feel you should get the “World’s Worst” award for both. It never balances out-ever.

But here’s the kicker. It doesn’t matter what you are doing with your time during the day, whether it’s baking cakes or working a job or writing or mowing the lawn. You are ALWAYS going to feel like you can’t balance both equitably.

Nora Roberts, who is probably one of the most prolific writers in the world, started out writing when her kids were very young. She is often asked how she managed to balance both. She said that in the juggling act of life, you have to decide what things are glass balls and what things are rubber balls. The rubber balls you let drop so you can catch the glass ones. The glass balls are obviously the most important things in your life: children, husband/wife, writing. The rubber balls are the Tupperware parties and the pristine house and anything that smacks of Martha Stewart.

In short, you have to let some things go in order to attend to your priorities. I’m not telling you anything you can’t hear on an “Oprah” rerun. This makes sense, and it works.

But it doesn’t solve the problem of feeling guilty for working when the kids are around and feeling guilty for playing when you should be working. That isn’t going to go away. I battle it daily. Guilt has a starring role in my house. Heck, I’m even thinking of giving it a bedroom of its own.

A few things that I do when the balance is tipping precariously in one direction or the other:

  • Let the kids fend for themselves: I know, it sounds cruel. What do you mean, not make them a sandwich? Not bathe them? Not put away their laundry? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. My daughter, at nearly 8, is pretty proficient with the microwave and knows how to make soup from a can. My son, at 3, has attempted his own sandwich. He can change his own clothes. They do many things for themselves. To me, it’s not a bad thing. It teaches them independence and makes them feel proud that they can “do it themselves.”
  • Pass the guilt trip to someone else: Think you feel guilty? Think about your spouse, who is probably working more hours than you and spending even less time as a parent. Share that guilty burden. Don’t be a martyr.
  • Involve them: My daughter and I play “Mancala” while I answer e-mail. My son colors at my desk while I work. It doesn’t always work out, but if my task is light, their company is nice.
  • Walk away from work: I do this when the kids least expect it (keeps them on their toes  There are times when I have to say no to playing a game or watching a video, but I try to temper that with just as many yes times. I counter this by sleeping less and working during their sleeping time, but it works out okay.
  • Show them you love them: I leave notes in lunchboxes, put lipstick kisses on hands, bring home the occasional treat, dispense hugs no matter what I am in the middle of, and tell them I love them all the time. It’s not a substitute for being with them, but it reminds them that I think about them all the time.

Last of all, accept that you will NEVER have that perfect balance. If you weren’t writing, you might be at a full-time job, or going to school, or spending your time knitting. Everyone needs something for themselves, whether it’s a job or a hobby. That time is time well spent because you are investing in YOU.

And isn’t that a great lesson to teach the kids?


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