I definitely have workaholic tendencies. I’m generally a pleaser, and I want to do a good job at work. I want to be liked by my boss, respected by my colleagues and feel good about myself after putting in a hard day’s work. And although I’ve had a few jobs that were not very demanding and which did offer a good work-life balance, I’ve also had jobs that were nuts — and which demanded my total attention 24-7.
That paradigm shifted tremendously after my baby was born. I still wanted to do a good job at work, of course, and be a reliable employee — but I was suddenly no longer the eager beaver who was willing to be available for work demands at all hours. It was hard enough to get through the full workday being away from my baby. All I wanted was to get home and see his little smile and hug him and play together — not sign back online and start fielding work needs.
So when I accepted a new position that I knew was going to be more demanding, I freaked out. I had never said no to a good opportunity before, but for the first time in my life, I wondered if maybe I should have stuck with the less-demanding status quo.
I witnessed how people on my new team burned the midnight oil, and I started to panic — in a way I never had before. I suddenly saw flashes of late nights at work and getting home to a dark apartment after my baby was already asleep. I pictured myself tap-tapping away on email while my baby stared up at me with sad eyes, a toy hanging limply in his hand, just hoping I might finally play with him.
The tears welled up faster than I could stop them.
I felt like a failure before I had even started my new job. How could I possibly succeed in this new role and be a good mom to my baby? It seemed impossible.
I breathed a sigh of relief — but I was still wary. I know there are plenty of working moms (especially here in New York) who are more committed to their jobs than their kids. They have nannies and day cares and relatives who care for their kids, and they work late into the night. This seemed especially true for working moms who are managers or executives — those who have plenty of resources available to ensure that someone else is raising their children well.
So I waited for the bait.
“Do you have any concerns about the position?” my new boss asked me.
“Actually, just one,” I said, a newfound confidence building in me as I thought about how fiercely I loved my baby and how I would do anything to defend my time with him. I needed to tell her that, when it comes down to it, my son — not my job — is my priority. My limited time with him is the only thing I cannot be flexible about.
“I have one hour and a half each day with my son,” I said. “That time is sacred to me. I put my phone down and spend quality time with him each evening, and that’s not time I’m willing to sacrifice.”
“I can respect that,” she told me, and I felt a sea of relief wash over me. She told me to make sure I created those boundaries and stuck to them so others knew not to trample on that time as well.
“It’s so hard to feel like a good mom and employee,” she added, validating a question I had long held in my head: Is this how all working moms feel?
Fast-forward a few weeks into the new job, and several things have surfaced. For one thing, I was right about the role being more intense than my last one — and that does indeed put more of a strain on me (and my household and my relationships). And yes, my coworkers do email me and ask for things well into the evening and indeed even late into the night — and I work with more time zones now, so requests can literally come in at any time.
But the important thing is I’ve set my boundaries, which means I don’t reply to anything during my sacred evening window with my son. Perhaps what’s most interesting is that in stepping back and claiming this time I’ve been able to take a more discerning view of the types of work requests that do come in after hours — notably that none of them are from my boss and that most of them can wait until tomorrow during business hours. Honestly, I don’t know why I ever felt guilty about the possibility of ignoring these requests for the time being. After all, I’ve got an important task at hand — involving building blocks and toy dinosaurs.