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“Mommy, are you ever going to stop working?” I could see my son through the rearview mirror, a sullen look on his little face. “I feel like you’ve worked more than ever since the coronavirus happened.”
I’ve worked since my son was little, but I’ve always spent a lot of time with my three boys. My friends joke that I have a fake job because I appear to be a housewife. Going out on my own after my first was born gave me the luxury to set my schedule and prioritize my work as I saw fit. Kids came first, work came second — even if that meant I made less money than I could be making. Once the kids went to school, I had more daytime hours at my disposal, plus I had a mom and mother-in-law that helped with school pick ups several times a week. Between school and extracurricular activities, the boys were busy. I was great about being present when they were home, whether it was weekends, holidays, or afternoons. My work never interfered with their lives.
At the beginning of the quarantine, it felt as if we had begun a relaxing vacation. Everything stopped. No more driving to and from school, activities, or work. No more commitments. No more travel. We had nothing to do. This drove some people crazy, but not our family. We savored it, spending our days in the pool, playing board games, reading books, and watching TV. For weeks we enjoyed the laziness of it all, remembering that this was a time we’d never get back.
But as the weeks became months, it became apparent that this pandemic was not a short-term situation. I resumed my work, taking everything online. I paid close attention to what the world needed of me during this time, and I pivoted my business accordingly.
I spend a lot of time working on my CORE Challenges, being interviewed on podcasts, delivering keynote speeches via zoom, and coaching individuals. But I can no longer work around my kids’ schedules because they haven’t had schedules. We are home all the time. With no separation, I catch myself shushing them so I can finish a call, meeting, or thought. I hide in different rooms of the house to escape the noise. I hold my finger up to silence their incessant “mommy, mommy, mommy” without looking away from the computer to claim some boundaries. For the first time, I can’t always be there when I am there.
Now my middle son was expressing deep disappointment. Immediately the feelings of guilt and shame rushed over me. I’m a horrible mother; I’m putting my work’s needs before their needs; I’m abandoning my kids. Those feelings quickly turned into defensiveness: I’ve always put my kids first. I lay with them every night! I still play with them and read with them. I can’t believe he’s calling me out! I’m doing the best I can.
But I didn’t react based on either feeling. Instead, I asked Justin follow-up questions like: Why do you want me to stop working? What do you wish we were doing instead? What do you miss the most?
I realized that what bothered Justin was that I’d had several intense days of work during launch week of the challenge. I also learned that what he was longing for was one-on-one quality time with his mommy — not just a few minutes before bed kind of time, but a big chunk of time. Once I understood how he was feeling, then I responded.
We spoke about how he didn’t realize how much I worked before because he was entertained at school or in activities, but being home all the time made him notice it more. We spoke about why I’d been working so much over the last few days, and how in life we go through seasons. I reminded him how much time we spent together playing at the beginning of the quarantine period and all the things we still do together. I acknowledged how he was feeling and told him how much I loved him. I also shared how much I love my work and how important it is to me.
“I would hate to stop working because I have a lot of purpose in my work. It would make me very sad not to do it anymore.”
He thought for a minute and replied, “Well, if your work makes you happy, mommy, then I don’t want you to stop doing it.”
“Thanks my love. Please give me a few days until I finish this launch, and then we will have a very special date.”
Two days later, Justin sat on the couch next to his little brother playing Minecraft on his iPad. I sneaked up behind him and whispered in his ear, “Hey buddy, wanna go on a date with mommy?”
His eyes peeled away from the screen as he processed my words. Then he squealed with excitement and popped off the couch to grab his shoes. Minutes later we were on our way out.
There’s not a lot to do during a pandemic, but luckily ice cream shops are still open! My son and I sat on a bench outside as he devoured an ice cream sunday and I enjoyed an acai bowl I’d picked up along the way. We chit chatted a bit and then drove to a store he loves. That was a little tough because Justin loves to buy things but he had an unfinished Lego project at home so I told him there would be no shopping today, only browsing! He wanted everything, but settled for enjoying the quality time.
We drove back home and locked ourselves in his room to finish that Lego project he’d started. We had a blast building together. After spending 3 or 4 hours just the two of us, we reunited with his brothers and went out for a bike ride. Just like that, Justin’s emotional bank account was full again.
One afternoon was all it took to press the reset button on his mommy meter.
Since that day, I’ve been more mindful of putting my work aside to enjoy quality time with the family. Some workdays are longer than others. There is no perfect balance between work and parenting. The lines are even more greyed as we navigate this pandemic. Having everyone home all the time takes tweaking and fine-tuning as we find what works and doesn’t work.
But one thing is for certain: life can be messy and imbalanced, but still be meaningful and rewarding.
When you listen with an open heart, acknowledge your loved ones’ feelings and your own, speak with love, and look for heart-centered solutions — everyone wins.