It’s Hard to Juggle Work and Family

P1030248-124The scene: An enameled cast iron bathtub in a small farmhouse in New England.

The characters: An exhausted 34-year-old pregnant lady and her 2-year-old and 3-year-old daughters.

The time: 7:00 p.m.

The action: A phone rings.

“It’s probably Daddy,” I say, jumping out of the tub naked, water sloshing on the floor. If James had not been out of town, I would never have answered the phone.

I had just started working as a freelance writer and didn’t have a separate ring tone for work calls.

The voice on the other end was not James.

It was an editor-in-chief’s assistant at a glossy magazine in California, where it was only 4:00 p.m.

“Mommy, I want to talk to Daddy!” The 3-year-old cries.

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy,” the 2-year-old shrieks.

“Could I, um, call you back in ten minutes?” I plead.

It’s hard to sound professional when you’re stark naked.

I bustle the girls out of the tub and leave them upstairs while I run downstairs to return the phone call. Ms magazine wants to assign me a story based on a pitch letter I sent them months before. Was I interested?

I bluffed my way through that phone call, insisting on my regular rate (I didn’t have one) and checking my busy schedule to verify if I could make the deadline (the calendar was empty). When two sets of pajama-clad feet appeared in the doorway of the kitchen (there was nowhere else in the house to talk), I hung up as quickly as I could, feeling both exhilarated and overwhelmed.

The bathtub incident was funny, even at the time, but I’m thinking of it today because—six years later with a new baby—I’m remembering all over again how hard it is to juggle work and family.

Now I make a living as a freelance writer, live in the Pacific time zone, own a house that has a home office with a door that closes, and use a separate ring tone for work calls.

I have a revision of an article due today, to an editor in New York City, who left work before I could finish. I’ve been typing emails with one hand while nursing the baby, my shoulder squeezing a cell phone to my ear to retrieve messages. There’s spit-up on my left sleeve, I’ve forgotten to eat lunch, and I need to advance the diapers in the laundry.

On a good day this juggling act seems like sit-com material.

On a bad day, like today, I feel inadequate: failing to meet deadlines, badly in need of the kind of high-quality dark chocolate we can’t afford, concerned I’m not paying enough attention to my children. I wanted this baby as much as I’ve ever wanted anything and I’m so glad to have her. I want to be a good mother to her, and to my older children, but I worry on days like today that I’m not doing a good enough job.

Take a break. Be kind to yourself. Rest when the baby’s resting. All of this is such good advice from well-meaning friends but there’s no such thing, really, as maternity leave when you’re self-employed in a country in a deep recession and the writing market has plummeted.

Clearly it’s time to take a bath.

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12 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Juggle Work and Family”

  1. Wow do I hear you. This balancing act is every mother’s challenge, but it’s all the more difficult with a job as flexible as writing. The advantages of a flexible job like writing end up feeling like disadvantages when you get as thin-spread as all moms must. And I only have three kids!

  2. I was just writing something for Ed about how intense your work as a writer is, and how much I admire you. I do admire you, your writing, your mothering, your truth. Hang in there!

  3. Wishing I could beam myself across the country and take your older kids to the park, but I have an ill husband and its hard to get the service trades folks in this town to come, and even harder to find one who can repair a transporter. One of the three touch-sensitive light-up bars on the console seems to be broken.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Bits & Pieces =-.

  4. Indeed, be kind to yourself–be gentle with yourself. I am more than in awe with your ability to concentrate and write so beautifully while your little ones are probably calling for you.
    .-= Meredith Resnick – The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last blog ..How I Write Today: Susan Johnston =-.

  5. You are a wonderful mother. We are all juggling. Today I lost electricity in the house, only half my water is working, the pilot light on our only heat source went out, I forgot my kids’ carpool was out of town and they were late to school, and my 5 year old busted open his chin at school while I had 7 preschoolers at my in-home preschool. Luckily a friend stepped in to help sub for me while I rushed him to the doctor! No stitches, just superglue. And what’s amazing is that right now, hours later, everything is just FINE- water is on, pilot light is staying on and it’s warming up, kids are tucked in bed. Time heals all wounds, and bad days. But chocolate helps too! I must admit, I’ve been eating a few little Tootsie Rolls I found stashed in the pantry, leftover from Halloween! Hope tomorrow is a better day.

  6. I remember interviewing an expert over the phone about healthy foods for children and then my 3 y-o hollered, “Mom, can I have another dum-dum?” At that time I would give my preschoolers a lollipop before I did interviews figuring that they couldn’t talk if they were sucking on something. It usually worked well, but this particular interview went a little long…
    .-= ReadyMom´s last blog ..All I want for Christmas… =-.

  7. To continue… being a freelance person means saying yes to every project because god knows, there may not be another one for a while. However, they’re all usually due on the same day. The same day that the kids have a puking virus, or a special event at school, or some other thing happens that makes you feel like a rotten mother as you plead for the 50th time, “please, watch TV, all the kids like it. Mama needs to just finish one more thing and THEN, I promise, we’ll do something fun…”

    And that scene is why I bite my cheek when people tell me how lucky I am to work from home. I know I am–I created this, it didn’t get awarded to me. But it’s not all fun/games either. I feel for you. Really.
    .-= Claudine´s last blog ..My Recipe Exchange =-.

  8. Even on my worst day, I try to remind myself that I’m able to make a living as a writer, while many other people are stuck in a cubicle or bagging groceries for minimum wage. Granted, I don’t have kids yet, but I do think we’re fortunate to be able to do what we love. And on a good day, it feels fantastic to make a deadline or land a new assignment.

    Hope you’re able to reclaim your inner peace and take some time for yourself!
    .-= Susan Johnston´s last blog ..Dust Off Those Story Ideas =-.

  9. Oh yes – that juggle, keeping that balance! It is such a struggle! I really related to the bathtub incident, Jennifer. I admire how well you do keep all the balls in the air. For me, it’s feeling like the hugest challenge right now. I, too, have spit up on my shirt and forget to eat lunch. I guess though it feels like old hat after having been through this many times before!
    .-= Christine at Origami Mommy´s last blog ..Nostalgia =-.

  10. You are an inspiration. I, too, worked around a baby–but just one of them. You have that situation times three (or is it times 4? I’m bad at math. I know you have four kids. 1 x 4 is right. So times four). Aaaaanyway, we all go through it (we = mom freelance writers). I did not do my best work the year my daughter was born. I’m sure there is one client who still, to this day, tells others that I’m a terrible writer because I was so sleep deprived that I couldn’t string two bad words together. But we get through it. And you will. And, for what it’s worth, whenever I read your blog here, I’m just amazed at how rested, professional, creative and downright good you are–despite all that’s going on around you. Also, as someone who used to work as magazine editor, I can tell you that you being a few hours late on a deadline is NOTHING. I had people who turned things in two weeks late.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..She

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