I read an article on work-life balance the other day, written by a mom who is a working attorney. She wrote about the special moments she had missed in her children’s lives, and that while that was upsetting at the time, she didn’t regret it – because her clients needed her more. I was instantly horrified. I judged her. Hard. That was until I brought store-bought cookies to a cookie exchange party.
Last Christmas I was invited to a cookie exchange.
It was hosted by and for women lawyers in my area. I was thrilled to be invited as I had just met several of these very impressive women, and was looking forward to learning more about them. I put the date on my calendar and moved on – immediately swept back into the busyness of the typical day.
The calendar alert popped up for the event, and I started to think about where I would be earlier in the day, what options are in the area, etc. I decided I’d pick up some various treats from a local restaurant known for producing some pretty scrumptious stuff. On the day of, I chose a few different options, and happily headed out to the party.
After hurrying around all day, I snagged a parking spot, opened the door, and essentially skipped into the room – and stopped instantly.
The first thing I saw was the large conference table, overflowing with cookies and treats in various Tupperware and glassware containers. These containers clearly came from homes and were not store-bought cookies. I naively told myself “maybe they stopped home after buying their treats and put them in Tupperware.” A few other clearly-in-denial thoughts crossed my mind. All were nonsense – these were very obviously homemade cookies and treats. “How could they possibly have managed this,” I thought, in a panic, I don’t feel very often.
After a moment I decided to brush this off – clearly, if ever there was a group that would understand, this was it. I grabbed a glass of wine, started talking to people, and settled in. A few minutes later one of the hosts welcomed everyone for coming. Then, asked everyone to gather around the table to introduce themselves… and tell everyone their treat and the recipe for it. Ummm, ok. No problem, I think on my feet for a living. My turn came, and I introduced myself and boldly stated that I purchased the treats I brought for the exchange. And really, they and their family members should be grateful I did, because the alternative probably wasn’t going to be safe for consumption.
Nothing. Not a laugh, no smile, not even an understanding “been-there” head nod. Has no one ever purchased store-bought cookies?
After a second, the host bailed me out, saying no problem, the cookies look delicious. Everyone was polite, but I had been judged for bringing store-bought cookies. By my own people – busy working moms who hustle non-stop through their days. The awkwardness didn’t last long, as these are really nice people I am talking about. Their reaction was involuntary, automatic. Very much like mine when I read the article.
To be even more hypocritical, I had been in her exact position. I had missed birthdays, I spent holidays working investigations, I worked through Spring Breaks and teacher planning days. There were days when if I was honest, my clients did, in fact, need me more than my children. The parent whose child was just abducted, the murder victim whose charred body was found on a holiday meant for giving thanks, the child whose parent was no longer mentally stable – they all needed me more than my girls on that day.
Why would someone who walks in the same shoes as another be so quick to react in that way?
I have felt the stress of trying to do it all from the moment my first child was born. Every mom I know has felt it. Where did we learn to do this? Why do we continue to do it?
I don’t know if there is such a thing as work-life balance. I don’t think I am going to strive for something that may not exist anymore. I’m teaching my girls that life is about choices and compromises. It’s not possible to have it all, and that isn’t a bad thing. The moments I’ve missed, or the times I’ve been less than the other moms haven’t scarred my girls. They learned to have a purpose in life and to make choices. I’m not going to judge anymore – starting with myself.