Yes, please, but…: Having all the things, but not all of each thing

Hayley DeRoche struggles with work ambition, a drive to DO, and a simultaneous desire to do more in other, more familial areas.

Photo by: CamEvans

“The thing is, when I work late like that every night, I miss dinner and putting my daughter to bed,” I explained matter-of-factly.

I extrapolated, saying that I imagined other folks would similarly not want to have their schedules shift to a go-in-later-stay-later situation as the norm, since if people are paying for care, or kids are old enough for school that starts at a set time, that kid-time that’s lost in the evening isn’t necessarily recouped in the morning. It was a hypothetical conversation, one I never felt a true stake in prior to having a kid.

In the end, it turned out to be a misunderstanding–that it wouldn’t be every shift, just the usual one-late-night routine with a little change. Which is fine. More than fine, it’s expected in my profession. I breathed a little sigh of relief: Good, okay, that’s straightened out.

Being a working parent with a young child feels like a constant game of straightening things out, smoothing wrinkles, fighting traffic to be home before her bedtime. Sometimes I’m putting on my patience-game-face when suddenly, something comes up right as I’m flying out the door at work, and then I’m there for an hour more helping straighten something else out, smooth a wrinkle, make things run the way they should run.

There are wrinkles everywhere, and I’m smoothing them, smoothing them, smoothing them. There is never a smooth surface, or at least not for long. What’s it that Bilbo Baggins said he felt like? Like butter scraped over too much bread. Except I’m not an ancient Hobbit. I’m just a working parent.

People say to lean in. As the head breadwinner, I feel that pressure keenly. They say, as a woman, as a mother, lean in, and put in the time, and reach. I want to wrap my fingers around opportunities, I want to say “Yes please” to things like Amy Poehler does. Yes please, I’ll do that! Yes please, I’ll write that! Yes please, I’ll lead that! And I do. I say yes. After all, I’m the head breadwinner. I’ve got no reason to lean out, because I’m not ever going to stay home. And if I’m never going to lean out, then the logical option is to lean in. Right?

Of course, there’s the option to lean back, not out. To not take that professional development class after work once a week. To stay after, but just for a few minutes, not an hour, when I know someone needs help. To say “No thank you, not this time, but next time!”

But it’s hard to lean back when you know you’d never be satisfied with leaning back, not for long. I know myself. I know staying home would make me a shell of myself, happier in some ways, but more miserable in others. I thrive with projects to sink my teeth into, things to aspire to, ambitions to achieve. If I’m not working towards something, I feel adrift.

I am full of contradictions.

I love my work.

I love my time not at work.

I say “Yes Please, But,” not just “Yes Please.”

Yes please, but I need to be home for dinner.

And the truth is, when it comes to trying to get those contradictions to balance out, I’m not interested in playing Twister to squeeze out every bit of work I have in me, and every bit of good present parenting. I can’t make 100% good decisions that benefit my professional life and my home life equally. Those decisions do not exist. Sometimes, my professional life will lose. Sometimes, my daughter will lose. And that sucks.

And she will probably turn out OK despite that.

And so will I.

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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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