Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
As working parents, Cheryl and I have both had salaried, individual-contributor career in offices for over ten years. We’ve lived within a small area west of Boston, bounded by Route 9 and the Green Line, since we’ve been engaged. We haven’t started or sold a company, relocated for a job, traveled on business much, lost a job, or gone back to school full-time. We haven’t been executives, doctors, teachers or balloon artists with people really depending on us being present as a specific place and time. (Although we’ve dreamed about most of those things.) It all seems very ordinary, but I’ve come to realize our career paths have influenced our family life anyway. For example, center-based childcare has worked well, with its predictable hours and budget, and because we were never both doing something so important at work that we couldn’t miss to take care of a sick kid. As another example, we’re home on Friday nights and weekends which is why, over time, we’ve gotten involved in our synagogue as regulars on Shabbat morning. The point is that we could have done a million things differently and I could have ended up as a stay-at-home dad, or hiring a nanny, or volunteering less at synagogue and more in the PTO. We didn’t have some perfect plan, it’s just the unique way life our life happened.
What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
A few years ago I came up with “logistical bankruptcy.” It’s not like financial bankruptcy; perhaps it’s inversely related because it can involve spending money. It’s my version of “Just Do It.” It means stop planning, do the things you can do, and let go of the things you can’t. The most extreme example was buying a car: we’d been thinking of replacing our second car for years, and one day I went into the dealer on my lunch break, and came back after the longest lunch break ever in a new car. It was just time to do it and stop thinking about doing it. Sometimes it’s recreational: I’d wanted to visit Walden Pond ever since I’d read Thoreau in a high school, and one afternoon a couple months ago, even though I could come up with a list of other more pressing things to do, I decided to take a walk there. A related strategy is getting things done in the morning even if it means getting to work late. My first paying jobs were ones where I needed to punch in on time, so I still have pangs of guilt about it. But working in software requires focus more than punctuality, so taking a little extra time to pay that bill or do that errand that I’d otherwise be thinking about all day is worthwhile. And sometimes, logistical bankruptcy means letting go. I might finish watching Season II of Game of Thrones someday. I know I’d enjoy it. But I’m not going to keep it hanging over me on a to-do list.
Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
It all breaks down for me on a pretty regular basis. A few years ago, when I thought things were breaking down especially badly, I came to realize that often when the stress feels overwhelming it’s just that: a feeling of stress. Rather than problem-solve, I need to take a deep breath, step back, maybe meditate, and realize that this is something I will get through, people love me, and my whole life isn’t about to fall apart. Of course, sometimes things really do seem to break down—someone gets injured, or in a car crash, or the roof is leaking—but those situations are rare and concrete and I can overcome my anxieties to deal with them.
Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
My parents! My mom is the original working mom; not only did she have a career, she was an attorney, a job with which even now people struggle with to find work-life balance. She was pregnant with me in law school, managed to have an accomplished career, and still picked us up and made dinner every night. And she did this in an age before VPNs, when flexible schedules weren’t a thing and after-school-care programs were more an experiment than an institution.
My dad’s career had years when he was busy with long commutes and night classes, and other years where he had more free time but wasn’t earning enough money. But he made sure we never missed an important family vacation, class trip, or youth group event because of the ups and downs, and that my sister and I could afford our first choice private colleges. My dad also made sure we had all sort of opportunities to learn life skills and participate in quality activities. He would let us tag along on errand, show us how to fix things, and make a can of soup for lunch if mom wasn’t around; and he also stepped up to be a cub scout leader and go to after-care board and synagogue youth committee meetings. In these ways he was a role model for me as a dad.
Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
My 18-year-old self would be surprised how easy some things have been, and how difficult others have. Getting married, finding a full-time job, having children, buying a house, even buying a car were insurmountably difficult when I was 18. But over time, I’ve managed to do a pretty good job. On the other hand, I thought I was going to be architect. There were career and personal decisions in my 20’s that didn’t go at all the way I expected when I experienced them in real life. And, the world has changed: I always expected to have enough computer skills to do my own typing, but then I’d hand off a disk to my secretary to print and mail the letters. I wasn’t expecting e-mail.
Relate to what Marc is saying? Leave him some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!