You actually can achieve your own version of work-life balance, but if anyone tells you that it is easy, they're delusional. All working women recognize this scene:
You're on your way to work in plenty of time for your presentation at 9 a.m. Your 4-year-old sobs, "Mommy, my tummy hurts." You reply that she'll be OK as you feel her forehead and decide her temperature can't possibly be above 102. You can still take her to daycare and get to your presentation.
But that's not what happens, is it? You've got to get your baby back home. You know it, we all know it. Your presentation and the six clients who are coming to hear it are on hold. But, oh wait, you remember you have a loving husband who shares child care. That's excellent! A solution to your immediate conflict — except he's in Milwaukee for work.
Head slap when you finally remember Mom. Those pesky rules at daycare about not taking children with fevers are stupid, and besides, you've got your mother. She loves you and always comes through. "Mom, hi. Can you where? You're where? In Bimini? How did this happen? I mean, why didn't I know, Mom? Can you come home? Next week? OK, Mom, I love you."
Surrender, take your feverish youngster home. Reschedule the meeting with your clients, and forget work for this day. Or have your assistant reschedule because she loves you, too. She'll never tell you so (she just simply says that the known devil is better than the unknown devil. Hmmm).
Anyway, your boss and clients will understand because most of them have children. But then they might also have The Nanny. The Nanny: If you have one, you never, ever will miss work, and you'll rise in the company like the quicksilver in that thermometer. Of course, you won't necessarily see your child's first step, hear her first words or get to potty train her. But The Nanny will videotape it all for you, and that's almost as good as being there, right?
Conversely, if you don't have The Nanny, then you will always face the dilemma of choosing between your children and work. We know children will win, and with your brains and hard work, you've probably garnered a respect from your boss that allows her to quietly roll her eyes but tell you that she totally understands. She wants you to succeed.
If she offers to install a home office to help you along, say "no." The home office will get you nothing — you will never be able to get any work done unless you have a soundproof room with childproof locks. That darling daughter may not be able to pick locks yet, but before long, she'll be opening them, uninstalling them, and putting in new ones to which only she has the key. Children are all engineers until we convince them to be something else.
Are you getting the drift here? If you somehow (or almost) can do it all, you'll worry about the kids while you're working. And not be without guilt about work when you stay home ministering to those sick babies. When you do stay home, you'll love on your child, get her well and catch her virus just in time for your rescheduled meeting.
One friend broke down and cried over a work/life balance discussion. After the fourth field trip she couldn't chaperone, she was apologizing, and her daughter touched her cheek and soothed, "It's OK, Mama. The other mothers bring cookies, and you can't cook. So it's better if you don't have to come." The rewards pile up.
The struggles are real, but no working woman should deprive herself of children and a great career if she wants them both. Despite the struggles, she can do it. But she should try to marry someone who fully co-owns childrearing.
Women of my generation are so proud that we've raised young men who take great delight in and responsibility for their families. In lieu of the husband, or in addition to, working women must find parents who don't have lives — as well as marvelous, inexpensive day care.
So what's a working woman to do? Cherish your children, use your brains, drive and creativity to excel in the workplace. Respect those women who have gone before you and help those coming up behind you.
At the end of your working days, you'll discover to your great delight that you did actually do it all. And did it well.
Rosemarie Hill is the leader of the labor and employment section of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel law firm. Her daughters and stepson are grown, and she has a bunch of grandchildren. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.