The Juggle without the Struggle
October 17, 2010
Managing family and work life offers up its own set of challenges as you split your attention, and sometimes your personality, to meet the needs of everyone else. Living in Germany while working virtually in others brings that level of schizophrenia to new heights.
Family life in Germany is great, if you want a particular kind of family life. Anyone who has ever had children in the German school system will tell you it takes some getting used to. From grades one through three your child comes home as early as 11:30 in the morning. Vacations are set every six weeks for one or two weeks off; and up until recently, they had what is fondly known as ‘hitzefrei’ or spur of the moment school closings as of 11:15 am when it’s too hot outside. (They just cancelled that policy this year). Needless to say, quality and quantity time with your children are distinctly possible here.
For a home-based freelancer like myself, I have designed a work life that fits around the children’s malleable schedules. It works well, in part, because the kids finally understand what ‘Mommy’s on the phone’ means. In years past they would holler at the top of their lungs, even if it meant my words, and theirs, would be recorded and heard by radio listeners worldwide. Once they got clear that interrupting me to ask if they can watch TV means the difference between our affording that vacation to Italy or not, they got mum quick. Nonetheless, interruption is a part of working from home and the home office juggle has a certain flavor not found in an office building setting.
Take garden tools. If I am chatting away with a London-based client outside, where the mobile phone reception is best, the neighbor inevitably decides to power up his leafblower. The juggle begins when said neighbor is relentless in his yard grooming, mastering the art of noise for everyone, including London, to hear.
Long before I understood what it meant to work from home, I glamorized the notion of bunny-slippering it to my desk in a java-induced morning shuffle. Not so. The age of video conferencing eradicates all kinds of personal appearance slip-ups. You brush your hair or die. Don’t be fooled. Those pixels that lend a slightly dreamy imagery on the other end don’t hide bed head. Nothing but a good brush out does.
The greatest challenge to juggling work and family life has to be the odd hours that I keep. Juggling clients from California to Sweden, I could literally work 24/7 if I wanted. The trouble is mental burn-out is inevitable if you make yourself available at any hour. So conference calls happen until a reasonable hour; emails don’t get answered after dinner; and I place a great deal of importance on mealtime with the kids. Growing up in a household that ate together only on special occasions, I emphasize dinner talk as the relaxing part of the day for connection and parental correction.
So much of our lives is placed in a bed of urgency. Our globalized world demands so much more of our attention than the olden unplugged days of 9-to-5. Having the juggle without the struggle means inserting slow moments of delight, rumination and frolic into our day. In my case that typically means a soccer match with my son or a board game with my daughter ~and that mid-week. Life is full of trade-offs. I’ve reached the conclusion that juggling is a life skill we all would do well to master. It’s the struggle part that we can choose to embrace or leave behind.
In which ways can you reduce your workload to feel more joy in your juggle?