By Shirlee Press
My husband and I both work in roles that ramp up during election campaigns as we try to stay on top of every twist, promise, pledge, and tidbit of information our respective clients hunger to consume.
Much like parenting, it is all-encompassing, which is where we run into issues at home.
Though we have hired a babysitter to help out with dinner and bedtime during this difficult period, our toddler has so far refused to interact with her.
There goes my brilliant plan to finish up work when I get home while the kids are entertained.
Though our four-year-old loves the babysitter, the second she leaves, the battles begin. Acting up before bedtime is now a nightly thing. As she watches her parents pass each other like ships in the night in a thick fog, she has become more clingy, emotional and demanding.
Just the other night, she emerged from her room at almost 10 pm to declare she couldn’t sleep; no amount of counting sheep or any other animal would help. We agreed to let her lie in our bed for one minute as long as she promised to go back to her room without crying.
The minute passed and the meltdown ensued.
What followed was a serious talk about the importance of keeping promises to ensure people trust you. For a moment I thought about all the candidates vying for our votes and my anger at her completely disregarding the promise she made softened. Start ‘em young, I thought.
If only it were that simple.
Parenting is challenging at the best of times when you’re already on the edge of exhaustion. It’s doubly challenging when you’re exhausted before you even get home and have to find a way to parent and work at night, prep for the morning and somehow get enough sleep to wake up and do it all over again.
Our work responsibilities are so demanding that we don’t get to spend a lot of time with our daughters during the week. In the morning, my husband gets the girls up, fed, dressed, and shipped off to daycare while I work, seeing them only briefly before they leave. We reverse roles in the evening, with my husband often missing the youngest before bedtime.
Then we both get sucked into our laptops, email and Slack messages.
So what is a parent to do when pulled to extreme ends of the work-life balance?
It starts with setting boundaries and trying to be present without devices for time with our children. We have desperately tried to do that, and I’m not sure we’ll get better at it as the days roll on. From now on, if our eldest asks for an extra minute of snuggle time in bed, she gets it to let her know she remains the most important person in our lives.
It also includes trusting that our four-year-old in particular can understand why we’re as busy as we are. We have talked with her, in her own terms and on her time, about what we as her parents are doing for work. We talk about how there are people who are hoping we will choose them to be in charge or important – language from one of her favourite books, John Oliver’s The Adventures of Marlon Bundo (a must-read for kids!). We explain that we are trying to make sure voters have information to help them choose who they want to vote for, which makes our work important, but not more important than her.
Sometimes my husband will let her cuddle up while he’s typing away to show her what he’s doing and make her feel part of things.
We will keep working on work-life balance during this campaign because, to paraphrase a Portland father, it’s too late to start finding that balance if you’ve already lost it.
J.R. Storemont’s LinkedIn post in early September put this issue in stark terms for us. He spent so much time at work that he barely saw his twin boys. Then one day, during a meeting, he got a call from his wife that one of his eight-year-old boys had died in his sleep. I won’t go into the heart-wrenching details, but will note this one thought he had: Work can help us grow and offer something to the world, “but that work needs a balance,” he wrote, adding “it’s a balance that lets us offer our gifts to the world but not at the cost of self and family.”
It’s a good reminder, not only for our household, but for any parent struggling to leave work behind and be truly present with their kids.
October 21 can’t come soon enough.