Balancing Work and Family This Emotional Life - PBS

Attachment / Blog

Dr. Paula Bloom

Dr. Paula Bloom's Bio

Dr. Bloom is a practicing psychologist, speaker, and frequent CNN contributor.

Balancing Work and Family


Being a mom feels like I’m riding a see-saw sometimes. There is family on one side and work on the other. Very rarely has this see-saw been horizontal and balanced for any length of time. Sometimes the weight of one side falls with a thump and at other times it may happen more slowly. While I talk about motherhood in this post I by no means want to suggest that this is only an issue that plagues women.

A 21 yr-old single mother was recently arrested by the military for failure to deploy because her childcare plans for her 10-month-old fell through. I am not here to judge her or the military’s response as I am not privy to all the details. Was this poor planning on her part? Was the military excessively rigid?  This story really hit me and sparked a wide range of thoughts and feelings. In discussing it with friends I realized that I was not alone in my reaction.

If you ask most mothers “What is more important, work or family?” I would guess most would say family. But what does it mean to have your family come first. Is it measured by how many hours you spend together? Can it mean providing good opportunities for your children that may require long hours away and which may mean, in the case of the 21 yr old military mom, many months or years away?

When we see stories like the military mom it is easy to make a caricature of each involved party. For me this story is a reminder that putting your family first can look many different ways. The military can provide educational opportunities and job security that this mom may not have been able to give her child in any other setting. Doing work that contributes to others can teach children the importance of service, sacrifice and selflessness. There is no one-size-fits-all way to parent and we each need to find a solution that works for our family.

One day, at the playground, I began talking to a woman sitting next to me on the park bench. After talking for a while she asked me how long I had been a nanny. She had been doing this work for many years in order to send money back to her home country where her mother was raising her children. She assumed that because I speak Spanish that I too must be caring for someone else’s children. It got me thinking about how many men and women come to this country without their children in order to offer their kids a better life.

My own parents came to this country before I was born. My mom left all she knew, all her family support and her native language to come live here because my father had always dreamed of living in the United States where “opportunities are endless.” Would it have been better to have been raised close to my extended family but in a country where my parents felt my future would be limited? Looking at the lives my brother and I lead today I feel grateful for the decision my parents made.

So many of the patients I see struggle to find the perfect balance. Their anxiety is exacerbated by the belief that there actually even IS a perfect balance. They want to be the best parent and professional they can be. They “just know” that the solution to their “problem” is out there and it is just a matter of finding it. What I find myself saying to others, as well as to myself, is that often the solution to many of these problems is this: Accept there isn’t (or may never be) a solution and just enjoy the adventure on the playground.

I realize that this post offers far more questions than it answers. As I balance motherhood and my professional life I remind myself that good enough has to be good enough. Or, in Voltaire’s words “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I take store-bought cookies to the school party so I’m able to write a post or see patients the night before. I may not return a work call within the hour because I’m helping my kids do their homework. My conclusion is this: We can do it all (but just not at the same time.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts, feelings and solutions. It not only takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to keep us from going nuts while doing so.