Archives For Work Life Balance

On Gratitude

December 11, 2017

This year I am thinking and reflecting on gratitude.

As I write this I am sitting next to my son, who had been sick with a fever, and reminded that having a child is the most amazing blessing of all.

After we pack up the Thanksgiving decorations and finish off the leftovers, it is easy to get sucked into the sudden rush of materialism the modern holiday season brings.

I love the holiday season: We went and got our Christmas tree and put it up right after Thanksgiving.

Time Magazine caught my eye recently with an article on gratitude and it’s health benefits: Included in these are the ability to make you more patient, sleep better, and improve your relationships.

Forbes magazine also has a recent article on the benefits of gratitude at work. It makes the connection between leadership, being a better leader, and practicing gratitude.

I like the concept of a gratitude practice that it introduces. The example they give sounds a big cheesy – particularly the part of mouthing the words ‘thank you’- but nevertheless a solid reminder that rather than dwelling this holiday season on our next big purchase and accompanying adrenaline rush from the next big thing, it might be worth it to focus instead on the things we already have and are grateful for.

Work life balance. Hearing the phrase makes me laugh.

When I look around at working professionals my age with families, balance doesn’t seem to fit in the equation. For most parents it’s just go, go, go!

This I think is why experienced parents tell newbie parents “it gets better.”

From day one the baby consumes your life. One of my favorite moments in the movie Lost In Translation captures this reality:

“Bob: The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born.

Charlotte: Nobody ever tells you that.

Bob: Your life, as you know it… is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk… and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.”

This is the truth: My son is most delightful! His birth however did mark a turning point in my life after which everything changed.

But I do not feel nostalgic for the era before he was born. In my mind to do so would be to suggest I lack a sense of gratitude and joy for his existence now in the world.

Still, the insanity a baby introduces into life is not something anyone can prepare for. I certainly couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I understand the nostalgia parents feel towards a less crazy time. This, I think, is why the notion of work-life balance appeals to us.

It brings back memories of a time when we felt more balanced because we had an abundance of time. These memories create a sense of having once been in control.

The work life balance ideal also suggests there is an attainable optimal balance for us to discover.

Given that in 2017 we still can’t quite figure out the balance equation, it does make you wonder why this is the case. I think there are several reasons for this.

First, the phrase is antiquated. I didn’t know much about the history behind it. The concept is derived from the work-leisure dichotomy, itself an invention of the 1800s.

While the phrase strikes a nerve in the popular zeitgeist, the way it is presented in mass media can lead you to feel like not obtaining it is some kind of moral failure.

Parents today are bombarded by constant message from the media with the message that balance is within our grasp if only we do certain things.

With articles such as “6 Tips for Better Work Life Balance.” in Forbes, and The Harvard Business Review’s entire topic page devoted to the concept, the concept is reduced to a laughably simple recipe. If only we will follow it life will be perfect.

These articles present a range of wisdom about how parents can parent better, achieve more, increase efficiency and maximize happiness.

It is assumed that the pursuit of these ends is a good in and of itself.

This, however, downplays the fundamental error behind the assumption that there is something called work, and something called life, and that there is a division between the two that requires a balance to be maintained.

The desire to maintain a sense of balance arises out of the resource scarcity we feel daily. As a parent, the finite nature of time, energy, money, and will-power are more keenly felt.

We feel the need to optimize and manage our professional and personal lives.

We like the idea of work life balance, but in our attempt to manage it we find an never ending quest to find out if it is really even a thing.

According to a 2010 CDC study, 16% of adults feel an imbalance between managing work and family.

The media is quick to sell us ideas on how we can achieve balance in just a few easy steps, the general consensus is that it’s both achievable and within our grasp.

With tips such as “set manageable goals each day” and “take five,” it is easy to feel outraged at the simplicity of it all.

When you are exhausted from work, fought traffic on your long commute, have managed to put together a meal that isn’t unhealthy garbage, prepped your lunch and clothes for the next day, and finally gotten the baby to sleep, it is easy to read the advice to just set manageable goals and “take five” and laugh.

On this note I found this reference to a Dr. Edy Greenblatt intriguing:

“Dr. Edy Greenblatt has spent years studying the effects of overwork and exhaustion on employees. She cites a common theme that many people think of work as depleting and non-work as restoring, so in order to achieve balance under that model, you would either have to quit work or work as little as possible. Not exactly an option for most people. Rather, Dr. Greenblatt suggests you put work and non-work on one axis and what restores you and what depletes you on the other axis. The key is to identify what restores you and depletes you both at work and non-work, then do more of what restores you.” (Greenblatt, 2009)

The notion of recognizing what depletes you and what restores you intuitively makes sense to me.

For example, I find playing with my son emotionally engaging and a joy generator in a way that other activities are not.

Likewise in a previous job I did a lot of interviewing and that would leave me feeling completely drained.

I think parents would do well to adopt this model; for me, reframing certain daily activities within this context has allowed me to focus in on what leaves me feeling recharged and what doesn’t.

Driving in rush hour traffic, for example, leaves me feeling totally drained. But a short rest when I get home, while my son is still sleeping from his commute nap, leaves me feeling a bit more refreshed.

Spending time with my son in the evening laughing, playing, and singing Christmas Carols gives me a sense of recharging from my day even if it otherwise seem like an energy depleting activity.

I respond positively in joy and feelings of satisfaction every time I hear my son laugh.

We would do well then I think to consider all this, especially the next time a huckster tries to convince balance can be achieved through just a few simple steps lwhich they will sell to you for top dollar.

“Just to see you smile, I’d do anything” – Tim McGraw

At three months old, my son smiles when I greet him in the morning, converses in coos, and loves watching the ceiling fan.

It feels like an eternity has passed since he was born. Prior to his existence, I would see three months pass in the blink of an eye.

Now, each day feels like an eternity – in a good way. When I think about what he was like when he was born – just over five pounds and very thin, compared to today, I realize how far he has come. In just this short three months, my life has changed dramatically.

I share below a few of the ways life has changed that I did not anticipate, and what I have learned in these first three months.

Sleep is gold. Sleep is a precious commodity. I always liked – loved- it before, so this observation is not exactly a surprise.

There is a reason experienced parents always ask me the same question when they learn my son is two months old: “Are you getting any sleep?

In pre baby life, sleep was like a cruise ship buffet: I had access to it when I needed it and I could consume just about as much of it as I wanted.

Today all I can say is I wish I were only ‘tired.” The word tired doesn’t quite cut it. There are a few silver linings though.

In the short term your mind and body will adapt. You will either find time to sleep, or power through.

More experienced parents will advise “it gets better.” I can say this is largely true.

The days are long but each week goes by faster. For more thoughts on surviving sleep deprivation check out this post.

The Dad instincts kick in automatically. Babies were not my forte. As a young adult I did not babysit, did not have younger siblings, and did not see myself as a “baby” person.

I was the airplane passenger more annoyed to see a family with young children board, and then to my horror sit right behind me.

In the early weeks of my son’s life, I found myself surprised at how strongly my fatherly instincts flexed.

Cradle Cap Is a Thing. I paid close attention in the newborn care class, read multiple baby books, and watched many online videos on newborn care.

I don’t recall cradle cap mentioned once. After about three weeks following his birth, my son’s head became covered in scales and his hair fell out.

He looked like an 80 year old man  – bald on top with hair only on the side and back of his head.

The medical wisdom on the internet advised – to our dismay-  this “cradle cap” could last up to two months.

After brief consult with our pediatrician, she advised us to wash his head lightly with Selsun blue shampoo, and apply hydrocortisone cream.

This cleared up the cradle cap in about a week and a half!

Acid Reflux is a Thing. Newborn babies typically lack a fully functioning esophagus: nothing stands in the way to block their stomach contents from backing up into their throats and mouths.

The result: a screaming, unhappy child.

Since it is a mechanical problem, the medication offered by the pediatrician only mutes the acid pain slightly but does not solve the underlying problem.

Only time and growing allow his esophagus to develop and do the job of keeping his food down.

Breastfeeding is Torture. And beautiful. And miserable – all at the same time.

A mythical aura of romance surrounds breastfeeding, masking how painful it can be for the mother.

The breastfeeding class we took whitewashed this.

I do not recall a discussion of mastitis – which is awful, as is the frightening uncontrollable shivering and high fever that accompanies it.

Breastfeeding is portrayed as a breeze: picture the modern mother elegantly nursing her babe under a stylish cover scarf, seated in a verdant park while her fellow urbanites jog and roller blade by.

A more accurate portrayal: a sleep deprived mom, striving to keep her sanity and shit together, enduring a 3 a.m. pumping session while her husband groggily feeds baby.

The Mom suffers pumping so her baby boy can suck breastmilk mixed with rice cereal, the only solution for calming his painful acid reflux.

Dad and Mom share the middle of night baby care to minimize the severity of sleep loss in the night.

While the benefits of breastfeeding are many, it’s not easy. It has been rough for my wife –  and me – and we have contemplated stopping at certain points.

My wife has powered through. I am sure about one thing though: it is not the song song story they painted in the breastfeeding class. There have been many hiccups and roadblocks along the way.

Post-Partum Care in America is a Disaster. Pregnancy, as I witnessed it from the Dad perspective, is treated as a big deal.

The frequency of medical appointments steadily increased from when we learned my wife was pregnant, until the day my son was born.

After his birth, however, the doctor didn’t want or need to see my wife again for six weeks. This was both cruel and absurd.

Our society cloaks the trauma of childbirth under a veneer of idyllic joy. Mothers are left largely to fend for themselves.

Add to this the lack of paid parental leave in the U.S., and most new moms end up operating more or less as single parents after the first few weeks – or whatever amount of time the dad is able to scrounge together to get time off of work.

I frequently criticize the content – or lack therof- in the childbirth and parenting classes we took.

Post partum recovery is no exception. The content glossed over how difficult in can be. The consensus seems to be that post partum recovery lasts six to eight weeks.

As with many things in baby land, the reality is far different. WebMD glosses it over in one swoop: “Postpartum: First 6 Weeks After Childbirth.

During the days and weeks after the delivery of your baby (postpartum period), your body will change as it returns to its nonpregnant condition.”

When I first read this description, I scoffed. To think after nine months of pregnancy- that a woman’s body will return to its pre-pregnancy condition is wishful thinking.

Now, at first glance it may not seem a that a Dad has much to say on this. I think though this misses

To put it shortly, my wife went through hell and back. sets expectations more appropriately.

Now, as the new Dad I readily admit I had it pretty easy in those first few weeks. I mainly had to adapt to the intense sleep deprivation, but my wife suffered through the immediate recovery.

Modern Medical Science is Marvelous. We are fortunate to live in the era of modern medical science.

In the U.S. today 15 women per 100,000 die in childbirth. One hundred years ago 600 per 100,000 did.

While the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is far too high for a developed country, we are still lucky to benefit from the wonders of modern medicine.

We knew, by choice, our son’s gender from an early blood test, part of a slew of genetic tests to screen for debilitatating diseases and birth defects.

A week before  his due date my son began measuring small, so the OBGYN induced my wife.

The Pediatrician Will See You Every Week. Get ready to go to the doctor nearly every week for the first stretch.

Well baby visits early on will happen every week with more on top of that if you have any medical issues or questions you need a consult on.

After the first stretch, these will drop to about once a month, and then every couple of months as baby gets older.

Information Overload is Real. The good news about parenting in 2017 is there is no shortage of resources online and instantaneous information.

Need a video on how to calm a crying baby? Check. A tutorial on how to change a diaper? Check. A special yoga workout that includes baby? Check.

With the wealth of information available, however, it is easy to become overloaded and overwhelmed.

For certain issues the guidance is cut and dry. For others, the advice and guidance you find will be all over the place.

When our son developed cradle cap, the information we read suggested it could last any where from a couple of weeks to a few months.

This was disconcerting to say the least. In this case we decided it was best to consult with our pediatrician and did so.

She recommended a couple of solutions that cleared up the cradle cap within a couple of weeks.

My takeaway: don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician if your gut feeling is off or the advice you see is wildly all over the place.

Parentsplaining is a thing. It will happen eventually: You will be out with your baby and your partner and someone will feel the need to parentsplain.

Perhaps you don’t have the baby dressed correctly. Perhaps you aren’t keeping him out of the sun, or conversely getting enough sun.

And then, unexpectedly it will happen. It is sudden at first, and when it happened to us I didn’t even realize what was happening until it was over.

Someone will observe your situation, and make three quick judgements: 1. That you, as a parent, are not already striving every moment to do the absolute best job you can as a parent and adult in the world, and 2. That they, despite not knowing you or your situation, are the ones best position to offer their option and 3. That their opinion is correct.

And then they will interject, offering their advice on your situation, and then smugly walk away confident that they have fixed the situation, and corrected the ways of your errors as a parent.

Although these encounters will drive you mad, this leads me to my next reflection.

This too shall pass. Everything is temporary. Nothing is forever. By the third night in the hospital I thought I was going to loose my mind.

We had just laid down to sleep at midnight Saturday night when a pediatrician barged into our room, flipped on all the lights, and loudly declared he was there to conduct my son’s discharge exam.

Since the labor and deliver ward was busy, decided the most appropriate time to do this exam was at midnight.

I was furious. Eventually I calmed down, and looking back now I realize what a temporary problem this was and that, with the right mindset and a deep breath, you can overcome whatever challenge you face.

English lacks the words to capture the joy. The first month was complete insanity. The rule of thumb you hear is infants eat every 2-3 hours.

With our little guy it was every 1 – 1.5 hrs. Then, everything else is packed in between: the baby sleeps, needs diaper changes, has acid reflux, etc.

I don’t think many expecting parents, and especially Dads, do the math on how this cycle plays out in a 24 hour period.

Needless to say, this schedule becomes quickly daunting and overwhelming, even crushing.

Resilience will become your new meditative mantra. But ever so slowly insanity level will start to decrease to a calmer level of just steady crazy.

Life will still be completely different from ever before, but the madness and sleep depreciation euphoria will abate until one day your little one smiles back at you: joy, as a word, doesn’t even come close to capturing what you’ll feel.