How Kids Actually Improved My Work-Life Balance


Even Beyonce needs cuddles

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

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I have this theory that each kid added to your family shows up to teach you something huge. This is not an idea that I acquired from the Hallmark card aisle—though it sure sounds like it—but one that I formulated from having two kids in the last three years.

When I first got pregnant, all of the messages that I was absorbing were negative ones. Kids would ruin your life; kids would make you crazy. And you know, I suppose I see people’s points, however in-artfully delivered. Kids can be stressful. (We just went through two child hospitalizations plus the terrible twos with an emotional kid, so, stress, I know it.) But the baby that arrived on my lap the first time didn’t make me hate my life or myself. Instead he did the very opposite. He was so much like me that he made me re-envision all the parts of myself which I’d been carrying around as horrible shameful flaws instead as amazing gifts.

Then this year, our daughter showed up with entirely new things to teach. And in just five months, she’s worked on one important lesson: slow the fuck down. All you could possibly need to live a joyful life is right here on this floor. Possibly inside this Lego! So just shove it in your mouth, and kick your feet, and see how it goes.

Our son brought explosive joy into our lives, but he was not the baby that you read about in books, or fantasize about spending your days with. He screamed (a lot), and threw up (a lot), and refused to sleep (a lot). He also laughed a lot, and made us grin a lot… but nothing about him has ever said, “Slow down.” (In fact, his message was more, “Leave me in daycare with my baby friends, and go back to work.”)

Any I fears I had about motherhood making me give up on my work, were unfounded. He pushed me to work harder, and work smarter (so I could go back to spending time with him). He had the same high-strung intensity that I do, and he showed me how to love that, and lean into it. To hustle, and then go home.

Even Beyoncé Needs to Chill Out and Cuddle

And then our daughter pushed her way into this world on the Fourth of July, after one power hour of contractions, and three and a half grinding hours of pushing… which pretty much sums her up. She is, in fact, a joyful little firework, and she does things fast and with seeming ease. But if she has as many hours in the day as Beyoncé, she probably grinds just as hard. She just makes you feel like you’ve got all the time in the world, while she’s doing it.

And that is how, thanks to our daughter, 2015 became the first year I’ve ever managed any semblance of work-life balance.

I’ve always been a high strung over achiever. It started as achievement with a really clear purpose: working twelve hours on homework every weekend in high school to get a scholarship to a good college and get out of my hometown. Start a blog when I was working sixty hours a week at an investment bank to give me the shot of working for myself in a creative profession. And on, and on. And over time, that level of obsessive, desperate achievement became my normal. I always worked like the wolves were at my back, or like we wouldn’t be able to pay rent if I didn’t hustle every penny out of the month.

And then our chill out baby arrived. Instead of screaming and throwing up, she’d lie on the floor, happily staring up at the ceiling like she was stoned. As she got a little older, she started inchworm crawling around the living room (crazy early), and grinning and squealing constantly. All she wants is for whoever is with her to be in the moment. And when in her presence, that’s all anyone seems to want to do.

She arrived at just the right time, because shortly after her birth, the sadness started coming in waves. David’s dad died of cancer, much more suddenly than anyone expected. Eleven days later my beloved grandmother died, also very rapidly. Then my son took a terrible fall and knocked out two teeth. And just when we thought we were recovering, there was a mass shooting in our little-known hometown, and someone in our extended community was killed. And, then, of course, those shootings became the focus of every single national news story and political campaign, making it hard to think about anything else.

It was a lot. It was too much, really. As I write this, my family is still only barely holding it together most days. (Thanks anti-anxiety medications! You are seriously the best.)

But there was our daughter. And even in the worst of it, all she wanted us to do was chill out, cuddle her and her brother, and lie on the floor.

Lean In… To Life

And that is how, somehow, 2015 became the first year I ever really understood work-life balance.

God knows, my current balance is far from perfect, and there never seem to be enough hours in the day to do all the things I want. But for the first time, I understand what it means to try to lean into my life, and why, exactly I should.

I totally missed my deadline writing this post. And let’s be honest, I experienced some anxiety about that. But in the meantime I spent one of my (new!) regular mornings at home, giggling with a baby and decorating the Christmas tree. I played dreidel with my son, and we organized menorah candles by color. I watched some TV with my husband. And everyone on the APW staff lived their own lives too. (Maddie beat us all, by swimming in the ocean in Nicaragua like an otter.)

And you know what? Everything was fine.

Because sure. I’m behind on a zillion deadlines. I’m feeling crazed by my new book I need to promote (IT ARRIVED LAST NIGHT Y’ALL!). I wish I’d spent more time with my kids this week. I for sure wish I’d exercised more. And I wish I’d had more one-on-one time with my (grieving) partner. But I had a little of all of those things. And instead of thinking that “I’m doing everything, but badly,” I’m choosing to think of it as “I’m doing everything, the best I can.”

Or just, “I get to do everything.”

Because if there is one thing this year taught us, it’s that life is too short. And you might as well spend some of it lying on the floor and giggling with people you love.

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This post was sponsored by Squarespace. If there’s one thing your quest for work/life balance doesn’t need, it’s anything that takes hours and hours to complete (like say a website). Squarespace provides the creative tools that make it easy for ambitious overachievers (what? We don’t know any of those) to create beautiful websites in minutes, so you can go back to the business of living your life. In conjunction with the APW + Squarespace small business scholarship and our #PinkEntrepreneurship seriesSquarespace is offering APWers a 10% discount on yearly subscriptions when you use the code APW15 at checkout. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com. #NASTY

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  • ruth

    Wow, I really needed to hear this today! As I sit here at work, sick with a cold, trying to finish up a year end project – while simultaneously trying to talk to my agent and editor about cover art for my novel, and negotiate a contract, and write after work on a deadline I’m 20k words behind on, and schedule appointments with infertility specialists – and feeling like I’m about to EXPLODE with stress – I realize that these are all things I love and I want to do all of them. But I need time to lie on the floor and laugh too. With my hubby, since we don’t yet have kids. It’s articles like this that make me keep reading APW years after my wedding. Thank you!

  • Anya

    Thank you for reminding us about leaning into our lives, not just the professional aspect of it. This post is an inspiration. Really.

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    • violetewebbs

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  • Jo

    Mmm, worth the wait, Meg. Thanks for keeping at it even when the “deadline” had passed. Do less better is the part of this that I am paying attention to… keeping up with deadlines can mean that we rush through things and sometimes it DOES mean we need to lower expectations about the number of things we can be attentive to. I’m glad you’re choosing your family repeatedly as the thing to win in that fight.

    Anyhow, my own version of this is that I’ve started taking my one telework day a week to go to a coffee shop and work alongside my hubby, who works at home many days and really needs the human interaction and encouragement to leave the house sometimes. And so we end up sipping coffee drinks and giggling in between writing reports and emails and such, which is such an incredibly joy when things are hard and time together is limited the rest of the time.

    • ovengaex5ikae

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  • Another Meg

    This is just…timely. How do you do that, APW? You’re always so spot-on. I’m working in my first post-grad school position and I’m hustling hard, finally doing the work I’ve always wanted. Life-work balance..is not a thing in my world right now. And it’s sad for me, because while I love my work, I DO NOT love spending 12 hours trying to get 8 hours worth of sleep due to work anxiety. And we’re going to try for kids this year, and I can’t possibly see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    While it has its clouds, your current balance seems like the light at the end of the tunnel.

  • “I’m doing everything, the best I can.”
    Or just, “I get to do everything.”

    I’m not sure I get to do everything, but “I’m doing everything the best I can” is definitely my mantra right now.
    I’m so sorry that your year has been so hard. Like all condolences, I never know what to say that doesn’t sound overly simplistic and empty. Hugs. And hugs from my baby too.
    She really snapped things into perspective for me too. She’s super happy and lovely and amazed at everything. I’m sure I’m not doing all the things I should, but I guess at this point, all the shoulds are just confusing noise. I’m so far from knowing what to do, that I just keep moving forward, just keeping up with what hits me at the time. And sometimes that’s all we can do, and that has to be enough.

  • Julia

    This is beautiful. Thank you!

  • AGCourtney

    This really resonated with me, Meg. For the last three years, I’ve lived in an apartment in a different city, just my daughter and me, and going to college and working and raising her alone kept me frantically busy in a way that I don’t think I will ever be again. It was stressful but so satisfying to know that we were not just surviving, but thriving.

    But now my pace of life is vastly different: I married her dad, we bought a house in our hometown, and we have family in town (in fact, my dad lives in the basement.) I work part-time in the evenings – and right now I’m on a 6-week leave while the college is on break. I’m extremely achievement-oriented, so I feel like I’m not getting anything done compared to that period in my life (checking off unpacking and cleaning tasks just doesn’t give the same sense of satisfaction that academic tasks did – yay socialization), and there seem to be a thousand things yet to be done that stress me out. But I feel like I’m probably going to look back at this time period, particularly if grad school is in my future, and think, ‘wow, that was such a nice, peaceful time, I wish I’d appreciated it more’. So thanks for the thoughtful reminder to change my perspective and cut myself a bit of a break and try to embrace the balance instead of feel ashamed that I have the opportunity for it right now.

    (…and thanks for the therapy/breakthrough, I hadn’t realized I was ashamed about it until I was typing that last sentence. Huh. I shall have to think on that.)

    • Meg Keene

      OH THE GUILT. Whenever you’re making something work, you spend all this time being guilty that other people are not. And… I don’t know what it is, other than REALLY unproductive. I mean, I’m all for being aware of the lives around us, but making bad choices so we feel less guilty (me) is… not helpful to anyone.

      • anon

        Feeling bad for your fortune is simultaneously the most selfish thing in the world while being something that hits you precisely because you AREN’T being selfish. It’s so bad and so useless but hot damn is it hard to get rid of.

  • Emily C

    Thank you, Meg – I’m reading this post in the NICU, where my little almost 2 week old boy (born 9 weeks early) is snoozing away in his isolette. I just wrapped up an hours worth of work before pumping, changing my baby and helping the nurse with his care, and then holding him for some “kangaroo care” snuggling.
    These past couple of weeks have been crazy, and starting maternity leave 2 months early wasn’t the plan, nor was having a baby in the NICU, let alone the hospital… Let’s just say this has all been a massive lesson in being grateful, and flexible, and showing the people I love how much I care about them. And, well, figuring out some kind of work/life balance so I can still have some maternity leave when my little boy comes home again (and hospital/life balance, so I can see my daughter and my son both). Your post makes me want to be more reflective about this wild time in our lives, and the little emerging personalities of each of my two kids. So, thank you.

  • another lady face

    I’m currently preggers, and it’s so encouraging to read about someone who’s really making it work and doing all the things, or everything that is needed in the moment, and making it work! Thanks so much for sharing your personal life with all of us invisible internet folks!

  • msditz

    Teaching is one of those jobs where you are never really “done” (well, except during the summer…but really even then there are things you could be doing). Every day after the students leave I could be organizing my classroom, grading papers, making copies, calling parents, planning lessons, etc etc. And when I first started teaching I was trying my best to DO ALL THE THINGS. I would stay way too late and get there way too early. Since I have my son, I still arrive too early since my husband takes him to daycare, but I leave much much earlier than I used to. My classroom is a mess right now and somedays I forget to make enough copies of the homework packet…but it will all get done eventually. At some point. Probably. Or maybe it won’t, and you know what? It will be okay. Things have a way of working themselves out. I gotta get some toddler giggles in before bed time, so if that means leaving before I’ve filed away the permission slips, then so be it.

    • E.

      I don’t have kids yet, but I am a teacher and the past couple months started setting an alarm to remind myself to go home! It’s a game changer.

  • Christy

    I have finally seen enough about anti anxiety meds–I’m making an appointment and asking my GP about them. Thank you for writing this. (May I ask if you take daily meds or as-needed? I’m trying to crowd-source more info on the two types.) (would welcome anyone’s responses, really)

    • KH_Tas

      I take the (in)famous citalopram, which is a daily. It has helped me out of a pit of crying-every-day, but like all treatments for complex conditions like anxiety, how it works varies from person to person.

    • Rhiannon D

      I’ve been on daily setraline. Its amazing, really helped with my anxiety! As soon as I started taking it things got better (though thats an unusual experience). Meds are nothing to be afraid of, you book that GP appointment :) Try and get your doctor to get you some CBT too, therapy has also been really helpful.

    • nutbrownrose

      I’m on Lexapro, a daily anti-anxiety/antidepressant, and by God it has changed my life. It’s like I forgot about the happy parts of the world for a while, and the meds turned those memories and feelings back on.

      And if anyone ever tries to tell you you don’t need them (including the voice in your head that thinks you’re weak for taking them (or is that just me?), tell them it’s like insulin for your brain. My fiance is diabetic (type 1), and that means his pancreas flat-out doesn’t do it’s job. So he takes insulin to do it’s job for it. There are parts of my brain that don’t do their jobs well, or well-enough, or at all, so I take Lexapro to do their jobs.

      If you get put on a daily, be aware they do take a while to kick in, so think about asking for an as-needed to take until the daily works. The dr will probably suggest it, honestly. Mine did. I got an anti-anxiety as-needed (Lorazepam), and just that did wonders, and then the Lexapro shone a light through my clouds.

  • Thank you for sharing this, Meg. It’s neat to think about what other people teach us (babies or people of any age). And I will keep your family in my throughts, especially in the coming weeks. Navigating the holidays while grieving is so very difficult. In 2013, when I was grieving, I just kind of made my way through until the new year. And I was so glad when 2013 was over. Last holiday season was better but not normal. I was able to focus on light and the hope inherant in light. (The act of lighting candles on dark nights was meaningful to me at a time when I felt that hope and peace were….not too present.) Sending your family wishes for moments of tenacious light, even in the midst of overwhelming darkness.

  • emmers

    Thanks for this piece. We’ve had a few ups and downs this past week, from a death in the extended family, to a promotion. It’s such a busy time, but I’m starting to feel the wonder in it all. My life is nothing like that of my parents, and nothing like I thought it would be, but it’s crazy and busy and painful and amazing.

    And someone else commented awhile back how they felt like Meg was a big sister, trying things out first. I don’t feel exactly that, but it is so comforting to read about your life, Meg, and how you have kids, have a job, and are a partner. Thanks for sharing your sane perspective.

  • Alice

    Very timely, as usual, and a lovely piece. We’ve had a crazy emotional few weeks lately, with a really joyful and fun visit from my dad, who I hadn’t seen in a year and a half, followed by the very sudden and unexpected death of his very beloved cat, which entailed visits to referral hospitals, me calling from overseas to discuss things with the vet when my family couldn’t get away from work and my dad was on a plane, and everyone’s great sadness and shock. The elopement of a friend (which was unexpected, but we are happy for her), some drama between other friends… All combined with my end of term, and the feeling that I’m just barely keeping my head above water, let alone spending any good time with the hubby. Even when we have a few minutes together, it can feel so impossible to relax. We will definitely be taking some time at the holidays to recharge and get back in touch with each other.

  • Jacki

    Thanks for this, it was really timely and encouraging for me. We’re getting married in about 10 months and are both in our 30s, his son is 7, and I’m starting to feel like the decision to have or not have a child is imminent. I’ve been able to kick it down the road for years, but it’s starting to get real. I’m terrified to have a child but also suspect that deep down, the fear is more because I want one and think I’ll be a disaster of a mother/human adult vs. actually not wanting to be a mother.

  • js

    My second child taught me how strong my marriage and (if I let him) how strong my partner are. Since she is my last baby, I am trying every day to slow down and be in the moment. I think today I needed to be reminded of that. Thanks.

  • NC

    Thank you for this. I’m currently pregnant (and will definitely be working after baby arrives) and I feel like I just keep hearing about the bad stuff when it comes to work/life balance, toddler terrors, etc. It’s so nice to hear a different perspective.

  • I want to meet your daughter. I think she and our son would really hit it off personality wise.

    I love that you were able to recognize her personality so early on. They really do come prepackaged with them.

  • Danielle Antosz

    Very timely for me :) I am due any day now and am trying not to stress about how to work at home and take care of baby.

  • Catty

    amongst the other amazing thoughts, I just wanted to contribute that I knocked out my two front teeth aged 2, so obviously I had a gap until I was 7 and aside from a little orthodontics but may be unrelated, it was just a great story, and makes for cute photos. xxxxxxx for you. happy christmas.

  • Anna Plumb

    I had my first day managing my very first employee on Tuesday. In the new job that I was promoted to while on maternity leave (hello, negotiating salary over the phone while breastfeeding! Meg, you would have been so proud). And then I came home to my 2.75 year-old and 6 month old, made dinner because my husband was working late, got them to bed (to be clear, with help from my mom who drove the kids home), cleaned up, etc. Then I did that again yesterday, and then again today. And tomorrow I’m going out with a friend to a concert! And I’ve been feeling pretty good about it – like maybe I’m nailing it a little bit (except for, you know, sleep and exercise).

    My mom described it as “being a warrior” – what parents are doing these days. I’m not sure that’s the right moniker, but on my good days I do feel pretty fierce. Like, “look at me doing the dang thing!” There are plenty of other days when I’m convinced that nothing is working, but I definitely try to focus on being proud of myself for (mostly) holding it together. But that can get fairly dicey, because suddenly I’m hanging all my self-worth on achievement, right? So this was a good reminder that it’s also important to focus on slowing down and not necessarily doing it all. And the kids are great about that – when the younger one is gleefully laughing at his brother while said brother is gleefully laughing/yelling about godknowswhat (the fish at the doctor’s office? the cat?) I really do realize that all I need to do at that moment is get in on that gleeful action.

  • vsviivso isovusvos

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    A few days ago new McLaren F1 subsequent after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a day ..with extra open doors & weekly paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn More right Here
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