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Confessions of a Workaholic Parent

© 1999, by Azriela Jaffe

Say the expression, "workaholic parent," and what do you picture? Probably an employee or business owner working 80 hours or more a week, disregarding family commitments in the process. He or she routinely misses dinner and children's events at school, and is a shadow in the house whom the children barely know.

It used to be fashionable to be a workaholic -- it was a label you would wear with pride. Certainly among all the other addictions available, it was the better, more respectable one to have.

Then the pendulum swung, and moms and dads started realizing what they were missing. They got tired of spending all of their time at work, and they were saddened by the lack of meaning in their life at the end of their days. They regretted not knowing their kids when the children went off to college, and spouses grew intolerant of single parenting. This dissatisfaction started a groundswell towards self-employment and home-based businesses, in an effort to better balance work and family.

I am one of those professionals who traded my executive career as a Human Resource Director for a home-based business. I look like the woman with the perfect balance between work and family. I am available to care for my infant son in the afternoons, and my 4 year old daughter when she comes home from private school at 4 P.M. I don't work between 5-9 P.M. when I give my attention toward my three young children and their needs. I cook the meals, take care of all kinds of household details, yes, I am "Supermom." The most common question I am asked by so many of you is, "with three young children and a busy career, how do you do it all?!"

I don't look like a workaholic, and by old fashioned standards, I'm not. The total number of hours I work is quite reasonable -- about 50 -- and I do spend a great deal of time with my family. It's confession time. Here's the secret that most business owners like me aren't telling you.

I am a workaholic, just a more cleverly disguised one. My body is not at work for an unreasonable number of hours, but often, my mind is. And that, I'm finding, is much more difficult to control. As I am writing this column, my three-year-old, Elana, climbs up into my lap, saying, in her cherubic way, "Mommy, I miss you." I wish I could tell you that I delight in the feel of her satiny hair and the sweet smell of her skin, and that her chitter-chatter as I work is music to my ears. I want to be that kind of mother. I know that I am so blessed to have the privilege of raising these delightful children.

Alas, I am not always the mother I wish to be. I want Elana to let me finish my work, and that truth tears me up at times. I don't want my work to be more important than her, but a part of me is so attached to my writing -- even this column -- it's hard to break away. That's the truth.

I'll tell you what scares me the most about this realization. Today, I was shopping at the supermarket with my little ones. In a split second, my two toddlers jumped off the curb and walked into the path of an oncoming car. Luckily, they weren't hit, and the car merely went on its way. All day, I haven't been able to get that scene out of my mind. I was distracted for only a moment. And, that's all it takes to lose a child. At the age of 4, 3, and 10 months, my children depend on me to keep them safe. I can't afford to let my mind wander for any reason when they are in my care. That's what scares me about being a workaholic.

I want to passionately love my work. I welcome the commitments I have to my current projects and the meaningful contribution I make in other's lives. I'm grateful that my children will grow up remembering that their mom was always around when they were sick and when they came home from school. I also want to be able to turn off my worries and thoughts about my work when I need to. I want to keep my children safe, and to love them with my full attention.

Though I am grappling mightily with this problem, I do have a few suggestions for those who join me in the struggle. The first step toward solving any problem is to acknowledge your faults, and to be willing to correct them. Don't pretend that your workaholism is under control just because you've cut down the number of hours you work. Ask yourself: "When I am with my family, am I fully present?" That, in the end, matters as much as whether you are physically there.

Second, work on this issue in very small steps. Try to be fully present for one entire bedtime story. Take a break from the computer just once this week when a little one begs your attention. Break the pattern gradually and don't make yourself wrong for not being completely available. Make yourself right for doing so whenever you can.

Third, and most importantly, if you are distracted by work while your children are in your care, be mindful of keeping your children out of trouble and physically safe. Don't leave a curious and rambunctious ten-month-old alone in a room downstairs, while you run upstairs to the computer "just to check your email for a moment." It only takes a moment of diversion to endanger a child.

The bad news is, this kind of workaholism is a very difficult pattern to break. The good news is, you can do so one moment at a time, and you can begin today. Let's do it together.


Azriela Jaffe is the founder of "Anchored Dreams", and author of "Honey, I Want to Start my Own Business, A Planning Guide for Couples" ( Harper Business 1996), and "Let's Go Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Successful Business Partnering" (Avon Books 1998) and Starting from No: Ten Strategies to Overcome Your Fear of Rejection and Suceed in Business. (Dearborn 1999). For a free online newsletter for entrepreneurial couples, or for information about her syndicated column, "Advice from A-Z", email . Questions and reader response can be emailed, or write to: PO Box 209, Bausman, PA 17504.

 
 
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