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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
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.
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
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 [email protected].
Questions and reader response can be emailed, or write to: PO
Box 209, Bausman, PA 17504.