I have a mean aunt who lives on the west coast.
I’m not sure she would call herself mean, but she’s an elderly woman who is angry with me because I’m basically a worthless family member. And, you know, she’s right. When it comes to my family of origin, I don’t do much for the people who love me.
(Turns out that familial love is subjective, and, often, a one-way street.)
Anyway, about a decade ago, my aunt was infuriated with me. She sent me an email that said, “You’re nothing but a childless liberal.”
She meant — you’re selfish.
But my mind went elsewhere. I thought, wow, that liberal word is wrong because I’m actually very conservative when it comes to keeping government out of my private life. I understood that it wasn’t the moment to debate politics, so I let her call me a childless liberal and haven’t communicated with her since.
(Families, man! The only thing that manages drama is an email filter that bypasses your inbox and sends shit like that to the garbage!)
But, being a childless liberal, I’ve come to realize that she was right. For years, I lacked empathy for people who struggled with work-life balance issues. I helped my mother through several illnesses while working full-time in HR, but I always did it with a chip on my shoulder. And while I’m all about work-life balance for myself on a beach in Bermuda, I haven’t always been sensitive to individuals who have kids by choice.
“Of course it’s hard. What did you expect?”
(I’ve learned that you don’t say that kind of stuff to parents who seemed surprised when their kids are sick in the middle of the workweek. You just nod your head in sympathy and go wash your hands so you don’t catch norovirus.)
Now, in my 40s, I’m having my version of work-life balance issues. The husband and I both travel for work. I have an elderly cat. I don’t have any family in town, and I have to rely on housesitters and paid help to manage my life when I travel.
It almost always works, but when it doesn’t, things come to a halt. This week? I had to reconfigure my schedule because life wasn’t smooth. And you know what? Nobody died. It’s stressful and I’m missing out on a lot of fun, but I’m going to survive.
The people in my social circles are listening to me complain about this week’s work-life drama and saying, “Hey, aren’t you that childless liberal who doesn’t really pay attention to work-life issues?”
And I’m saying, “No, I’m the small government Democrat who thinks you shouldn’t have a bunch of kids and complain about the price of daycare. But I’m going to keep those opinions to myself because someone has to raise our future doctors and science geniuses. I’m glad it’s you.”
But it sucks when work-life balance issues get in the way of work. Or life. Or both.
Maybe the conversation isn’t about work-life balance or priorities. Maybe it’s about compassion and community. You help me out, I’ll help you out. No judging. No expectations. That kind of vibe. There are places in the world where that happens, right? Scandanavia? Small towns in Iowa?
We’d be happier human beings if more of us — childless liberals, exhausted parents, crabby aunties — dropped our emotional armor and asked for help. Which is why I decided to stay home a few days, this week, instead of trying to make HR Tech happen.
I miss you guys. I’m coming later in the week. And I hope to see you at my session on Thursday.