When I was younger, I did not want to be a working mom. To me, working motherhood seemed like stepping on a nonstop carousel, with no time to breathe, read a book, or even do something really self-indulgent, like baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch. No, thank you.
Years passed, and when I welcomed my first baby after a few years of infertility I found that (a) I really liked my job, and was loathe to leave it, and (b) I needed social time to be happy. Oh, and the salary was somewhat necessary too! So I found myself becoming exactly what I had wanted to avoid--a working mom.
Since becoming a working mom, I've learned a few things. First, every mom feels like they're on a carousel that never stops spinning, at least some of the time. But more importantly, instead of trying to find a balance between work and family, I find myself struggling to find a balance between work, family, and all that other stuff that makes up our lives, especially community.
In my Orthodox Jewish community in New Jersey, we invite guests for the Sabbath (aka "Shabbos") a lot, sometimes nearly every week. If you've never been to a Shabbos meal, it's basically the equivalent of making a Thanksgiving meal every single week. In addition to that, when someone in the neighborhood has a baby (which seems to happen a lot!), a sign-up sheet goes around to prepare meals for them. There are community events, last-minute prayer meetings, and the everyday things I want to do for my friend who just broke her leg and is bedridden, or the one who has been having a hard few months.
But the question is, how? How do I do all of these things without sacrificing sleep, mental health, or biting my husband's head off? When do I push myself to give to my community, and when do I accept that there is a season for everything, and this may not be the season for X, Y, or Z?
I wish I had an easy answer to this question (maybe someone else can write this part of the post?) but I don't. I've been trying and honing and debating for twenty months since I became a mother, and the little baby I'm expecting in December will only shake things up, I'm sure. But although I have no golden wand to share with you, here are a few of the tips I've found that have helped me strike this balance:
- Just because you need to do something LESS doesn't mean you can't do it at all. I may not host Shabbos guests every week anymore, but I still host every 2 to 3 weeks, which adds up to a lot of guests over the years.
- Do things your way. If a Shabbos guest offers to bring a dish, I always say yes--less work for me! I serve a good amount of food, but I don't knock myself into the ground making two kind of meat and fourteen side dishes. (In keeping with this theme, if you have a baby and I bring you a meal, it will probably be pasta-oriented. Maybe with meatballs. But no appetizer--salad--main--side--dessert business.)
- It isn't all or nothing. The other week, I really wanted to attend a prayer meeting for a young girl that was sick, but just did not have it in me to get dressed and go out at 9:00. So instead I texted a friend who was going, and she told me which Psalms they were dividing up, so I was able to participate from home.
- It's okay to say no. My husband came up with the "resentment test," where before I agree to something I try to figure out if I will feel resentful of the commitment when it comes times to follow through. In the past, If I did feel resentful, I assumed that was a flaw in my character. Now, I'm trying to think that maybe it's just a sign that this commitment doesn't fit in with the obligations I have on my plate at the moment. And that's okay.
Community is such a huge part of life. For me, my faith, my closest friendships, and my core identity are all tied into it. I wouldn't be a complete person if I didn't spend time on those things. But at the same time, there are only so many hours in the day. So I try to balance, and sometimes I do a great job, and sometimes I fail.
But the nice thing about community is that it's always waiting for you the next day, when you're ready to try again. And so is parenting!