Oh for the luxury of some Sleep, Glorious Sleep! (I thought I put it on my Wishlist for the holidays.)
Sadly, I fear that particular Ship of Zzzzzzs has sailed. In its place, I find I’m captaining my own leaky Ship of Fools, as I accept that issues of work-life balance don’t disappear with empty nest, which is none so evident as this time of year.
The past few weeks have presented clear conflicts of interest: relationship, work, writing, parenting. All are demanding my time and there’s simply not enough to go around. Not enough time, and not enough me.
As a single mother for more than a decade, I realized years ago that “having it all” and “doing it all” are different. Carrying the bread-winning and parenting load, both virtually full-time, meant shortchanging my social life.
I made my choices, and I don’t regret them. I managed potential conflicts of interest by avoiding them; in other words, I put relationships at the bottom of the list.
Now, now. That doesn’t mean I didn’t date or fall in love – I did. But socializing was sporadic, and relationships were generally long-distance and ultimately, short-lived.
Empty Nest? Juggle Fest!
There’s no question that Empty Nest is less of a squeeze when it comes to the elusive work-life balance, but only on the surface. Single Empty Nesters may not be dealing with chauffeuring kids or dashing to parent-teacher conferences, but we’re often carrying the responsibilities of elder parents, long-term debt that drags on after divorce, young adults at home (and college-related costs), not to mention other warring factions when it comes to what we consider important.
A few specifics?
Earning a living is essential. I’m guessing we can agree on that one.
Staying healthy is equally essential. Even if we’re out of the habit of self-care, we know that without tending to the basics, we can’t provide for those counting on us.
But if you work long hours and in a non-traditional model – the case for “independents” – freelancers, contractors, entrepreneurs, artists, writers – how do you reassure those who share your life and don’t work crazy hours? What if they feel slighted by our schedules? What about the conflicts that arise when they have time off and we’re still on the clock?
Put On a Happy Face
The collision of priorities is no more glaring than at the holidays, at least for me. I don’t have “scheduled” time off, but the man I’m dating does and it’s plentiful. Likewise, my sons have weeks off at Winter Break, and this is the only time they’re around and relaxed, which means the only time I can enjoy a bit of their company.
So even when I’m tired, I put on the Happy Face, and listen – halfheartedly – while trying to concentrate.
Even when my mind is on work, I’m “multitasking,” paying attention to the man across from me at the table, but not in the way I feel I should.
Some have advised me “don’t write” or “write less” and believe it or not, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for two weeks – the latter, not the former. But writing is also my therapy, my companion, my fat-free comfort food. Yes it takes time, but it eases my stress.
Not at all.
Guilt As a Lifestyle?
As for guilt? It seems as inescapable as my recurring weariness. As unbudgingly persistent as is the undeniable need for downtime – to sleep, to read, to watch old movies – beaten back by the competing desire to make the holidays pleasant for those I love.
So where does that leave me – and maybe you?
If I don’t earn, no amount of “nice environment” is possible, much less the fundamentals of survival.
So, I don’t sleep and keep working, or I sleep too little and keep working, and through it all I try to cram in the top priorities demanding my full attention and garnering, well… a good deal less.
The fact is – I don’t mind the long hours and the sometimes grueling schedule. What I do mind is the constant conflict – feeling as though I’m not giving enough to a relationship that matters, to writing that matters, the self that yearns for a petite and periodic parcel of relaxation.
Conflict Breeds Stress
Friction. Stress. More fatigue.
Expectations of myself that I know are unreasonable. And regretfully, I count the days until this roller coaster slows when everyone else returns to their “regular schedules” so I can get back to mine, unimpeded.
I’m torn and worn.
After all, who wants to live with or around someone who is always working? An individual who doesn’t seem fully “there” in the conversation? How on earth do people resolve this conflict? Isn’t this typically American, and surely widespread – given our economy and the way so many of us work around-the-clock?
I look to walking (weather-permitting), and taking a breath (I’m doing better on that score). Both are a means to keep my perspective. But I am otherwise at a loss when it comes to finding a longer term solution.