Go big, not home

Bonnie Fuller explains how you too can have a huge job, a good marriage and great kids

April 10 2006

Go big, not home

Bonnie Fuller explains how you too can have a huge job, a good marriage and great kids

April 10 2006

Go big, not home


Bonnie Fuller explains how you too can have a huge job, a good marriage and great kids

To people who ask me, “How do you do it all?” I answer simply, “I don’t. There is no such thing as balance.” Working mothers don’t balance, they juggle, like performers in a circus. But circuses are fun, and so is the unbalanced life, if you approach it in the proper spirit. So how do I keep up with the big job, spend time with my family, and nourish my marriage? I focus. Some would say that I obsess. Well, what’s wrong with that?

What would have been accomplished in this world—medical breakthroughs, great inventions—without the power of obsession? The joys that both my work and family bring me fully justify the focus I place on each of them. There is nothing else I want to devote my time to. As far as I’m concerned, hobbies are overrated, as is that much-discussed condition known as “being well-rounded.”

I also don’t have a problem with talking shop when not at work. I like to talk shop. A lot of people think you should leave the office behind when you leave work, but why? That’s what you’re interested in, so why not discuss it?

There’s nothing better than gabbing with close colleagues (most of whom become good friends) about your mutual obsession—your work!

There are certainly days when I wish I could be the class parent, or be highly involved with the PTA, or take care of some of the things around the house that need doing. But the bottom line is that I can’t, and I’m not ashamed. You shouldn’t be either. My wedding photos sat in a box in my closet for the first sixteen years of my marriage until a sympathetic photo editor heard about my situation and offered to put them in an album just because she was so appalled for my pictures.

Some things are really important, but so many things are not. My children are clean, properly dressed, and, thank God, studious and well behaved. So first things first: you have to prioritize, and you shouldn’t have to make apologies for doing so.

Decide which people in your life really matter to you: your parents, your children, your boyfriend or husband, your best friend. These are the people who will truly miss you if you don’t show up, so these are the ones for whom you should always show up: your being home, or in their lives, means a lot to them.

Life is short; why worry, for instance, about

social events you don’t need to go to? Concentrate on what you absolutely must do, and forget about the rest of it. People spend so much time going to things because they think they must: then they find out that no one really noticed whether they came or not.

What is the point of beating yourself up about not being the perfect mother or homemaker? I don’t lie awake at night and kick myself for not helping my kids construct handbeaded bracelets that day. If my son is happy as I push his stroller at the same time that I’m talking into my headset, then I’m OK with it, too. He doesn’t seem to notice that Mommy’s working, as long as I’m there to push him on the swing. If I felt angst or guilt being there with him, he would feel it, too.

Not everything can be of equal importance to you. Does your desk really have to be clutter-free at the end of every working day? Do you have to print out emails? Do the insides of your office drawers have to be pristine? You have to learn what corners you can cut, so that you can prioritize and spend your time at work and with your family wisely.

You have to make choices. If I want to have time with my kids, I may occasionally have to ruffle a few feathers in the office. I’m in a deadline-oriented business, and there are only so many hours in the day. Ten minutes spent on office gossip is ten minutes I don’t have with my family. I don’t consider myself rude, but I am rather straightforward. I have to cut to the chase and get what needs doing done. If I were a man, no one would expect otherwise.

Sometimes I just don’t have time, for instance, to ask my staff how their weekend was. Sometimes people perceive me to be cold or uncaring because I don’t indulge in chit-chat. Of course if a staff member is ill or has gone through something serious like a divorce, I always make time to ask him or her how things are going—to be supportive. It’s important to be there when the need is real.

You have to work with the situation you face. I’ve been known to leave my Manhattan office in the middle of the day and drive all the way home to Westchester for a teacher meeting or a key doctor’s appointment. But I get back to the office in time to get that day’s assignment completed.

Solutions for the overwhelming aspects of your life lie in being creative with your coping strategies, and not worrying about what other people think of them.

While it’s true that the visibility of my job requires me to come to the office every day well groomed, with at least a modicum of style, there is behind the “glamour” a woman who shops for groceries on the way home from work at 8 p.m. and sometimes later. I’ve checked lettuce and other produce into the coatroom at some of New York’s finest restaurants, where I’m having a business dinner.

I’ve even ordered pizza from the train and had it delivered to our town swimming pool for dinner, so that we can all have an outing

There are other little things you can do as a working mom to help economize with time. For instance, when the kids get their photos taken at school, buy \ them. Buy extras for the relatives too; then you

won’t have to worry if you ..............

don’t have time to get them taken professionally yourself.

I’ve even had pizza delivered to our town swimming pool for dinner, so that we can all have an outing, which feels like a special treat on a summer night. ..

I call ahead from the train to ar/ range the delivery; then I meet / the rest of the family at the / pool. It’s shortcuts like these j that can turn everyday things 1 into adventures and still allow \ you to do what you have to.

There’s nothing wrong with being a bit inventive, and a little

unconventional. Who cares if your .....

neighbours look at you oddly, or if your mother-in-law disapproves? You’re tending to your family first, and keeping the proverbial balls in the air at the same time.

On weekends I concentrate on family: even a trip to the fruit market can be fun for the kids. Obviously my life bears no resemblance whatsoever to those of the women on shows like Sex and the City. I have no time for regular manicures, shoe-shopping expeditions, chatting on the phone with girlfriends, and catching up on the latest news. Sadly, my friends hear from me rarely.

The bring-it-on, over-the-top approach to life isn’t riskor trouble-free. When you’re keeping aloft the myriad details involved in a life that is one big juggling act, there are bound to be days when you drop the ball, when things go haywire. Sometimes it seems as if every day fits this bill. But there isn’t anything you can’t deal with—including the issue we all face on the home front—keeping the romance alive between you and your boyfriend or husband, even in the midst of

Sometimes I just don’t have time, for instance, to ask my staff how their weekend was. I ... don’t indulge in chit-chat.

the madness that especially family life entails. How do you stay in love?

It helps to marry someone with whom you share goals, ethical beliefs, and hobbies. For example, my husband and I love to spend time together be\ cause we enjoy so many \ of the same things. DeI’ve checked lettuce \ spite parenting four and other produce into \ children and keeping the coatroom at some ! UP demanding work

of New York’s finest ƒ sd,edu‘es’we do"’¡

. • merely live parallel

restaurants, where I’m / livesVe love to hang having a business / out together. We look dinner forward to skiing, camp-

ing, and canoeing; we garden, hike, bike, and cook together. We rarely have time for so-called getaway weekends—maybe once every five years. This is where my personal guilt comes in. I don’t feel guilty about going to work all day, but I don’t like to leave the kids on the ... weekends. I don’t want vacations \ without the kids. I remember \ when my parents would go Why worry, for \ away on vacations without us; instance, about \ we hated being left behind, social events you ƒ I think my husband feels don’t need to / the same way, even though go to? / he’s home more. He doesn’t like to leave the kids either. Hardly a full night goes by without a child in our bed, or maybe two or three. We’re so used to it at this point that we don’t even know what life would be like if we went for a week without them!

We used to work late and then go out for dinner, just the two of us. I guess you’d call it a date night. Now since I’m working with weeklies, constant deadlines make it very hard. I just want to be home when I can. I’d rather have a \ romantic dinner at home after Decide which people \ we put the kids to bed, even in your life really \ ifit’s at 10:30 or 11 at night.

matter to you: your ! The full life, though . ... . ; sometimes overflowing

parents, your children, 5

; , .with joyful madness and

your boyfriend or / mayhem> is the on]y one

husband, your best / worth living M

Copyright© 2006 by Bonnie Fuller. From the forthcoming book The Joys of Much Too Much by Bonnie Fuller to be published by Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. N.Y. Printed by permission.