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Babies, Balance, And Going Back To Work

Last month, a commenter responded to one of my posts with something to the effect of, “I knew your writing would start to suck once you had a kid.”

That statement, I think, will inevitably end up being true. How can anybody possibly be focused at work when they have a newborn at home? I’m writing this post while my three-week-old baby is sleeping in a rocker next to me. That means that I’m, at most, paying about 30 percent attention to what I’m writing. I don’t have a fun Argo reference for you, because instead of seeing the latest movie event of the fall, I spent the weekend trying to lower my diaper changing time. Right now, I’m about as engaged with this post as Obama was engaged in his debate with Mitt Romney.

And my kid is only three weeks old, which means he’s still functionally immobile. What’s going to happen when he’s crawling around? What’s going to happen when my Jamaican nanny — if you have some info on good, “cost-effective” child care, let me know — is calling me to ask if it’s okay if he eats the dog’s treats?

Yeah, I think my job will suffer. And my “job” involves coming online and making law students cry. I don’t have to structure billion-dollar deals or even key-cite an opinion.

So I have to ask all these people who claim they’ve achieved some kind of work/life balance, and that they “have it all” — what the f**k are you talking about?

Let me get this straight, you mean to tell me there are people who want to spend 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week at a law firm or some other office job, but then also want to spend as much of their “free time” as possible with their children? And the goal of “work/life balance” is to somehow manage those competing professional and domestic desires in one lifetime?

Honestly, I don’t get it. In fairness, I’ve never really understood the people who wanted to work in a law firm all day, but the concept of people who still want to work in a law firm after they have children is confusing and borderline terrifying. You have a baby, but you want to be digging through a Redweld? Do you also prefer broccoli to ice cream? On the flip side, if you really enjoy the quiet and largely solitary pursuit of lawyering, it must be somewhat hellish to have to leave your clean and orderly world of precedents and statutes for the rolling chaos of living with a baby. To each his own, but for every one person who truly enjoys winter and summer equally, there have to be ten people who’d rather be sitting on a beach or a slope.

What I do understand is that people have to go to work, and they are at least supposed to take care of their kids. “Want” has nothing to do with it. People who love their children go to work to provide for them. People who’d rather go out to happy hour come home to read the same story for the hundredth time. It’s called being an adult.

But it occurs to me that when people say “work/life balance,” what they’re really talking about is doing as little stupid freaking work as possible so they can get back to things that they truly enjoy in their life. They want to have just enough “work” that they can sit in a room with their professional friends and feel successful, and they want enough “life” that their kids don’t hate them and put them in a nursing home at the earliest opportunity. It’s not “balance” — most people are going for the work/life buffet. It’s a magical Sizzler where you can gorge yourself on everything and not get fat.

In reality, it seems to me that life is about choices. To defend everything is to defend nothing. The goal isn’t to have it all, it’s to want what you have.

And sure, that last line is really my advice to Obama before his next debate (I’ll actually be out at Hofstra Law tomorrow, doing a panel before the debate), but I think it also works in this context. I chose to have a kid, and I’m choosing to care about him, which means that, at least for a time, I’m choosing to suck at my job a little bit more. I’m comfortable with that choice, and hopefully you readers will get comfortable with it too — I mean, you’ve already gotten pretty used to the fact that I can barely spell, and four years ago, I bet you thought that would never happen.

I’m not trying to “have it all.” I’m trying to “do what I want.” That’s work/life balance with a newborn: figuring out just how much you can suck at work while you are busy starting a new life.

Amirite? Come on, click through to the picture and tell me I’m wrong….

(hidden for your protection)

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