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The Truth About the Single Parent and Home/ Work Life Balance: There Is No Such Thing

As a single mother who works a full-time job, there is no such separation. There is not a distinct place and time for work and family. The line is blurred, if it ever existed at all.
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This is a picture that my roommate snapped last night. It was ten o'clock. I had spent the past two days home with sick children and was determined to get midterm grades in before bed -- so determined, in fact, that my laptop dying in the middle of the process wasn't going to slow me down. I grabbed my cord from upstairs, found the last available plugin and went to work on the floor. And then I heard the whimpering.

My daughter was awake.

Not only was she awake, she was aware that she was in her bed and mama wasn't with her. The horror. This is basically a code red situation. Knowing the busy day we had and the fact that she missed her nap, I hoped and prayed that her soft cries might fade out and she would go back to sleep on her own. I vowed to wait her out. My strong-willed toddler wasn't having it. It was Mommy or bust. I heard her little feet as they climbed out of bed and made her way down the stairs.

"Mama, hold you."

The little manipulator knows my soft spot, and it's the magic word "Mama." I wasn't ready to retire to bed and give up on midterm grading just yet, though, so I struck a bargain. I asked her if she wanted to help me do my work. This seemed to appease her. She sat next to me for roughly 27 seconds before she climbed into my lap, wanting to be held like an infant. Cue the picture.

I finished the midterm grades, hauled my daughter upstairs to my bed, and then looked at the picture my friend snapped of the two of us. I began pondering the idea of work/home life balance and decided that it didn't apply to me. To be fair, it is partly due to the nature of my job -- everyone knows that teachers bring work home with them (and if you didn't -- they do. Lots of it.). Part of it, though, is due to my status as a single parent.

For the past couple years, I have gushed about the luxuries my profession affords me -- I work a three day schedule and get to spend the other days at home with my kids. I have the option to take the summer off, and, man, did we enjoy that last year between trips to the park, pool, library, and a vacation to Florida. My job is perfect, not just because I'm passionate about my work, but because it works so well with my primary occupation -- parenting. As far as work/home life balance goes, though, I've learned that it's simply a myth. It doesn't exist.

Consider a balance for a second, if you will. A balance weighs one object on each side. Sometimes the weights are equal, sometimes there is an imbalance, but there are always two distinct masses. There is separation.

As a single mother who works a full-time job, there is no such separation. There is not a distinct place and time for work and family. The line is blurred, if it ever existed at all. At home, I take care of the kids, cleaning, and cooking, but I also grade, lesson plan, and answer emails. At work, I teach, conference with students, and attend meetings, but I also text the babysitter, call preschools, and fill out t-ball registration forms. On rare occasions I find myself without a sitter, my kids come into work with me, sit in the front row of my classes, and get a premature dose of English 100 and 200. Like I said, there are no distinct boxes -- I don't get to be teacher Lindsey or mom Lindsey exclusively. I'm both. All the time.

So that is the truth about the work/home life balance as a single mother: there is no such thing. I think most mothers -- single, married, and otherwise can relate. There are not separate spaces for parenting and work; they resist separation. Mothers are magical creatures who fulfill several roles and juggle multiple responsibilities on a daily basis, which is equal parts gratifying and exhausting. In turn, everything just gets thrown into the same pile labeled "to do." Then we handle it, like the bosses we are.