By Heather Christison
Husband: “What time will you be home tonight?”
Me: “I don’t know yet, but probably by 7p.m.
Husband: “It’s 7p.m. and you aren’t home yet, so what time do you think you will be home? Do you think you will be home by bedtime? He wants to stay up until you get home to put him to bed.”
Me: “I’ll be home in time for bed, don’t worry.”
Husband: “Are you on your way? It’s almost bedtime.”
Me: “I’m sorry, I’m not going to make it. Can you put him to bed and tell him I will give him a kiss when I get home tonight?”
That was my life.
Every night my husband would call and we would do the dance of when I would be home. I rarely, if ever, got home before 7p.m. and most nights I was in the office until 9p.m. or later.
But I felt like I had no choice. There was so much work to do and I spent most of my days putting out fires – answering emails, phone calls, participating in meetings. The list went on and on. The culture at my job was one of “extra” – extra effort, extra time, extra availability.
The team would fail if everyone didn’t work weekends and holidays as needed, if someone wasn’t engaged 24/7. We had webmail access to our company email accounts, so we were expected to check our mail in the morning before work, in the evening after we got home, and over the weekend. A Fourth of July picnic and fireworks with the family came in a distant second to completing that big project on time. It was a perfect recipe for burnout.
It wasn’t always like this …
How it all began
That wasn’t how things started, of course. I had accepted this job with high hopes and in anticipation of the contribution I could make at this new position. I was already doing rewarding work; AND it wasn’t providing enough income to support our family at the time. For 3½ years I was a work-at-home mom with regular clients I was able to serve on a part-time basis. The decision was difficult, but the new full-time job came with a generous salary and a great benefit package, including lots of Paid Time Off and observed holidays. I was so excited to be part of a team and to have “adult” conversations that, at first I thought that I had waited too long to get back into the “real” working world.
So it begins ….
And then the late nights started, the long commute, the weekend work, and the 24/7 availability expectations. I hardly saw my family anymore. I had snippets of time in the morning before school and work, but I didn’t get to help with homework, I didn’t get to put my boy to bed at night, I sometimes wasn’t even home if he woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night.
One day I looked up and I realized that my “baby” was a little boy, one who was starting to exhibit interest in things I didn’t understand like Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon, Cartoon Network and making weapons out of everything. He still wanted me to snuggle him but the time I had available to do that was extremely limited.
I had made my decision … I started saying NO.
NO … I can’t stay late tonight, I’m leaving at 5p.m.
NO … I can’t come in early tomorrow, I want to drop my son off at school.
NO … I can’t work this weekend, we are going to the movies, a baseball game, just going to go play
NO … I won’t be able to answer that text message / phone call / email; my phone and email are off after business hours and on weekends.
I started to see a change in my opportunities at the office. There were no more invitations to take on new projects or more work, but also no offers for advancement or more compensation. No more requests to travel, but also less attention paid to my suggestions in meetings.