Oregon State University
Skip navigation


stories of parenting at the University

When the Work-Life Balance Train Derails

December 2nd, 2011

By a professional faculty mom of a 16 year old son

I think all of us wish to balance our lives and intellectually we strive to do that. Where the train always drove off the track for me was around the holidays. We celebrate Christmas in my family, so the “holiday season” stretches from late October through New Year’s. Chalk it up to emotion, too much sugar or too little sleep, the derailment happens for many of us. Here’s what my life looked like “before”….

Full time professional. Extensive business travel. Lots of local family. Daughter. Wife. Sister. Friend. Community Volunteer. Mother. Hand-made Halloween costumes. Large, elaborate Thanksgiving dinners. Carefully chosen holiday gifts for each family member, including extended family. Elaborate holiday baking and delivery of baked goods to friends, neighbors, doctors, dentist, dog groomer, etc. Hand-made holiday wreaths. Personally selected and decorated holiday tree. Holiday letter and hand written cards to list of about 75-100. Community holiday events….lots of them. Holiday parties….lots of them. Hosting family for either Christmas or Christmas Eve, complete with large meal, clean house and overnight guests. Careful choreographing of holiday celebrations so that each set of parents and each sibling was accommodated. I hated the holidays.

And then it happened. I really did not see it coming. I sat sobbing from exhaustion with my baby on my lap in late December, realizing that if I didn’t get a hold of myself all he would remember about the holiday season was that his mother was circling the drain for two months each year.

So after banishing caffeine and sugar and taking a good brisk nap, I asked myself some hard questions. What would you subject your very best friend to? Is exhausted and cranky a normal state of being? What gives YOU joy? And here’s what the holidays look like now….

Full time professional. Lots of local family. Daughter. Wife. Sister. Friend. Community Volunteer. Mother. Halloween costume support, not leadership. Boundaries around Thanksgiving and time spent with people who GIVE energy, not drain it. Charitable contributions in honor of adult gift recipients that are meaningful to them; books and pajamas to the littles in my life. A day spent in the kitchen baking with my mom and my sister because I love it (and because we ROCK the kitchen!). A tree selected and decorated by my family. A few cards….maybe after New Year’s….and more meaningful connections throughout the year. Holiday parties only if they bring me (or my immediate family) joy. Chinese food on Christmas Eve (who knew you could DO that!). Holiday celebrations planned around love and not accommodation. Holiday music played long and loudly. I am joyful.

Guess what? The world did not stop spinning. Nobody got mad. My husband, son and I enjoy the holidays immensely. Will it work for you? I don’t know….but try it. Give yourself permission to NOT do everything. Your family, friends and colleagues will love you for it.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • What is this?

    Here in the basement of Kerr, in the office of Childcare & Family Resources, we hear stories. Weird, heartwarming, horrific, sad, and stories so funny they draw in a crowd. We think you need to hear these stories. You need to know of the single undergraduate student with two kids. You need to hear about the tenure track dad expecting his first baby, the classified staff couple that can’t afford childcare on two incomes, the professional faculty whose partner was just laid off. How she just potty trained Jr. while working full time. How he negotiated more leave. How the professor extended her deadline. How she manages to pump and still type emails. How he brought his baby to class.

    So we invite you, parents of OSU, to come here and share your stories: the good, the bad, and the crazy. What you do is amazing, and the whole campus needs to know about it.