This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…I was knee-deep leading the launch of a communications campaign across Latin America and the Caribbean. I was working with a first-class agency and we had been busting our butts to be ready for Monday’s launch: ensuring all assets were delivered, holding briefing sessions with leaders, getting merchandise in place, presentations, posters, videos, speeches, you name it. Still, as invariably happens with campaigns, everything was down to the wire.
Hence it was that I was working on a Sunday morning. I was supporting a colleague in Colombia who couldn’t download the materials and had several issues. I had this uncomfortable feeling in my stomach as the minutes ticked by; Lauren and I were both dressed and ready for Church and Sunday School and I had to leave by 10:00 to make it there. Lauren was patiently watching episodes of her favorite – Dora the Explorer and Aris was napping. I saw no other way out of this, I would skip Church to ensure that my colleague had everything as quickly as possible.
After 10:30 had passed and the crisis was averted, I got up from my desk. Lauren rose too and asked if we were leaving for Church. I’ve since fielded far more awkward questions but facing my four-year old daughter was a tricky one that morning.
Me: It’s too late. We’re not going.
Lauren: Why? Why didn’t we leave on time? You didn’t know the time Mommy?
Me: I was working sweetie. I had an important project to deliver and I was helping my colleague to figure things out.
Little Lauren was not amused. She set her face and spoke firmly in perfect sentences, “It should not have been Sunday. You take me to Sunday School on a Sunday. Next time tell your work people that you have to take me to Sunday School.”
That was it. Sunday Sermon delivered from the backseat. Then silence.
As a working parent I have lived these moments and had to make difficult choices all the time. Either which way I felt guilty or out of balance. People talk about Mom guilt, but women don’t have a patent on it – men face it too.
There are so many streams of advice – create boundaries; accept that you will always feel guilty and live with it; when you are with your kids be present and forget about the rest; learn to prioritize; you can have it all; you can’t have it all…yadda, yadda, yadda.
Truly, for me there was no perfect way or ideal solution. Sometimes a particular piece of advice would work and other times it was useless. Donning my Superwoman cape would work some days and other days I would run out of kryptonite and fall to the ground eating dust.
However, the big lesson I appreciated that Sunday was that it’s important to set boundaries and to communicate them. It doesn’t mean being inflexible, but it means you know what’s important to you and you choose to live your life in a way that honors your priorities. I could have explained to my colleague and asked her to give me an hour so I could take Lauren and then get back online. Or I could have explained to Lauren beforehand and told her that we were going to miss Church that Sunday. The key thing is not to allow the choice to ‘happen to you’ but to consciously and intentionally make the choice.
Do you know what works for you in situations like these? It’s worth the effort to figure out what does, to practice it and share with others. We all can use some help.