Work-Life Balance? Puh-leaase!

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In my job, as co-host of Morning Joe on MSNBC and The Joe Scarborough Show on WABC radio, there are usually several days a week that are endless.

Absolutely endless.

This is not a complaint. I love the job. I am extremely lucky to have a job and thank God for that every day. But literally, some days do not have an end.

I am up at 3:30, reading the op-ed pages and getting ready to be on the air by 6 am on the set of Morning Joe, and after three hours of TV and two hours on the radio, it is only 12 noon. The day seems like it is just beginning with meetings, phone calls, lunches, and events.

I see this as an incredible blessing. I love the challenge both intellectually and physically. I also value simply working. Feeling useful. After being let go from CBS and looking for a year for work, I will never catch myself complaining about being too busy.

Getting "let go" is about many things. Loss of financial security, first and foremost. It is also about a loss of identity. A loss of standing in the family. A loss of role as "provider." And thus, a recalibrating of your value at home and to the outside world.

More on all of that next week.

But this is more about work and identity and family being equally important and how it is impossible to calibrate all those moving parts together perfectly.

And contrary to the popular perception of some people who read my blogs, I did not work 80 hours a week in my 20's and 30's in between trips to the South of France. I worked because like many of you, I needed to pay a mortgage and hopefully take the kids to Florida in the winter.

I also have a scrappy side that loves to work long, hard days and "provide."

That was never more clear to me than when I had no job and no prospects.

I was never happier than when I finally landed a freelance, day rate, nightshift and weekend job at MSNBC after a year of rejection. It was a far cry from what I had at CBS, but by then, I had learned that the concept of "working" was in me.. no matter what people thought of me or even if the work isn't perfect.

But balance between work and family? Please.

Those who can strike it just right are better men than me.

And they probably ARE all men.

It seems when I was unemployed, I was home too much. And trust me when I tell you, few wanted me there full time (and that would include my husband), and even fewer could stomach my cooking.

However, it also seems when I am working, there is always too much to do and my family gets put on the back burner while I plow through the day.

In the journey of writing my upcoming book, All Things at Once, I send the message that you can be all things, just don't expect it to be perfect, and at times, don't be surprised if it is ugly. The book is not "advice" with a pretty bow at the end of the story.

Some may read it as a step forward for an honest look at the challenge of working womanhood. Others may see it as a cautionary tale because of the very big mistakes i have made along the way.

I confess.

I am a marathon worker and marathon mother. I'll spend three or four days completely swallowed up by work. And if I make it home in time to say good night, I may have one good hour with the girls, maybe a brief family dinner or a family walk with the dog, and then it is back on the computer to prepare for tomorrow's shows. This will happen in 24, 48 and sometimes even 72 hour cycles.

I also look for and grab opportunities to jump into motherhood.

On a random day, like Halloween weekend for example, I left at one, spent the afternoon, running with my older daughter, cutting pumpkins with her friends, sweaty, dirty and filthy.
I spent the rest of the day and into the night at a barn party with my youngest, trying to balance plastic frog-eyes on her costume. (They ended up looking like boobs) My eyes were bloodshot and I looked like death, but luckily, it was Halloween and for 72 hours, I was all theirs.

It is always a work in progress, trying to improve on the home front but never quite hitting a rhythm because of the unexpected nature of the news business. I know many fathers live like this -- on the road and always working on the next deal. Would this schedule sound so bad if I were a man?

My best friend's husband is away, on average, 4-5 days a week while she cares for their daughter. No one has ever criticized him. But she and I debate this endlessly.

Why? I think it is because to an extent, this appears to be my choice, and it is a challenge I enjoy. And for some reason, because I am "the mother," there is a very large school of thought that sees this choice as selfish.

Is it?

I desperately miss my girls when I am working, and I often feel guilty, but also feel the journey I am on is for them too. When I am on my 16th hour of a day and can barely keep my eyes open, they drive me forward.

But, yes, it is true. I refrain from saying "My children are 100 percent my first priority at all times."

I choose to put many other things on my plate too. For them, and for me. Is that OK to say? My best friend is not so sure it is.

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