I love being a working mom. This is really the first time I've known it like I do today. I had one of the best days of my life two weeks ago, seriously ranking up there in the top five thus far. And, unsurprisingly to me, it was a work day. However, it was not a usual work day: For the very first time, I brought my son with me.
Today is "Bring Your Kid To Work Day," but really, any day we do it counts. Pick an ideal time and involve your child. My contention is that you'll rapidly recognize the incredible fortune it is to live this lunatic life that requires navigating the dreaded work-life-balance ordeal.
When my 6-year-old joined me on a work trip earlier this month, it was as if two huge ships met at sea. All of the sudden, my little boy was welcomed into the world of making change. I felt like I represented more of my whole self while at work that day. And let me tell you, his eyes were wide open. All day.
One of the post-it notes on my computer at home says, "Design a beautiful day." The quote stems from Dr. Marty Seligman, who founded the field of positive psychology. He devised the concept of the beautiful day activity (I seriously encourage you to click on that link).
Thing is, every time I've talked about designing a beautiful or meaningful day, work is a part of it. If I only had one more day to live, I'd work for a few hours in the morning, no question about it. I really do love working as a doctor. Of course, I really do love being a mom. Valuing both of these roles takes skill, and I'm not always sure I have it...
And that's the thing. I often feel like all the writing about work and balance and parenting, especially for women, causes spectators on the sideline to question a commitment towards family, children and self for those of us also working outside of our homes. It's as if when we admit we love to nurture those outside of our family, we somehow don't value the nurturing of the people at home as much. And it doesn't work that way in my heart.
My priorities are clearly stacked with my children first, but one tension that I never can articulate well is the reality that I don't just work to earn money (although the paycheck is necessary); I work to get things done and to make the world more of what I know it can be.
Two weeks ago, I gave my first TED talk in the Netherlands. And lucky enough for me, my 6-year-old was in the third row. I felt more whole than I can remember feeling since returning back to work after his birth. Having him at my side allowed me to feel less pull than other work days. It's also very clear that he understands who I am in an unexpected, new way.
I know it's not plausible for most of us to bring our children to work most days, but I encourage you, whenever you see an opportunity -- whether it's on Bring Your Kid To Work Day or not -- to do so. Even if just for an hour or two. Make "going to work" real, tactile and vivid for them.
I didn't see it coming, the meaning and mindfulness of the work day with my boy. Although I had hopes that a trip to the Netherlands with my 6-year-old would be unique and cherished, I didn't understand that the long day of work was the one that would be so meaningful and so fueling for us both. He sat through the entire day of TED talks, met dozens of colleagues and seemed to take it all in. The talks spanned birth to death, with the morning focused on early life and the end of the day honed in on the end of life and the positive experience we can have as we age and as we die. It was heavy, but as I checked in on him throughout the day, he continued to reflect his interest and sense of calm.
It was only late at night, during pillow talk in the hotel, that I understood how profound a day with adults can be for a curious child.
As he lie tucked in bed surrounded by origami cranes he had collected during the day, he said:
"Oh, Mommy, life can be soooooooo beautiful."
"Yes, Lovie, it can," I said, my stomach flipping with surprise. And then he uttered:
"Mommy, death can be beautiful, too."
That's when I knew, whenever possible, that I had to involve my boys in my work. Share with them the luxury it is to have an education, a chance at making other people's lives better and the fortune of a meaningful career. It's so nice to have the rare episode that cemented the truth: I love being a working mom.
Follow Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SeattleMamaDoc