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Mar 15 2013

Friday Night: I Chose My Kids (and Shabbat) Over a Job

By at 2:49 pm

fresh baked challahHere’s the thing. I actually did try to lean in. I updated my resume, sent it out, and dug out the blazer I only wear to interviews. I answered the standard questions about why I want the job (because biweekly midnight visits to the ER with croupy kids aren’t keeping me busy enough, apparently), what my weaknesses are (chocolate, pudgy-faced toddlers, and men who fold laundry), and how I would feel about being the only post-doc with kids (um, great?).

To be honest, I’m still not sure what happened at the interview. Perhaps I sabotaged myself. As perfect as the job was, and as much as my husband and friends assured me that we could make it work, I just couldn’t quite figure out how our family would function with both us working full time. I know millions of American families (including many of my neighbors and friends) do it, but all I could think about was laundry piling up, last minute emergency trips to the grocery store for milk, and strawberry-banana yogurt, and hushed but heated conversations about who was going to take a sick day to stay home with a feverish child.

The reality is that even though I currently work from home, our laundry still piles up and we still run out of milk more often than I’d like admit. But when the girls are sick, I am home with them.  I do drop-offs and pick-ups, and in those brief conversations with their teachers, I catch a glimpse into who my children are when they’re not with me. I wake them up each morning and sing the Shema with them each night. Even though I’m not a SAHM, my flexible work schedule has allowed me to maintain an intimacy with my daughters’ lives that has become central to my identity as a parent, and my relationship with my girls.

Back to the job. I had made it to the second round of interviews for a full-time, 12-month post-doctoral fellowship in a busy counseling center; intense work that I truly loved before I had children: crisis intervention and brief therapy with individuals struggling with everything from suicidal thoughts to emerging schizophrenia to relationship issues and major life transitions. The schedule, as well as the commute, would require that we hire someone to pick up our daughters each afternoon, give them dinner, and get them ready for bed. I decided I could be OK with that (and on some of our more difficult evenings, I was positively gleeful as I imagined it) for just one year.

As my husband and I talked about the logistics of the position, I found my line in the sand. I wanted to be home for Shabbat dinner each week. Shabbat at our house isn’t fancy, and given our early schedule (we eat at 5:30, by 6:30 our daughters are getting ready for bed), we don’t often host guests. Josh leaves his job an hour early to make it home, and I felt it was reasonable for me to do the same. We decided that I should bring this up in the second interview, as opposed to after I had a job offer in hand, should it come to that. I felt if there was a show-stopper on the table for me, I should be honest about it.

So, I asked. Actually, I offered to work during my lunch hours or stay late on other days during the week so I could leave early on Fridays for our family’s Shabbat celebration. At first, my interviewer noted that it would be difficult for me to get home in time for sundown during the winter, but I explained that we’re not Orthodox, so I wasn’t worried about that detail. No, I was told. Everyone was expected to stay until 5 PM every day, including Fridays, and if my 4 PM client was in crisis, I would have to stay until the situation was resolved and the individual was safe.

I left the interview and withdrew my application.

To be clear, I don’t think the person who interviewed me was being anti-Semitic or discriminatory; I think she was simply outlining their expectations for the position. I suppose if I had been less ambivalent about the job (not about the actual work, or the clinic, but whether or not I wanted to take it on full-time for a year), I could have waited to ask my question until I had a job offer in hand. But I didn’t.

I don’t know if I’m angry about how things turned out, but I am certainly disappointed. I absolutely understand the need for a busy counseling center to have employees they can rely on; it’s not infrequent that life and death situations arise, and you must have staff on site to manage it. Working from home just isn’t a possibility in this field; it requires an actual person to be present and available. On the flip side, I do believe that the mental health field has a responsibility, perhaps even more than other professions, to walk our talk and embody our values, and if we are going to tell our clients that balance is crucial to mental health, then we should support the same ideals for our professionals.

One of the most surprising things about motherhood has been the ways in which it constantly challenges me to examine my values and figure out how to craft a life that focuses on what really matters to me and my family. I am lucky to have the flexibility and support to be able to decide when I can lean in, and when I need to step back, either for myself or my family. But here’s the thing about leaning in—if you lean too far without enough support around you, you’re going to fall. In this case, there wasn’t going to be anyone at work to catch me, so I knew I needed to maintain my own safety net. Shabbat, and everything that goes along with it, including time with my family and a connection to my faith and community, keeps me from falling. And that’s a line in the sand I’m just not willing to cross.

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