Local mother tries to maintain work-life balance

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Jake Magee
Sunday, October 22, 2017

JANESVILLE—On Nicole Johnson's refrigerator hangs a worksheet her 4-year-old son, Layton, filled out for Mother's Day.

One question asks what Mom's job is. Layton wrote "the computer."

"When I get overwhelmed at work and I feel too behind, I bring my computer home, and I do my work upstairs in bed," Johnson said.

Johnson is a working mother. Balancing her job, at-home responsibilities and life in general is a challenge.

Clinical psychologist and owner of Genesis Counseling Services James Burns said it's common for salaried employees to work late. They don't work until a certain time but until the work is done, but that's not necessarily best, Burns said.

Overworked employees or those that can't keep work at work can become depressed, anxious or angry and eventually resent their jobs, Burns said.

It's important employees set boundaries early. With advances in technology, it's common for employees to bring work home with them, he said.

"The work will be there for you the next day," Burns said.

Johnson works full-time in the mental health field for Rock County. It's something she feels isn't only worthwhile but necessary.

"Benefits and insurance and student loans and all of that, we can't afford to live the lifestyle we would like, do what we would like and (have) me stay home," she said.

But working 40 hours a week comes with sacrifices.

For one, Johnson doesn't get to spend as much time with Layton and her 18-month-old daughter, Arabella, as some mothers do with their children. She misses out on some of their achievements, which is hard, she said.

Johnson prioritizes breastfeeding. She used to pump, which she said was a lot of work but worth it.

"For me, it's been really important to kind of maintain that relationship because I'm not with my kids a lot, so I think the time that I am nursing, it's like my ability to bond or attach. For those five minutes, we can connect in a way we're not able to throughout the day," Johnson said.

Sometimes her work and life blend overlap, and it's difficult to keep them separated.

"Even when I'm not here with the kids or at work, you're constantly planning something in your head," Johnson said. "'Do they have doctor's appointments? What size clothes are they in? What's in the fridge for dinner?' is what you're thinking during the middle of the day. My head is constantly turning."

Johnson recently switched out of a child protection job, and that has helped reduce her stress. In that field, she sometimes had to work late or bring work home, but that might not be the case with her new job, she said.

"My hope was switching to this job is that I don't bring work home with me, and that was the big reason I switched is in the other job it's too easy to bring work home with you," Johnson said.

Her career in child protection also was much more stressful by nature. The job opened her eyes to the horrible things some children go through. So she got out.

"Sometimes it was just hard to come home and look at your own children and not hate the world and be scared for them because of everything that I've seen," Johnson said. "I just don't want to always live in fear for my kids, and in the other job, all I saw was bad things that happened to children."

Burns said time off during the week is important because it allows employees to recharge. It's even more important for those who work hard, stressful jobs.

Burns sometimes makes sure to tell his employees to take it easy and not constantly work at 100 percent.

"The last thing I want is for my employees to burn out," he said.

Johnson's work sometimes contributes to feelings of guilt. When she wants time to herself or with friends, Johnson often felt bad for not spending her limited free time with her children.

"The guilt is there no matter what, even when you're having fun," she said.

One tip Johnson offered for keeping a healthy work-life balance is to establish a routine and stick with it. Johnson tries to maintain the routine even on weekends to help make it a habit.

During the week, Johnson's husband, Brandon, works second shift, so he wakes with the kids. Johnson gets some time to herself when she goes for a run at about 6 a.m. every day.

"I try and go running in the mornings because that, I've learned, helps me have patience at night," she said.

Burns said recreational activities, hobbies and exercise are important ways to recharge for work.

Johnson works until 5 p.m., then picks up her children from daycare or her mother-in-law's, depending on the day. Then she heads home to cook dinner. Some days she goes to Layton's activities, such as soccer.

"If I want (my kids) to do any activities, I have to kind of figure out who can help me coordinate that to get them there on time, and that's hard," Johnson said.

After cooking, cleaning and letting the kids play a bit, Johnson puts them to bed. Before dozing off herself, Johnson might have enough time to read or watch TV.

"Then it starts all over again."

Another tip is to find helpful friends, family members and even social media groups that provide support, answer questions and help in times of need.

"My mother-in-law is a blessing," Johnson said. "I don't know how working parents do it if they don't have family support. I have no idea."

Johnson also is in a Facebook group for mothers, and while members can sometimes be judgmental, they point her in the right direction.

"We're all just trying to do the best we can," Johnson said. "If you need help, ask for it, and find those people that are going to support you in the trials and troubles and 4-year-olds that test your patience."

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