Six years ago, I began my current role within United Methodist Camping and Retreat Ministries. Four years ago, I became a first-time parent to a creative and hysterically witty little girl. Two years ago, I became a mother of two, when our smart and daringly brave son was born. And in all of that time, I have been trying to find the perfect balance between my responsibilities at work and my responsibilities at home. I have read articles and listened to podcasts. I have watched motivational speakers and tried numerous step by step guides. And I am excited to share with you what I have found.
First, the bad news – The main strategies for work/life balance that are out there… well, they just don’t always work for camping and retreat leaders! Balancing work and family is hard within any field, but this task is uniquely difficult for us in CRM. It is uniquely difficult to “have a consistent schedule” when a counselor knocks on your door in the middle of the night with a camper who needs to go to the ER. It is uniquely difficult to “separate work life and family life” when you are experiencing a family struggle, with dozens of prayer warriors right at your fingertips. It is uniquely difficult to “use time more wisely” when a really good worship or board meeting is going an hour long because the Holy Spirit is moving folks in life changing ways. And they say to “reserve weekends for the family” well, .. HA!
However, here are some strategies that I have found or created that are working well for this camping leader’s family:
Acknowledge guilt, but then release it.
I took a yoga class in college, and as one who has always struggled to maintain focus, the meditation at the end was always the hardest part for me. Tell me to touch my big toe to my ear and I’m on it! Tell me to lay still and think only about my pinkie-finger for five minutes, forget it. But then the instructor said something that has continued to stick with me in various parts of my life. “If you find your mind start to wander, acknowledge the thought, but then release it.” He was telling me not to get frustrated that I couldn’t maintain focus. He made it clear that it isn’t wrong for my mind to wander; it is natural for our minds to wander. But the most important part of what he said was, “… then release it.” Those few words were incredibly empowering. I realized that I had control over whether I would be consumed by a thought or whether I would allow it to pass and focus once again on what I wanted to focus on. Bringing it back to work-life balance – There are times when I know my work is going to take a back burner to my family and there are times when I know my family isn’t going to see me for days at a time. That is my reality; and with it comes a tremendous amount of guilt. However, just learning to acknowledge that reality and embracing what I can and (most importantly) can’t do, has dramatically lowered my stress level. Society puts so much pressure on both women and men to be perfect in every aspect of our lives. Every project we start should succeed, every dinner should be delicious and served on time, everything your supervisor asks of you should be met with an enthusiastic “yes,” every child should be well behaved and aging parent should be healthy, and it should all be meticulously documented on Facebook. But no one can live up to that expectation. I cannot do everything that is asked of me. You cannot do everything that is asked of you. (Heck, this blog post was submitted a week late for a variety of reasons.) Just knowing that true reality, I can make much better decisions on where and how I spend my time. Although I know that there is guilt that comes along with making those cuts and calculated sacrifices, I also know that this feeling is completely natural. I cannot avoid the guilt, but I can decide if I am going to let that guilt consume me, or if I am just going to acknowledge it and then release it and bring my focus back onto the things that I can do and accomplish.
Build your network/team
We talk about team building all the time at camp; and just by being a part of UMCRM, you are intentionally building your network. I hope somewhere on your office desk or on your computer you have a list of volunteers that you can call on in an instant and they will be at your camp getting things done that need to be done. I have learned that building that same type of network around my family is just as important as it is in my work life. But this is another one of those uniquely difficult things to do as a camping and retreat leader. For me, and I know for the majority of you, my career has taken me hours away from our relatives. My spouse and I don’t have the luxury of calling on grandma to come babysit when we both have an evening meeting. So some creativity has been needed to create our team of support. For us, it comes in the form of a flexible daycare center and strong bonds that I have formed with co-workers. Currently, our babysitter is the daughter of our Conference DCM. But most importantly our team relies on the unconditional support that my spouse and I give to one another. He does not get frustrated when I come home an hour later than normal, I will happily leave work early if he has an unexpected meeting pop up, etc. We are each other’s number one supporter.
Embrace work/life integration
The last strategy that works for me goes completely against the standard recommendation of creating separate times for work and family. As camping and retreat leaders we work in a unique environment where children and family are embraced, allowing for a healthy work/life integration. My work often comes home with me and often my family can be found at my work. After my parental leave was over, my babies came with me to work for an additional six weeks. My office looked like a nursery, but those who came to meet with me, from the Bishop to donors, were never once bothered. All online or phone meetings that are scheduled in the evenings are done from my home. My children can often be seen poking their little heads into the picture. And although they might not be able to articulate exactly what I do, my children can see their mom working hard to make a difference in the world.
If you are finding it a challenge to balance your life at home with your life as a camp/retreat leader, know that you are not alone. I encourage you to find relief in acknowledging guilt but then releasing it, get creative in building a family network around you even if it looks different from a traditional family network, and try to embrace a work/life integrated lifestyle instead of resisting it.
Jessica Gamaché serves at the Conference Camping Coordinator for the Western PA Conference. She is a Northeast Jurisdictional representative on the UMCRM Board of Directors. She enjoys spending time exploring nature … all her time exploring nature!