This piece is part of the Arkansas Times’ ongoing series on women in Arkansas politics, “That’s What Girls Do.”
One of my favorite books to recommend to people is the “Year of Yes” by award-winning showrunner Shonda Rhimes. In it, Rhimes is told that she says no to everything and everyone, so she decides to try a year of saying yes to everything that is asked of her. Go on a talk show she’s been nervous to do? YES. Kids want to play when she’s already running late? YES. Speak at a commencement ceremony? YES.
I wonder why this book made me so happy. I know that I, like so many women, have the opposite problem. Where Rhimes is so quick to say no thank you, I find myself saying yes to things that I don’t really want to say yes to or don’t have the time to say yes to. Can you help with the PTA? Of course. Can you organize the office retirement party? OK. Can you serve on the flower guild at church? Sure. Everyone knows if you really want something done, ask a busy person to do it. And because everyone knows I’m a busy person who usually says yes, I’m often the person who gets asked.
I know that when I say yes to political work or activism work, it almost always comes with time away from my kids and husband. Saying yes to canvassing on the weekend for my favorite candidates means my husband keeps the kids. Saying yes to hosting a fundraiser means my kids stay up past their bedtimes and maybe have to skip their shower, bedtime stories and other routines. Saying yes to donations means stretching the family budget. Saying yes to a leadership role means all of these consequences, repeatedly, for the foreseeable future.
I want to see more women elected. I want to see more Democrats elected. I want our kids to have a world class education in the Little Rock School District. I want to be a good employee. I want to be an active participant in my faith community. I want my kids to see me working for what I believe in, and I want them to know that our community works better when people are active participants. But I also feel supremely guilty about missing bedtime, sending the kids to aftercare, etc.
Raising kids and maintaining a marriage, working a full-time job, and being engaged in political and activism work, all require time and dedication. And no matter how much time and dedication I give to any of these things, there is always room to do better on all of them.
How do women balance what Stacey Abrams calls “work-life Jenga”? We all know that there is no such thing as work-life balance, so work-life Jenga is the new way. Keep everything upright even if it wobbles a bit. I try to do this a few different ways. My husband and I keep a joint calendar on our phones. I know that sounds too simple, but it has really been a game changer for us. We have a deep bench of family and friends who will keep our kids when we both are unavailable and help us in other ways when needed. We bring our kids with us to meetings, rallies and other events when it is appropriate. We support each other and remind each other that we are doing great with our challenging lives — just like my husband keeps the kids when I am away, I do the same for him. We are a team.
But not everybody has a supportive partner, and even the best supportive partner can’t solve all the challenges of work-life Jenga. Although I feel the constant pressure to be in five places at once and accomplish 100 hours of work per day, I must constantly remind myself that my capabilities are limited and I am only one woman. I make time for seemingly less important things like book clubs, girls nights, birthday celebrations for grownup, and thank-you notes. When I dedicate time and attention to nurturing important relationships and helping people in my life directly as opposed to indirectly through activism and political work, I gain strength and energy in return. I gain relationships and communion with my people. And those important people in my life are there for me when I need them.
Although I feel guilty that I’m not with my kids every moment of every day, I know that it is good for them to be raised by a village instead of only by me, or only by me and my husband. The same is true for me. I am working on saying no to guilt. I may feel like my personal work-life Jenga is constantly on the verge of collapse, but my husband and my family and my girlfriends and my allies — my village — can see me clearly. They tell me that I’m doing great and that I should keep going. And so I believe I will keep going.
Eve Jorgensen is a full-time employee at Central Arkansas Water and is married with two wonderful children. Jorgensen is also a volunteer leader with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She has helped build this grassroots movement in Arkansas from a handful of people in Little Rock to a powerful group with hundreds of members statewide.