Career vs. Family – How do we strike the balance?

On October 19, 2018 my world changed forever.  My husband, Luke and I became parents that day when our beautiful daughter Violet was born.  In reality, I knew my life was going to change when we decided to start a family.  I knew I’d have less time, less sleep and an endless stream of diaper changes.  What I didn’t anticipate, however, is what a profound shift this would have on me and my attitude towards my career.  

As musicians, we basically ARE our careers.  “I’m Sara, I’m a musician.”  “I’m Sara, I’m a flutist.”  We wear our careers as proud medals of honour on our sleeves … and for good reason!  We have spent hours and hours and I mean HOURS practicing and rehearsing and performing.  We have given up our social lives, missed important family events for performing obligations and most of our “vacations” have revolved around a performing opportunity or audition.  We’ve been rejected countless times but have kept the never-ending perseverance and self-belief usually reserved for top level athletes or high-risk business owners.  Sure, most of us aren’t rich… but our lives are enriched with constant music making.  For a large part of our young lives, we truly did eat, breathe and live music.  So, it’s not a surprise to recall a conversation I had with my husband early on in our relationship in which I firmly stated “I will not give up my career if we have children!”.  I look back at this now and laugh… the endless list of things we think we know about parenthood when we aren’t yet parents.. hilarious!!!!

So fast forward to present day (September, 2020).  Our lovely daughter is soon turning 2, and we are expecting our second child in March of 2021.   I now understand the consensus amongst parents I have spoken to over the years when they say that parenting is “the hardest job, but the best job”.  It’s so true.  I now can’t imagine anything being more important to me than my family… even this career that I shed so much blood, sweat and tears to build.  Here are just some of the changes in my career and attitude towards my career that have taken place for me personally in becoming a parent:

  1. Work issues now seem small. 

I used to regularly lose sleep over orchestra workplace issues.  Squabbles over part assignments or personal disagreements, or even knowing that people in the flute community felt resentment towards me or my decisions would really rock me off my centre.  These days, this all seems like much less of a big deal.  Now when I’m at work, my mind is either on my daughter/family or I am hyper-focused on the task at hand, as my concentration isn’t anywhere near where it was pre-children!  Work has become a place of professionalism that I can detach from MUCH more easily now that I have a family to take care of.

  1. Mistakes matter less.

With little sleep, and almost zero time to practice, I’ve become much more forgiving of myself when making mistakes in performance.  As long as I’ve put in as much effort as I’m capable of at the time, I basically decide “job well done”!   The audience generally doesn’t even notice the little cacked notes or missed entries and we musicians tend to AGONIZE over them unnecessarily.   I find this newfound self-kindness to be a refreshing change.

  1. I say no to work more often.

This one is hard… I personally am hardwired to say yes to almost any and every opportunity to perform thrown my way.  As I was building my career, it felt like saying no to any opportunity would be missing out on a potential stepping stone, connection or launch opportunity.  I still have to really weigh the options when offered work (this has been much less of a struggle during the pandemic obviously), and have been very disappointed to turn down some incredible touring and teaching opportunities.  My family and daughter come first now though – and I have literally zero regrets in all the times I’ve said “NO”.  In fact, I often wish I had said those two little letters more often!

  1. My body has changed and has negatively affected my playing.

Growing a human being has a profound effect on a human body.  I am not a glowing pregnant woman with a pretty little bump… With Violet, I was nauseous and throwing up regularly for the entire pregnancy.  I got quite large overall (eating was the only thing to lessen the nausea) and everything in my core that goes into playing the flute well either moved or became weak (or both).  Playing near the end of my pregnancy was a struggle, and my ability to hold the breath through long phrases was decimated.  Once she was born, I was able to recover most of my strength overtime, but I didn’t realize that practicing so little and being weaker overall would end up with me developing some pretty bad postural habits.  The kind of habits that I have harped on students about for years…!!  Luckily, I have the skills and know-how (and advice from my bestie Sarah MacDonald) to get my playing back to my own standards again but it’s a long process which I will now be repeating with my second child!  The struggle is real my friends…

  1. I don’t focus on career advancement as much anymore.

I can pretty safely say that my days of auditioning for orchestras are over.  The thought of moving my entire family to a new city or even country seems overly daunting.  Nevermind the amount of time I would have to sacrifice with my small children to practice the several hours per day necessary to properly prepare for an audition.  No thank you!  As mentioned above, I have also decided that travelling for my career has to fit into the family schedule and work for everyone… so staying put is the most ideal choice for now.  I went from feeling that the only way I really “made it” would be to have a higher paying or top-level orchestra job, to being extremely grateful to have ANY orchestra job and the perks and benefits it brings to my family.

  1. I finally feel fulfilled in a way that career never could.

I spent a lot of my 30’s trying to “find myself”.  I think I’ve read every self-help book there is, and spent hours agonizing over the purpose of my life, or what goals I needed to achieve.  Having my little family has changed that feeling entirely.  I feel fulfilled in a way that I didn’t know was possible, and I now realise that playing the flute was never going to fill that gap.  I’m just so grateful to be blessed with my wonderful husband, my little Violet, baby to be, my job, my family near and far and my amazing friends (also near and far!).  I’m starting to maybe jump on the “40 is the new 30” bandwagon ☺

I think striking the career/family balance will always be a bit of a challenge for me.  We would love to hear other perspectives on this pretty common struggle between career and family.  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments!  How did having children change your perspective – or did it?  Did you have similar or different struggles… or no struggles at all?  

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2 thoughts on “Career vs. Family – How do we strike the balance?

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I am a music teacher and our little one is due to arrive in a couple of weeks. I am feeling ALL THE FEELINGS about my career, and about my instrument. Thank you for your honesty!

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