I remember being 23 years old, single mother of a newborn baby boy, going to school, and working to make ends meet. Taking care of him became my sole priority. Making sure he was fed, clothed, a roof over his head, and making sure he didn’t get hurt crawling around our house, that was it.  This little boy became my responsibility.

So I went to work, literally. I buckled down. I worked countless hours doing meaningless work for a minimal paycheck so I could take care of my son. He will never know the struggle, I told myself, and I was, I am sure of it. All of his needs will be met, I will work to make sure of it. I put my head down and as years passed, I worked my way up to a very lucrative income in a credible executive role. I had done it, we were finally stable.

As I began to lift my head from practically drowning as a workaholic, I could see my now 7 year old son. While his needs were met, there he stood, way over there, by himself, away from me. Trying to figure out how to navigate this life without his mom. He knew where home was, I built that for him, but he looked lost. He was lost. Roaming aimlessly through his life, using bad behavior and disobedience as crutches, I could see him searching for his identity. With a distant father and teachers who put energy only into seeing him fail, he was beginning to own this “bad kid” identity. All I could do was watch, because I had to go to work.

He saw me, over there, away from him, where I’d always been but never had the courage to admit. He saw me, at work. Then in the car when I picked him up, he saw me on the phone, working. “Mom,” he’d say. “Be quiet son, I’m on the phone,” he’d listen. Then at home, he’d go in his room and play. He’d play by himself until it was time to eat. There I was, on my computer, working, while he ate. So why was I surprised to look up and see my son alone, not looking for me?

I watched as he struggled, even with laughter and a confidence so strong he could permeate a brick wall, he struggled to walk in one direction.  His eyes met my eyes, as they always do, and I began to wonder why he wasn’t calling for me. I began to wonder if he’d lost his voice. Of course he had not lost his voice, he simply stopped calling for me.

I took my eyes off of my son for a moment and looked around me. Colleagues, papers, emails, phone calls, people, meetings, they all flooded my space. It was loud and crowded. If my son was calling for me, I couldn’t hear him.

Then it hit me, what was all of this for? What are these things and people filling my space, how much do they matter, if it takes me away from my son?

I stopped. I bowed my head. I found solace somewhere in my own mind, my own spirit. I needed quiet, I needed to pray. Something was off, I didn’t like it. I needed to hear from God. I thought I had done all that I was supposed to do. I thought providing for myself and my son was what I was supposed to do. Why is he lost? Moreover, why do I feel lost?

Clear as day, I heard from God.

I have called you to be his mother. To RAISE HIM. Not to simply make sure his basic needs are met. RAISE HIM. When you lead him, you will find yourself. And in the both of you, you will find Me.

I lifted my head, surrounded by work. I dropped it all. Phone calls, emails, papers, meetings, the money, I dropped it all. I ran full speed to my son. When I fell to my knees in front of him, I could hear him. He had been calling for me, I was too consumed with everything else to hear him. If his heart could talk in that moment, all he would have said is Thank You, Mom. I need you.

Now he has adopted his true identity. Now he has direction. Now he is not alone. While I have tried for years to convince myself that I am taking care of my son, I was brutally and gracefully reminded that I have not been present. Not in the way I need to be, want to be, or in the way that God has called me to be his mother.

The balance between work and parenting is no easy task. I’m starting to wonder if an actual balance is at all possible, or if one suffers at the cost of the other. I think sacrifice is how we describe that dynamic. I’m learning, however, there is no sacrifice in unconditional love. There is no sense of obligation in unconditional love. There is no fear of losing something else when there is unconditional love. When we realize that unconditional love is all there is, our decisions will become clear.

Needless to say, I didn’t stop working, but I stopped working as much. The biggest difference is that I make time to be off the clock. And when I am off the clock, I am present for my child. I was able to reorganize my life in a way that made much more sense. I was able to prioritize what was important to me in a way that does not feel like sacrifice.

Balance isn’t just about equalizing work hours with personal hours, it’s about creating space in your heart and in your mind, to find peace. To experience peace no matter what the hour. That is the real work.