You called?

A cardinal rule of business, big or small, is to be responsive to clients. All the experts agree – return phone calls promptly. That sounds pretty straightforward. True confession time here:

Phone calls, at times, are my Achilles heel!

Here’s the back story – I had been married a year and had agreed with my husband that we wanted to try to have a kid or 2. I was accelerating towards burn-out in my job of 6 years. I had explored some education options for a career move. I wanted something that would provide flexibility, something that might blend well with having a family. When I looked into massage, things clicked and I pursued an education in this field.

Almost 7 years into the experiment I would have to say that massage was a great choice for me. Although my work life has taken different iterations at different times in the life of my little guy, we have a pretty good groove down now, balancing family life and paying the bills. Most days I pick him up from school and spend time with him doing homework, playing, and being together. My husband and I agreed that we really didn’t want our kid to be in other people’s care for huge chunks of his life. This choice has had specific financial implications. But a young kid grows up so fast and the early years are so important that we’ve felt it has always been a great choice.

Things get more complicated when we turn our attention to returning phone calls, that pillar of good business practice. I try my darnedest to not take or make phone calls while I am on mom-duty. There are 2 reasons for this. If you’ve ever made a phone call to a parent while their kid is around on the other side of the call, you’ll know why. Parents answering phones are like magnets for kids. The brain of a child is apparently hard-wired to view the phone as a direct threat that must be countered. Reason #2 is fear of reason #1 even when my kid cooperates with me.

As I reflect on the frustration that simple phone calls cause me, I realize that our communication options have profoundly changed in our culture and re-shaped our expectations. With the advent of cell phones, text messages, and the like, we have come to expect that we can get a message through or obtain a reply from people at practically any time, in any place. There are very few off-limit times and places left. I personally draw the line at the restroom. I have a strict no-answer policy if I’m in the restroom. I know first hand from some public restrooms that others do not draw the line there.

I have been noticing this new normalcy of constant availability in my church. The church attracts a younger crowd and I often notice someone responding, at least visually, to a phone during the service. I was incredulous when I saw the drummer check his phone during a song! Well, if this is how 20-somethings view normal life, imagine what perspective my son will have when he’s 20. I can’t even imagine.

Yes, modern life is changing us. And it poses one more challenge to the balance of family life and work life. Where I draw the line on answering calls and checking email while I’m on mom-duty sends a message to my son about a variety of things: the importance of my work, the importance of time with him, what it’s like to juggle both. Perhaps my choices will result in a lost client on occasion. I can only hope that most days we come out ahead in this experiment that is my flexible-career-that-allows-me-lots-of-time-with-family scenario.

I’ll end with this story. I hope you’ll find it funny. One day my son and I had some time to kill before heading into the YMCA. There’s a nice track that we sometimes walk around. He suggested we play a game while we walk. He put his hand up to his ear and said “buzz-buzz, buzz-buzz.”  It took me a second…what was he doing? And then I got it. He was calling me (phone on vibrate setting). We proceeded to talk on our pretend cell phones as we walked the track side-by-side. Yes, that paints a modern picture, doesn’t it?

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