Work/Life (Im)balance: The Family Edition


At some point in your career, if you stick around long enough, one skill begins to take priority over all the others: Keeping sane amidst all the decidedly insane scenarios we deal with at work. Every industry has its sanity challenges, but the world of sound has several specific ones that land squarely on your shoulders at the exact moments you’re least equipped to deal with them. This blog is going to talk about what it’s like to raise a family when your spouse is also in the business and you’re both in production (spoiler alert: zero glamor to follow).


Let me tell you a production story

Not everyone coming to the website deals with a theater schedule, but most of us experience some version of periods where your schedule is dictated by someone else and you’re left without enough time to take care of your own life. Do not be surprised—again, if you stick around long enough—that this gets harder the older you get.

Several years ago, I’d just finished two weeks of tech rehearsals for my new show, meaning I hadn’t slept or done the things I needed to do to stay sane for quite a while. The inside of my head felt like a newborn who didn’t like me and was accompanied by an angry, extraordinarily vocal chihuahua. I was lucky to remember how the coffee maker worked, constantly checked to make sure I was wearing pants, and was very aware that my head was most definitely not my BFF.

What it’s like raising a family with both parents in the business

I’m a custodial stepmom of five kids. The kids’ biological mom is not in their lives in any meaningful way and rare visits with her require court-ordered supervision. There were never any times when the kids were away spending the weekend with her. And because my husband is also in the business, we coordinated our gigs based on what the family needed. We relied heavily on childcare for the nights-and-weekends show schedule. Even when the kids were older, we had an “adult in charge” for transportation, refereeing, and emergencies (plus someone to hang out with the dogs). What our kids had been through before they came into our custody made this the very right thing to do.

For years, we needed to wrangle three jobs between the two of us to make ends meet, but we didn’t go into production—the term for starting a new show—at the same time. Production means ridiculous hours. Leaving the house around 6 a.m. and getting home sometime after midnight is not conducive to really any part of a sustainable lifestyle, particularly when raising a family. But at the time of this story, the kids were older, we both had offers, and we gave it a shot.

Don’t count your overtime paychecks in advance

Back to the story. We’re working ridiculous hours. It’s temporary, it’s part of the gig, and we’re making overtime. Then, stupidly, we had a conversation about what we were going to put the extra money toward…

What’s the phrase? How do you make the universe laugh? Tell it your plans. We thought we’d replenish our non-existent savings and maybe even get a weekend away just the two of us, which hadn’t happened since our honeymoon. The universe had other plans.

First, the washing machine broke, was repaired, then finally had to be replaced. The next week, the garage door went. After that, kid #3 suddenly required a college housing deposit that was inexplicably three times what it was the year before.

Then the door fell off the minivan.

I’m not making this up. And before you cast too much shade on me for having a minivan, they’re hella handy, and most regular-sized SUVs (at least back then) didn’t seat seven passengers. Plus, I’ve got a ’66 Mustang convertible, so…

Dig, if you will, a picture

We’d had a snowstorm. One of those snowstorms where most of the word shuts down, but Broadway doesn’t because the show must go on and all that. When you live outside of the city and commute by public transportation, that kind of weather makes things interesting.

At 11 p.m., my husband and I were standing in the parking lot after getting off the last bus out of the city due to the weather. We had a combined total of six hours of sleep between us. I open the sliding door and one corner of it hits the asphalt. It took a long moment to process exactly what we’re seeing.

Then? We couldn’t get the door all the way off, and we couldn’t get it back on. And our tools? All at work. Because production. The van was not drivable, we had a sitter at home to relieve us, and we both had 8 a.m. calls the next day. My fantasy of getting six hours of sleep evaporated before my eyes.

We had the van towed to our mechanic. Then to the dealer. Then to the dealer’s body shop, where it remained for ten days. We got it back just in time for my husband to fly off to Toronto for his next gig.

But I was still in production even while life continued breaking down all around me. My husband flew to Canada. My mom went into the hospital in another state. My dreams at night were of destruction and trying to solve problems that don’t have answers. I was sure I was going to be fired any minute and convinced this was the last job I’d ever be hired for. I hid on my meal breaks to try and regenerate enough energy to finish the next rehearsal session.

And? I was super embarrassed by how hard it was.

Sleep matters!

Sleep deprivation is an exponential power that exacerbates every single flaw and concern in your life. It makes your moods get extra, it hijacks your peace of mind, it drains your energy, it clouds your judgment, and it gets harder to deal with as you age.

The mantra I kept repeating through this production period was that not all of the things in my head were true and that all of the things both in and out of my head would pass. And I grabbed sleep wherever I could: on the bus to and from the city; on meal breaks underneath my console; and, one Saturday morning, I chose sleep over a shower.

That night the water heater went. Because of course it did, on a day when I didn’t shower and when the plumbers wouldn’t be able to come for a couple of days.

So, what’s the point?

Life doesn’t stop for work, and work doesn’t stop for life. Most of us in this business have a strong drive to be here. It feeds something deep in our souls. Frankly, if it doesn’t, people leave because it is too hard if you don’t love it superbad.

When we’re just starting out, most of us don’t have kids. We often don’t even have partners yet. It’s a lot easier to see how work impacts your life when it’s just you, and that’s where I encourage people who are beginning their careers to dig in. Make your own self, your health, and your peace of mind more important than the job. Yes, you have to work hard and sacrifice and take the gigs you may not love because they’re really good experientially. And you’re going to have times when you’re sleep-deprived, dealing with jerks, facing your insecurities, and all the rest.

But when you learn how to nurture yourself in those times, you can develop habits that serve you well throughout your career—and, can be the reason that you stick around long enough.

Here are my top three suggestions to start with:

  • Hydrate, yo. If you know me, you know I’m relentless about this one because it is the single best thing you can do for your health. Seriously, shoot for a gallon a day of actual water (not caffeine, alcohol, or soda). When you miss the mark, you’re still probably ahead of where you would be if you didn’t shoot that high.
  • Eat more veggies. Your health is far more dependent on getting enough good stuff than it is on avoiding bad stuff. Every meal and snack is an opportunity to add in some veggies.
  • Get a meditation practice. Yes, even if you think you’re not good at it. The whole point of a practice is that you do it regularly. Judgment of your skills isn’t a part of meditation. The great thing is that there are tons of apps and videos available today and it’s pretty easy to simply start. You may be surprised how much it helps you stay sane no matter what life throws your way.
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