When you google the topic, it yields 95 MILLION results. You and I are not the only ones seeking this mystical unicorn of a concept.
As a society we often speak of work-life balance as a destination, an end point that you can arrive at if you work long enough, hard enough, and pin enough homemaking ideas on Pinterest while flying under the radar from internet monitoring at work. It’s not uncommon to hear of this search in my counseling office- moms are tired, stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated. Their romantic relationship and own self-care are neglected, and they still feel as though they’re drowning.
Many women come into my practice with similar frustrations, they’re tired and feeling inadequate, discouraged, and angry with themselves. Social media creates a facade of accomplishment to mask insecurity and self-doubt as some share their highlights almost obsessively, further skewing expectations of what ‘should be.’ My clients motivate and inspire me- I reflect on each session and my understanding about motherhood and all it brings are constantly evolving- in this moment, here is what I have concluded regarding work-life balance:
There is no one definition or magic formula. Work-life balance looks different for everyone and therefore there is a different path for each woman/family.
Career, relationships, and children can and will each dramatically shift what work-life balance looks like and how you travel [not arrive] there, often at unexpected times.
A reasonable expectation for a family is that most of the time everyone gets what they need, and you have time to connect and enjoy each other as well as nourish yourselves.
Sometimes it just isn’t the season for balance- there are life circumstances and brief stages [hello, newborn stage!] that it isn’t realistic to expect to feel balanced and mitigation of chaos is an achievement.
Just like the laundry, work-life balance is never done.
How do we move forward on this endless path? What can make it more manageable [notice I didn’t say easy!] ?
Let go of comparison.
You do not need to meal plan like the pinterest lady sponsored by a frozen food conglomerate with has a colorful vibrant blog covered in professional photos. More often than not, that’s how she makes her living and it’s not realistic for most of us. Take the one recipe of the eight she has to offer today and run.
Likewise, you do not need to give your child a Pinterest party each birthday- we all grew up with plastic store-bought favor bags with tchotchkes and likely-GMO candy and we were ok- toss some all-natural animal-shaped grahams in there and let children be children.
Say No [Thank You].
A free hour in your day is likely a rare occasion-don’t rush to give it away. If you find yourself wuith , enjoy it yourself while it lasts. Read this month’s issue of a magazine- this month! Drink coffee or tea while it’s still hot. Scroll facebook mindlessly and ignore Mount Laundry-est. I’m guessing you don’t have to look far
Accept Help when offered
Just as we often turn to the default response, “Good!” when someone asks how we are, when a helping hand is offered we may be inclined to say, “Thanks, I’m ok!”-- Stop. Let a friend pick up your kid at school, let your mom do your dishes even though she doesn’t maximize the dishwasher real estate. It’s more clean dishes than you had this morning!
Ask for Help- Be Specific
Whether it’s from your partner or a friend, when you ask for help, be as specific as possible. A well-meaning partner may struggle to fix, “I am just too overwhelmed!” or “I’ve had it! I can’t do this!” --- Reflect on what you think would be useful or restorative and ask for specific things people can deliver. Can your spouse fold two loads of laundry? Can they take the baby next Monday after work for a few hours so you can get your hair done? Can a grandparent bring your oldest to an activity on Saturday morning so you can meet a friend for tea? Who can help you help yourself in little (and big) ways?
Keep a calendar.
The Erin Condren Vertical Life Planner is my favorite,
The act of physically writing things down commits them more efficiently to your mind, and unlike a phone, the battery never dies and the system doesn’t crash. You can color-code, use pretty stickers, integrate hand-lettering or other art, whatever works best for you. Write it all down- unpack as much of the mental load as you can and commit to looking at your calendar daily. Personally I use mine not only for my office hours and client appointments but my kids’ school calendar and events, my husband’s work schedule, our family commitments, extracurriculars, holiday planning, birthdays, meal planning, budgeting, and my own self-care. Divvy up chores and tasks on your never ending to-do list by week rather than day so you grant yourself some [needed] flexibility, try out different meal and cleaning schedules to see what works for your family.
Schedule yourself into your calendar
If you went out and got a calendar or planner, Bravo! Now book yourself in as you would any other appointment. Schedule time for self-care appointments such as hair, a massage, etc, as well as down-time, with and without kids. If you have three busy weekends next month, block off the fourth as a Family Weekend, In and Around as opposed to Out and About. Don’t forget date nights, connect with your partner in and out of the home. Consider day dates and meeting for lunch as your schedules allow. Sneak in quality time where you can and write it down, commit to it.
Be True to Your Priorities.
Leave work at work- most employers reward productivity and will not encourage you from stepping back at the end of your work day- they benefit when you send that one extra email, stay late to finish a report, or sign on from home after dinner. Resist if you can, or strive to limit crossover between work and home. If you are self-employed, give yourself permission to honor boundaries and set work hours. If possible, unplug from work, leaving work emails and phone calls for work hours. Give each role your best when you are there and let them be separate.
Be kind to yourself.
This endless ever-changing balancing act, like every aspect of motherhood is TOUGH! You are enough, you do enough, you are awesome. No one is perfect and no one will mother the way they want to 100% of the time just like no one will be able to give their job they effort they want to “all the time”.