Here are some things I’ve come to appreciate about work-life balance, in the context of motherhood. Most of the ideas and principles are applicable to anyone who is committed to living life more intentionally.
What are you aiming for?
Well-meaning advice on work-life balance often involves adding more things to our ever-growing to-do list or waking up earlier in order to cram more than what we thought possible into our day! Worst even: expectations on what work-life balance should look like are set by social media or movies. Even though we know this is “virtual reality”, we can’t help but compare ourselves to each other’s ability to have it all.
But is this what you’re aiming for? How long are you prepared to wait for all your ducks to be in a row so you can finally start enjoying your life?
Weaving the threads…
To find your way towards work-life balance, it’s important to be clear on what it means to you.
The word balance itself can be misleading to start with. To me, balance evokes equality: I’m picturing weighing scales which are perfectly balanced, 50% life on one side and 50% work on the other side. Life and work are not two independent things that can be looked at in isolation. The way you live your life affects your work and the way you work affects your life.
It’s important to realise that your ideal picture of this harmony between life and work will change according to your life situation. Before becoming a mother, my vision of work-life balance was very different to what it is today.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter what you call it: work-life balance, work-life integration or work-life harmony. What matters is for you to find your unique way to weave together the different threads of your life. And weaving them in a way that feels aligned to what is most important to you right now.
Own your vision of work-life balance
Which brings me to self-awareness. Do you know what is most important to you? In a world of information overload, it’s easy to fall into the trap of benchmarking yourself to others, without having a clear understanding of what you really want.
When I went back to work part-time after the birth of my daughter, I felt the pressure to prove that I could juggle it all, only to realise, shortly after, that all I really wanted was to embrace “just” being a mum for a little while.
“Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.”
To paint your picture of success, you need a big dose of self-awareness. You won’t know how to feel more balanced in your life if you don’t know what makes you feel balanced in the first place. What nourishes you? What makes you thrive? Do you have clear boundaries at home and at work?
And remember that boundaries can’t exist without priorities: what do you want your life to look like? What do you want to model for your children? When you create a vision of the life you want and the values you want to be living by, it will be easier to start investigating what’s getting in the way, what needs to change in order to get there.
This includes paying attention to the influence your upbringing had on your work and life choices. What you learn from your parents or carers plays an important role in how you think about and manage work-life balance.
“The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”Stephen Covey
Time for a reality check
As Joan C. Williams first described, if you’re a mother, you’re more likely to run into the Maternal Wall before you hit the glass ceiling. She says: “the reality of juggling motherhood and work outside the home means that women will either be unfairly overlooked for promotion due to a perceived lack of flexibility, availability or ability, or will turn down opportunities for fear of its impact on their work-life balance“.
Is it time to empower our partners? Sure. But we also need to face the fact that we live in a rigged system: flawed in the way it prevents women from juggling the expectations of motherhood with the definitions of a successful woman. We are told “you can have it all” but can we, really? Without sacrificing our time, our health or our relationship in order to prove than we can keep up? The mental load of motherhood is real. And I love French illustrator Emma’s take on it!
It doesn’t help that we’re desperately lacking a sense of community these days. In the words of Felicia Harley: “our tribes are shrinking – our friends busier, our neighbours nameless and our families often scattered across different states or countries, too far away to help.”
Add to this the fact that despite your best efforts, your workplace may not be an environment where work-life balance is possible or valued in the first place. There’s a massive responsibility that needs to be taken by organisations to assess the demands they place on their employees and how they enable them to prioritise their health and wellbeing.
If we want to ground our conversations about work-life balance in reality, all of the above needs to be taken into consideration.
Give yourself some slack
There are days when I’m falling off the balance wagon so-to-speak, trying to achieve too much, wanting to do-it-all and have-it-all. I try to remind myself of my priorities and even though it’s hard and messy at times, I realise I need to keep redefining my version of balance regularly.
Balance is not set in stone: it’s not an achievement that you either hit or don’t. It’s more like a moving target, that changes according to your circumstances, to your values, to your dreams. And all of these will likely change as you evolve on your life journey. Can you accept your changing ambitions and be open to re-evaluate them often?
In the life stage of motherhood, there are huge seismic shifts that will take place in every area of a woman’s life. Placing the bar too high is not going to be of service. Balance will be harder to achieve if we expect perfection. As Nigel Marsh says very eloquently in his thought-provoking Ted Talk “How to make work-life balance work”:
“The small things matter. Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your life.”Nigel Marsh
I hope my musings will give you an opportunity to start redefining what balance means to you, in a way that is grounded in reality and that will inspire you to make small but impactful changes.
I would also like to acknowledge how privileged we are to be considering what work-life balance means to us. In the current climate and with so many people around the world facing extreme life conditions, I hope you won’t take this chance lightly if you’re one of the lucky few.
I’d love for you to contact me HERE if you need support. And here are some additional book resources for you, so you can continue working towards more balance in your life:
Balance and other BS by Felicity Harley
Fair Play by Eve Rodsky