Work / life imbalance?


Whenever we talk about women’s issues, it seems that work/life balance always seems to come up. “how do you manage work and family commitments?” “what tactics do you use”? “how do you organise it all without going mad?”

Why is this? Well I guess it’s obvious. Our transitioning from the traditional role of stay at home mum to the woman with a career and a responsibility to contribute to the household income has not been an easy one. While it is a lot more common for women to want to return to work after having children than it used to be, women are often still tasked with (or feel primarily responsible for) the needs of the family and managing the household. As a result, life gets busy. SUPER busy. And it makes it hard to find a way to be both happy that you are doing enough for your family, as well as doing enough for your career.

A good friend once said “I often feel as though I don’t do either job very well. I see these stay at home mums who are able to volunteer at the school canteen, take their kids to multiple extra-curricular activities, be involved with playgroups etc., and I feel as though I will never measure up. Conversely I see colleagues who are working full time and have had several promotions, and their careers have skyrocketed.”

This same friend tries to arrange her annual leave so she is able to do what those other mums do, and volunteer at the school fete and twirl fairy floss for hours. But then she finds herself hunched over her laptop, after the kids are asleep, working late into the night to catch up.

I’m not really into fairy floss but I do adore my daughter and cherish every moment I have with her. I’ve found since returning to work my issue is that I can’t seem to get enough work done to feel that I am achieving as much as I did when I was working full time. And while I am away from my daughter I miss her terribly. But I guess that is something I just have to accept, because for the moment, I don’t want to let go of my career — and I’m also not ready for my child to be full-time day care.

When it boils down to it, I love that we still have two days of the working week together.

A comfortable, workable, imbalance

This brings me to a new concept that is being floated about — which basically suggests that there is no perfect balance. What we have instead is a set of circumstances that we are the most comfortable with, or the least uncomfortable with. A comfortable, workable, imbalance.

The key thing about this imbalance is that you may not be able to perform at your peak at work. You also may not be able to have a perfectly clean house, without piles of washing to come home to, and you may not get as much time with your kids as you’d like. Essentially, if you wish to twirl the fairy floss, you will most likely have to work late to compensate.

So here is my condescending new-mum advice:

Find your identity, and hold on to it

 Hold on to your identity. If you don’t know what your identity is, find it. I know, I know, easier said than done. Pretend you’re talking to someone else and ask yourself some questions.

What do you like about yourself? What makes you feel good as a person? If that’s being a full time mum, go for it. If you need to study, go for it, if you want to pursue your career, go for it. But remember that there will be no perfect balance – rather, a comfortable, workable, imbalance.

Also remember that the more you commit yourself to, the more work you will have to do. When you are looking after your identity, you are looking after the most important person: you. And because your family is VERY important to you, they need you to be happy in order to secure their own happiness.  

Ask for help

Luckily for me, my husband is a very involved father and a pretty helpful homemaker. Truth be told, I have given him little choice. He knows, even though he works five days and I work only three, that it is still both of our roles to parent, do housework and make family decisions.

I have friends who, despite having wonderful husbands, just don’t seem to use them to their full capacity. One refuses to let her husband do the washing because “he doesn’t hang it up right.” I think this is madness, but this is her decision. Parenting is a partnership and is we don’t share the workload, we will have more work on our plate. Honestly, who cares if they dress the children in Batman pyjamas and fairy wings? The kids sure don’t. They will probably even enjoy the freedom.

As for the single mothers out there, I salute you and applaud you. You are amazing. Besides the “husband help” I am a huge believer in help from the grandparents, aunties, uncles and other family and friends. As they say, it takes a village to raise a family. So don’t be afraid to ask for help. None of us are super heroes, no matter how hard we try to be.

Studies have shown that taking on too much, as most mothers tend to do, is bad for us. Too many mums say they are worn out, exhausted and battling all kinds of stress — both from home and at work. While I don’t think we can ever really find a proper balance, I think that if we understand that something has to give, we can own the imbalance in life and be far happier as a result. 

- Rose

What do you think – is work / life balance a myth or is it achievable?