Talk of work/life balance remains skewed by gender. The onus still falls on women to shoulder the majority of childcare duties in most cases. While the long-term trend shows a rise of stay-at-home fathers, they are still a minority.
(In 2016, dads made up 17% of all stay-at-home parents in the U.S., up from 10% in 1989, according to Pew Research Center.)
We must focus on the positive things that work life contributes to our families. Be confident that you are making the best choices for your family, including yourself, and your child will still love you and understand your sacrifice.
But what can you do to achieve a decent work/life balance while staying in work, as a mother?
I’d like to share some thoughts, tips and advice here:
Don’t try to give everything equal time
Striving for a perfect ‘work life balance’ can create stress in and of itself. There is no perfect way to manage a dynamic schedule, my best advice is to deal with what needs dealing with in the moment. Sometimes, you might need to stay home for an extra hour.
Another day you might need to travel for work. Just remember, often our work life balance is contingent on feeling like we are giving ‘enough’, and tinged with guilt.
Rid yourself of feelings of inadequacy, don’t judge yourself against others (like those unreal perfect lives we see on social media) and don’t set your expectations too high.
Do what you love
Are you passionate in your work? Would you do it for free? Ask yourself these questions, and you’ll be in a better position mentally to achieve a semblance of balance. I’m lucky in that I love my career.
If your work environment is toxic, this affects all areas of your life. Look for a new job. We need to be in work where compassion is a focus.
The workplace is changing gradually, and it’s not too much to expect flexible working hours, an understanding that you have family as well as work, and a degree of empathy goes a long way.
A job you don’t enjoy is extremely draining, mentally and physically, but find the work you love and your passion will flow into every area of your life.
Focus on what’s most important
Ask yourself what’s most important – and what’s most important today. Setting expectations in the workplace which can then be shattered by a child’s illness, emergency or just a refusal to get ready for school which throws your schedule off kilter is frustrating.
So, take time out each evening – after spending quality time with the family – to sketch out some ‘achievables’ for the next few days, with the anticipation that things can, and do, go wrong.
Focus helps get the thing done, whether at work or home. Allow yourself periods at work where you do not check your email, your phone or have any meetings.
Let your colleagues know that 8-10am each day is your focus time, and factor in time in the evening, every day, to focus on the children, even if it’s just 15 minutes.
Learn to say no
You can’t please everyone all the time. Work life balance can and will involve letting some things go, whether it’s attending a conference or a birthday party.
If you’re a ‘yes’ person, you’re rushing headfirst into exhaustion and overwhelment. Part of saying ‘no’ is setting boundaries – ensure your workplace knows you won’t answer casual emails in the evenings, and let your family know that meetings, conference calls and longer hours may well be needed on occasion for you to manage your work and progress your career. Saying no is also accepting that you are not superhuman.
Get comfortable with what you NEED to do, not what you WANT to do (Eisenhower Priority Matrix)
I learnt about the Eisenhower Priority Matrix some time ago, which is named after the US President who created a system to help him rapidly make important decisions.
In my life, I find it helps me decide upon and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. It’s a clear method for sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all.
You can find out more here. And remember, there is a host of tools, apps and real people out there who can all help you achieve a good work life balance.
Get help/ learn to delegate – at work and at home
Many of us are not good at delegating, but along with learning to say ‘no’, trusting people to do tasks that help you is a key skill in mastering work/life balance.
Planning your work week and home life will allow you to see where you might need help – from fetching groceries or dry cleaning to presenting next year’s sales projections to the board. Your time is precious, and you need to focus.
Delegating tasks to trusted colleagues and family members frees you up to concentrate on getting those most urgent tasks completed.
Don’t confuse gaps in your schedule with availability (make time for yourself)
Thos rare moments where you might feel on top of everything should actually be factored into every day, whether it’s a jog, yoga, a bath, journaling or a movie, make sure you make time for yourself.
You are more than your work, more than a mother. You are allowed to be you….and allowing even the shortest time for yourself each day does wonders for the mental health, and allows you to escape your responsibilities, just for a while.