Work-life balance… what does that look like for you?
Pre mum life, it was the 8 hour rule for me. I was conscious to compartmentalise the 24 hours of a day into 8 hours for work, 8 hours down time, and 8 hours for sleep.
Yup.. it was that easy. Pre-baby me had no idea what future-me had in store for her!
I think we can all agree that work-life balance is something most women are ever striving for, yet may never feel like we’ve achieved it.
So how do you survive then Mama? Emotionally, physically, mentally – what if we can thrive and not just survive?
Here are 6 BIG work-life balance mistakes I’ve made, and sometimes still make… because I’m not perfect, and that is ok.
1. Trying To Find ‘Balance’
The reality is, work and life will never be balanced.
To reach ‘balance’, we are striving for a level playing field, in hope that will bring us harmony or contentment. As if we are a Goddess holding a scale of justice – work on one side, all the life-stuff on the other.
Being a working mother can feel like a constant pull, and you’re piggy in the middle.
What would happen if we viewed work-life balance as a dance, rather than a perfectly even distribution of parts of yourself.
What if we accepted that as a dance, it is so normal to flow between the pulling forces of work, life, kids, family, social commitments… all the things. Perhaps we would find contentment there.
Contentment in accepting that there will always be a pull, sometimes it will be geared more towards work, sometimes to something else, sometimes to several things at once, and sometimes, the pull will be so much so that you’re pulling your hair out.
Instead of trying to find an evenness, allow the balance of work and life to come from not the commitments themselves, but from the way you perceive them.
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2. Not Accepting Imperfection
Going back to work after having my son was damn hard.
There was the emotional rollercoaster of leaving him in the care of someone else. Trying to function as a professional when I’d been woken 7 times through the night. Having to be ‘on’ constantly as soon as I’d pick him up after work, when my brain and body were screaming at me to STOP.
Dinner, bath, bed routine chaos, and then do it all over again.
I was still battling the struggles of a postpartum woman – mastitis, postnatal depression, relationship strain in my marriage, and a level of exhaustion like nothing else.
But I had to put my big girl pants on and get back to work. The bills would keep coming.
When I learnt to accept that “X is really pulling me at the moment, and that is ok”, I stopped focussing on my shortcomings and imperfections. I started recognising that I was doing the best I could in a really hard phase of life.
Expecting too much from my (new) self also meant I would try to appear like I was managing to keep all the balls in the air. Like I was totally handling this working-mother gig.
When you accept that you can’t achieve perfection, and that that is ok, you’ll find you can communicate that with others easier, and benefit for it!
Communicate with your partner, colleagues, even your kids about what is pulling you. Not only do you leave yourself open to support and understanding when you are honest with people, but you can also teach your children a valuable lesson.
You teach them that it can be tough, this adulting thing, and that they don’t have to keep all the balls in the air all the time.
You teach them the power in being open and that it’s ok to be outwardly vulnerable, rather than let it sit heavy inside of you until it’s crushing.
You teach them empathy and understanding of your role as their Mother.
The dance of the work-life commitments won’t always be smooth. In fact it will mostly be clunky. And that is ok, because you are human.
3. Not Separating Family Time And Work Time
Finding work-life balance is not a fight between your roles as a career woman and mother.
It’s an acceptance that you as a woman have many roles, many identities, and sometimes one will pull more than the others.
But you do need to make sure you don’t allow the roles to enmesh and take-over the other.
As a Private Midwife, I’m on-call 24/7. So I was the worst at this… in fact, I still am. But I accept my imperfections and will keep trying to do better!
Taking work home, responding to emails or texts, taking phone calls out of hours or on days off. Most of the time it’s hard not to do these things, particularly if it seems like a quick task.
I know personally how “I’ve just got to text (name) back real quick” or “I just have to send a quick email” can snowball. My husband would tell you these are my classic lines.
It seems harmless, until you realise what you’re actually doing is removing your mental energy, time, and physical presence from your family. Or perhaps from your own ‘me-time’.
JUST STOP DOING IT.
Set firm rules for yourself. Let your colleagues know what your personal rule is if they ask ‘hey did you get my message the other day?’. Tell your family to hold you accountable for it.
The roles of career-woman and mother don’t need to compete, but they will if you or your family are resenting it.
4. Missed Opportunities
Sometimes, finding some work-life balance as a Mama means incorporating a little ‘chill the f*&# out’ time in our daily life.
There are plenty of snippets of time we can do this, we just have to make sure we don’t miss the opportunities, and make a conscious effort to create and stick to our little rituals.
Take the very start of your work day for example. If your household is anything like mine, it involves the classic morning rush because we all wanted 15 minutes extra sleep, toddler screaming the house down because… who knows why, he doesn’t want the shark undies on? The emotional storm of breaking it to him that yes, today is another daycare day. Finding the gentle parent in me with each deep breath I take… and so on and so forth. It’s messy.
By the time you peel your little one off you and walk away feeling like the worst mother ever, Mama has hit her emotional peek for the day, and it’s only 8am.
Here you can make a choice to continue to drive to work, flustered, exhausted and emotionally drained, probably still listening to the Wiggles playlist without even realising, and carry that into your work day.
You can take the opportunity to have some chill out time. Put on your own music before your drive off. Make yourself do it! Even if you’re not fussed. You need this more than you know. Take a few deep breaths and consciously leave the morning stress there.
Driving to and from work (solo) can be time well spent if you do it right. Even better, if you can try to be super organised in the morning and get out 10 minutes earlier, use that time to go through a drive-through and get a decent hot coffee on your way to work.
It’s the little things.
5. Wasting Time On Distractions
Social media isn’t going anywhere. I’m not against it at all. Hey, my second job relies on it. But it can be a huge time waster, and so easy to become a habit. You don’t need me to tell you that.
So what has it got to do with work-life balance? More than we’d like to admit.
The habitual scrolling of your news feed and stories means a lot of the time when we’re using social media, we’re not actually using it to be social. To truely connect with friends and family.
Ultimately, mindless use of social media is wasting valuable time that you could be using to feel engaged with your family, or doing something for self care, and therefore feel more positive about your work-life balance.
I know what you’re thinking… mindless social media scrolling is self care. Who doesn’t love finding a spare 5 minutes to catch up on things. But the reality is it’s not actually beneficial to your mental or physical wellbeing, and therefore it’s not true self care. Yes it will give you a temporary dopamine rush, but that’s about it.
6. Thinking Of Organisation As A Chore Instead Of A Self-Care Strategy
One of the big game changers in not feeling constantly pulled in all directions, is having the ability to ‘turn off’.
I know self care can sound like such a wanky term, oh so cliche, but it actually is crucial to feeling like you’re on top of your game. There’s abundant evidence to tell us good food and moving our body is key. But what else?
One thing that will ensure you become overwhelmed super quick is a lack of organisation. And not only that, but also viewing being organised negatively as if it were a chore or just another task to get done.
Enter the list. Sometimes, being organised isn’t necessarily getting all the things done. It can be as simple as keeping a planner, a list, schedules, or routines written down. By doing this you are reducing the mental load!
Another perk of keeping organised, depending on the extent of organisation you have, is the ability to block out time to be switched off! To use social media (not in the random habitual scrolling way), sit with a cuppa and a book, have extra time in the morning to grab a hot coffee after daycare drop off, spend some time doing whatever it is you want to do – something you enjoy!
Organisation is a self care strategy, because it gives you back time that would have otherwise been lost. Down time is needed to fill your cup, and feel some sense of ‘balance’ in the dance of work, life, and motherhood.