Women have been told for decades that having a career and a family is a zero sum game. To be successful as a mother requires sacrifices on the job front. And, those who are successful at work, well, they likely have someone else raising their kids.
It’s a story as old as time – or at the very least, decades.
Just look at the movies that have tried to tackle the issue. Bad Moms, in all of its hilarity still promotes stereotypes of working moms (and stay at home moms) and Sarah Jessica Parker’s turn in I Don’t Know How She Does It just further cements any doubt we may have in balancing the demands of work and life.
The messages in these movies have been replayed time and time again – on the big screen, at home, and in our private minds.
What’s worse? Many times these messages come to life in our very real lives. There have been more times than I’m proud to admit where I’ve sat at my desk wondering if I could leave my sick or injured kid at school for a little bit longer… just enough so I can get an assignment off to a client? Don’t judge me! I’m not the only one who’s thought (or done) this, right? Right?!
The truth is, when we look at work-life balance in terms of time – it is very clearly, without a doubt, a zero-sum game. There are only so many hours in a day – if you dedicate more time to one thing over the other, you’re going to lose.
That, there, is the problem. Our ideas of work-life balance are all wrong, and as a result, they’re blocking us from living a more balanced life. We need to shift how we think about balance so we can finally achieve it.
Here are just three ways we can start.
Roadblock: Balance work and life every day
If there is one analogy that has been used time and time again to describe work-life balance, it’s the two-sided scale. Where work resides on one side and on the other, opposing side sits everything else in life.
The aim, we’re told is to strike an equal balance between these two forces every day. A balance measured in terms of time. After 8 full days in the office, if we follow this logic, then requires we spend 8 full hours with our families. Sure that could work if our children didn’t need to get to bed before 1am.
Mindshift: Remove time limits on balance
We need to banish the idea that balance is something we have to achieve every day. If you work full-time traditional hours, it’s impossible to balance work and family every day. I’d argue this is true even for those following nontraditional work schedules.
Instead, we need to start looking at balance over longer periods of time – a week, a month, perhaps even seasons or years. When we do, we take away the pressure that it all has to be done in 24 hours. We also release ourselves of the guilt that usually comes when we can’t get to it all (again) .
Roadblock: Trying to achieve someone else’s idea of work-life balance
There are incredible examples of mamas who seem to be mastering the business of ‘having it all’. They are crushing it professionally, their home lives seem Instagram-perfect and still they have time to volunteer or bake or both. It’s so important to have mama mentors to inspire you and your life. But, when we start comparing and modeling our lives after theirs, things start to get incredibly difficult.
Mindshift: Define work-life balance for your life
Your life isn’t like anyone else’s. Neither is your family. Your experiences, your situations all as unique as you. So why oh why do we try to live up to someone else’s ideas of balance? Why do we try molding our lives to look like someone else’s life?
Instead, we need to define work-life balance in the context of our very specific situation. What is it you are truly after? What do you truly want for yourself and your family. With those parameters in mind, you can then start to work toward achieving balance.
Roadblock: Once you’ve found the perfect balance, you’ll be set
So here’s the hard truth: you’re never going to achieve work-life balance bliss. Every now and then you’ll get a glimpse of how perfect life could be when everything comes together in harmony. But, it won’t last very long.
Do you know why? Because the rules of the game are constantly changing. Our lives are constantly evolving. We change jobs, we move, we want different things. Our babies turn into toddlers, toddlers have to be potty trained, and underwear-wearing kids go to kindergarten, then they start to grow into bigger kids with bigger kid issues. And, with each evolution our lives are turned upside down.
Mindshift: Balance is a journey
Not a destination. If we think of it in terms of a point to reach, we’re never going to get there. How unsatisfying will that be? Instead, we need to start thinking of it as a journey – a life-long one that will have us traveling along a number of different paths. Some will be unweathered, others thorny and uncomfortable, and hopefully many others that are marked with fresh blooms.
Just like every course will need something different to make your way safely across, so too, does every phase of your life. The plans and schedules you may have when your little one is a baby will need to change when they become a toddler and again when they’re ready for school. So, be sure you’re flexible to try new ways of doing things, see how they feel for you, and then assess and modify if they don’t quite work.
The pulls at work and at home will never truly cease. But, if we reframe how we think of work-life balance we can move past some of the obstacles. These are only three roadblocks, so feel free to let me know in the comments below what your biggest roadblocks are in achieving work-life balance in your life.