Mess, guilt, me time: The easy way to balance work and life
Whether you’re back at work because you chose to or because you’ve had to, finding that work-life balance is no easy task. You could be a career mum, a part-time working mum or a mum working from home – each requires that we find the right equation. Yep, welcome to modern motherhood.
Juggle: v. & n. v. 1 intr. perform feats of dexterity, esp by tossing objects in the air and catching them, keeping several in the air at the same time. 2 tr. continue to deal with (several activities) at once, esp with ingenuity. (Concise Oxford Dictionary)
If this dictionary definition rings a bell it’s either because (a) you read it at the start of Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It or (b) like millions of women, you have not read it – frankly, who has time? – but instead you are living it: madly juggling work and kids and regularly dropping balls all over the place.
Whether your answer was (a) or (b), make these your mantra: “The Super Woman is dead. Long live the Real Woman.” And here are seven practical ways to lead a more balanced life:
Balancing work and life #1: Weigh up the benefits of working
The term ‘opportunity cost’ is never more relevant than to a working mum. If you stay at home, the opportunity cost is less money. If you go to work, the opportunity cost is less time with your kids. But the opportunity benefit is more money, more freedom and better financial prospects for your family.
Find out what's best for you and your family - perhaps part-time is all you need or maybe full-time suits you. Think about what you need to feel fulfilled as an individual: full-time motherhood or full-time working mum doesn't suit everyone. You may need to try different options before finding a balance you feel comfortable with.
“See yourself as a role model to your children, and tell them that woman are an important part of society, working is part of reality and you enjoy working and contributing to the family. I know I would feel more mother guilt if I was not able to provide for my family, so have never felt guilty about working, I guess it’s a frame of mind.” Samantha, 43, mother of two.
Balancing work and life #2: Resolve that a bit of mess is OK
Unless you’re a single mum, your greatest asset is your partner. Use him! Together you need to get systems in place to ensure the smooth running of a household - it may not be spotless, but it will be happy, and your kids and your partner will feel pride for contributing to the way it runs.
“Try to be organised! Have a specific day a week that you do your groceries and plan your meals ahead if you can - make larger portions and freeze some small meals for the kids on the nights you work. And ask for help! Don't assume housework will get done when you're not around so ask your husband and kids to help by tidying the house when you're out. Nothing is more stressful than coming home from work exhausted and finding the house is an absolute mess.” Kellie, 33, mother of two.
Everyone's standard of cleanliness is different, discuss this with partner and strike a deal - you may have to compromise. Perhaps getting a cleaner in once a fortnight is an option. And ask yourself what's more important: Having a spotless house or having more family time.
Balancing work and life #3: Don’t sweat the small stuff
So what if you’re feeding your baby food from a jar? Many babies in parts of the world don’t have any food. So what if your work suit has a bit of dried drool on the lapel? At least you ironed it this morning! Turn your negative thoughts on their head and focus on the positives - you’ll be surprised at the powerful effect it has on your overall mood.
“Does it really matter if the beds are not made every day, if your husband buys the wrong brand of wipes or if you are late to work by eight minutes? Save your energy and worry about the bigger things in life – and in the meantime, enjoy motherhood, womanhood and all the great things you are surrounded by.” Christie Nicholas, mother of two, author of The Mum Who Roared: A Complete A-Z Guide To Loving Your Mind, Body And Attitude After Baby (Exisle Publishing, $29.99).
Balancing work and life #4: Make time for 'me time'
Don't try and be a martyr and do it all - it will only wear you out. As a working mum, you need to recharge your batteries so you have enough energy to deal with everything else! Whether it’s a candlelit bath, a pedicure, two hours browsing the shops by yourself or a weekend away with your best girlfriend – regular ‘me time' is crucial. Not optional – crucial. Think of it as a deposit in your work-life bank account – the more regularly you put in, the more interest you will build up and the more you can splurge on your partner and kids.
“Make sure you have something in your week that is about you. I found a gym with a great creche and go at least three times a week. These times are written in my diary like any other appointment.” Roslyn, 41, mother of two.
Balancing work and life #5: Accept that you can't have it all
Remember how I mentioned in the beginning to make this your mantra: “The Super Woman is dead. Long live the Real Woman.” The days of having and doing it all are over. Get real. It takes time, but the sooner you adjust to the fact that you can’t have it all, the better. And the less you focus on what you don’t have, the more energy you will have to pour into the fruits of your labour – your precious children.
“If you are breathing, walking and have your five senses, you have it all. Everything else is secondary. Life is what you make of it so let’s stop whining and worrying and make the best of what we have.” Sarah, mother of one.
Balancing work and life #6: Let go of mother guilt
Working mums have enough on their plates without a nice big side-serve of guilt to go with it. As Michelle, a 36-year-old mum of one from Adelaide says: “Allow yourself to be upset and angry that you can’t take forever off work with your child. It is only this generation where the expectation and financial requirement has been that mothers return to work so early; but that doesn’t mean that generations of emotions where nature bounds us physically to our children disappears. Always remember you are returning to work to provide a good future for your child.”
Feeling guilty about working, feeling guilty about not working and contributing to the family, feeling guilty about not making enough homemade dinners, feeling guilty about enjoying 'me time' - STOP IT RIGHT NOW! This kind of thinking is a waste of energy - energy you could be using more productively. So turn those thoughts around. You are choosing to work for a reason, you are choosing to spend time with your children for a reason, you are choosing 'me time' for a reason - resist wallowing in guilt.
“It sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but whenever I get an attack of mother-guilt I write it down on a piece of paper – things like ‘I feel guilty for not getting home in time for my daughter’s bedtime tonight’ – and then I literally put it into a shoebox. By the same token I write down those moments when I feel like a genius, such as when I get my four-year-old and 18-month-old to nap at the same time, giving me two precious hours to myself. At the end of the week, I read them all and it always makes me feel better, never worse, because it reinforces to me that I am doing the very best job I can.” Kara, mother of two.
Balancing work and life #7: Read up
If you want more guidance on how to balance work and home life, these books contain real-life stories on how other mums face the challenge.
The Mum Who Roared: A Complete A-Z Guide To Loving Your Mind, Body And Attitude After Baby
by Christie Nicholas (Exisle Publishing)
A Pressure Cooker Saved My Life: How to Have It All, Do It All And Keep It All Together
by Juanita Phillips (ABC Books)
Mother Who?: Personal Stories And Insights On Juggling Family, Work And Life by Diane Evans and Sharon Evans
(Big Sky Publishing)
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- 52 weeks of health and happiness
- 10 simple ways for mums to save time
- Debt-proof your relationship
- Stay-cation: how to holiday at home
This article was written by Karen Fontaine for our sister company Kidspot.com.au, in conjunction with Open Universities Australia, the leader in online learning.