A balancing myth
07:00 (GMT+2), Fri, 14 September 2012
I am here to tell you that the whole concept of work/life balance is a myth. An illusion that we so desperately want to believe, that mothers and fathers can have it all without having to sacrifice anything when the reality is there is no balance; there are only choices and consequences.
Recently my seven year-old daughter has been extra clingy and extra needy and so I sent her for a session with the school counsellor to see if there were any underlying issues that she needed help with. The counsellor called back and said that Kate was a lovely little girl who was extremely articulate about what she was feeling. And what she was feeling was the following:
• Mommy is always busy working, she works all the time.
• Mommy used to work in an office but now she works on the computer. She is always on the computer.
• When I go into mommy's study, she tells me to go away. My mommy never wants to play with me.
That sound you hear? That is the sound of the knife in my heart.
This is extremely tough stuff to hear because even though it might not all be true, it’s her perception and therefore her reality. My desperate attempts at getting the work/life balance right were obviously not working for her. As an aside, her twin was not feeling the same way. Which just goes to show that every child is different.
There is no perfect balance between working and parenting. It’s a zero-sum game: When you’re working 100%, you’re parenting 0%. When you’re parenting 100%, you’re working 0%. Sure you can do both, but you can’t do 100% of both at the same time.
This doesn’t mean I think mothers (and fathers) shouldn’t work – far from it. I work. And as long as I need to earn an income for my family, I will continue to work. That is not up for debate. However, I realise that in order to do both jobs well, I have to sacrifice parts of both work and parenting. That is the reality working parents have to face.
I’m extremely fortunate that I work from home and that I am my own boss. It means that I determine my own hours and I’m around for the children should they need me. The downside is that I’m an extremely driven, strict boss and because it’s my own business, the work never stops. Being at home also means that my children don’t always understand that my study is my office and that if I’m in my study, I’m working. See my daughter’s feedback above. I obviously need to refine my working boundaries so that my daughter knows when it’s time for me to work and when it’s her time. And when it’s her time, I need to switch my phone off and focus my attention entirely on her. Something that I will confess I haven’t been good at. I’m not proud of this.
The work/life balance myth is that we can have it all. The truth is we can’t have it all, all of the time. But we can have it all some of the time, just not at the same time. And that’s where the balance comes in. Each of us needs to decide where and when we’re going to give our 100%, either to our jobs or to our children. Unless you clone yourself, it’s impossible to do it all, all at once. And for many of us, not working is not an option; we need to work for our children’s schooling, the bills, to put food on the table.
The good news is that neither our jobs nor our children need us 100% of the time all the time. Sure, both our bosses and our children would like all of us all the time, but they don’t need it. There is only one of you, and as long as you give 100% to your job, your children and your spouse when you can, you’ve done ok.
And if you can, schedule some time in your day / week / month to give 100% of your time to yourself, even if it’s just for 10% of the time. Because after all, the only way you will find the balance is if you look after yourself too.
About Me: about.me/tertia
Personal Blog: www.tertia.org
Nurture Egg Donor Program www.nurture.co.za
Winner: Best Blog in South Africa in 2008, Best Personal Blog in 2009, Finalist in Best Parenting Blog in 2010. RESOLVE Hope Award Winner for Best Book 2011