Picture this: a woman is walking along a tightrope, open laptop clutched in one hand, crying child dangling from the other arm. She’s trying, unsuccessfully with her thumb, to work the laptop’s mouse pad and send an email, while simultaneously attempting, equally unsuccessfully with one hand, to wedge her child’s reluctant foot into a shoe.
There is no safety net.
That is pretty much how my life looks, although without the imminent risk of death, most of the time.
Anyone who suggests that there might be such a thing as that sought-after ideal “the work-life balance” is telling a big, fat lie. Perhaps, possibly, it is achievable without children. But the moment you add another person’s entire existence’s worth of demands and responsibility to your own, and still try to have a career because it’s fun to be able to do nice things like eat, you’re screwed.
This pursuit of the work-life balance can become another burden in its own right, threatening to overbalance you at every step. Not only are you responsible for school lunches, business promotions, runny noses and tax payments, you should also be finding a way to do this all with enviable ease – a time for everything, and everything in good time.
Well that’s nonsense. I remember after my first child was born, and I was struggling with the notion of leaving her for the first time, my mother said to me, “Never again in your life will you be able to do something for yourself without feeling guilty about how it affects someone else.” And that’s pretty much the case.
But, I am a working mother and the primary breadwinner and I love what I do, so at some point, I had to allow work to become a priority again. And because if work and parenting were all a girl could ever do, I would go out of my mind, I tried to keep a handle on some kind of social life as well. And of course, there’s a husband to spend time with…
I haven’t achieved a balance. I haven’t even achieved a work-life fit, which is the alternative that tries to acknowledge that it’s not as clear cut as everyone’s pretending. I perpetually feel pulled in at least four different directions. But there’s one, small thing that allows the centre to hold – and that is that I have learnt the art of letting go (sort of).
Letting go is an important lesson to learn for any person who wants to retain their sanity after they’ve had children. Letting go is different from giving up – it’s simply the gentle act of giving yourself a break. If you’re not succeeding as the perfect mother, worker, wife and friend, don’t beat yourself up or add more pressure by trying to make amends. Sometimes, you just have to let it go.
The important realisation is this: that survival isn’t about doing All The Things in equal proportions so they balance out. It’s about finding ways to do less. If I don’t know what my kids eat at school because my husband packs their lunchboxes, that’s fine. And if I don’t write my own blog because I’m too busy getting paid to write blogs for other people, that’s OK too. And if my hair gets scraped into a scraggly ponytail for meetings because I haven’t made it to the hairdresser this week, again, then that’s also fine, sort of.
But I try to meet my work commitments, or at least communicate when I can’t. And I make sure I spend a few uninterrupted hours with my children every evening. And my husband and I go on date nights every couple of weeks. And I am really good to my friends on WhatsApp and host awesome Sunday lunches. Those things are my stability.
So, when people ask me about how I find a work-life balance, I laugh and say that there’s no such thing. But then I point out that it’s considerably easier to walk the tightrope of existence if there are less demands weighing you down, and you hold your most precious things close to you.