Mention work-life balance to a room full of working mums and you’re likely to be met with sarcastic laughter. The very phrase ‘work-life balance’ suggests that work is not a part of life but rather that it’s separate. But ask any working mum and she’ll tell you that it’s impossible for work and life to be experienced in complete isolation from one another.
While we’re at work we’re feeling guilty about dropping off a screaming toddler at daycare or fretting over whether they’ve eaten their lunch. Then when we’re at home, our minds wander to looming deadlines or incoming emails. And even when for just one moment we remember to take care of ourselves, we feel selfish and ashamed.
Despite this constant juggle of keeping all those balls in the air, most of us can’t seem to shake the feeling that we are failing in every aspect of our lives.
So if Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, can leave work every day at 5.30PM to have dinner with her children, why is it so hard for ‘ordinary’ working mums like you and I to strike the balance between all the conflicting demands in our lives? And why we do we feel so guilty and exhausted all the time?
Could the answer be as simple as flicking a switch from striving for work-life balance to life-work integration? And if so, how exactly do we integrate all the various aspect of our lives, including family and self.
Setting flexible boundaries
We often think of boundaries as being fixed but a key to integrating work and life is to accept that boundaries need to be set daily based on our priorities for that particular day.
The amount of time you’re willing to put into a work-day, volunteering for kinder or catching up with girlfriends will depend on your priorities for that particular day. If you’re in the middle of month-end reporting deadlines at work, you’re unlikely to take on any extra hours ‘helping out’ at kinder. Or if your child is sick, you’re unlikely to hang around for that not-so-important 4PM meeting.
By setting flexible boundaries based on daily priorities, we can feel more in control of various the aspects of our lives, including work and home, and less guilty about the sometimes difficult decisions we have to make.
Accepting help from the ‘village’
It’s inevitable that there will be times where we just cannot do it all alone. Like, when need to stay back at work to meet an inflexible deadline but your daughter also needs to be picked up from daycare. Or when you absolutely must be present at a board meeting, but your son is too sick to go to school.
In these situations, we need to get comfortable with accepting help from our ‘village’. Because here’s the thing. There’s very little in our lives that we’ve had to do by ourselves. We’ve always had others to rely on for help, information, or the skills we need. Being a working mum is and should be no different.
Taking care of yourself
Without taking care of our own needs, we cannot meet the needs of others. It’s only when we take the time to look after ourselves, that our children can enjoy a more energised and present mother, and our careers can benefit from a more productive and focused worker.
So whilst striving for work-life balance leaves many of us feeling inadequate and exhausted, flicking the switch to life-work integration may just be the key to finding fulfilment in all aspects of our lives.
Written by Ani Tuna. Ani is the founder of MumLife Australia and the heart-centred Beyond Birth event series. A passionate advocate for telling it how it is, Ani is dedicated to supporting parents as they take steps to reclaim the joy in partnerhood. With a mission to help parents feel confident and capable as they navigate parenting from newborn through to school-age, she has a special place in her heart for helping first-time mums enjoy their experience of early motherhood. Follow Ani on Facebook and Instagram.