When I had Boy1 and declared my intention to go back to work, I became overwhelmed by conversations, articles, reports and the like about finding the ‘balance’ between work and home life. As someone who prides themselves on their organisational skill, I thought I’d have it sorted quickly. Schedules, reminders, booking things waaay in advance, I did it all. All in the name of ‘balance’.
But something wasn’t right. Whilst I looked like I was on top of it for the first few months, I was genuinelly beating myself up because I felt I hadn’t found that ‘balance’. I constantly felt confused and guilty for not getting it right, because I my time and headspace just weren’t evenly split between work and life.
Then at some point, about three months in, I had to question if balance was what I actually aspired to.
Emotionally my family will always be more of a priority than my work. Yet in terms of time, at the moment anyway, I have to spend more days at work than with my family. I can’t expect both to be equal. Plus ‘life’ covers so many more elements than ‘work’, from spending time with children, feeding/clothing them, transporting them to clubs and classes, housekeeping, seeing friends, not forgetting my husband, oh and doing stuff for me (which usually involves a monthly trip to the gym, a 5min eyebrow appointment, or a sneaky coffee whilst child is asleep in the buggy).
Balance wasn’t right for me. In my mind it implies some kind of equilibrium, with all elements taking an equal share of the big chunky, mixed up, pie that is my life. But I don’t want my work to be equal to my children, or eyebrows for that matter. What I actually want is the ability to prioritise the different elements of my life (work included) at different times without feeling guilty. For me, that’s different to balance.
These days, I try to avoid the term altogether. I prefer to use the analogy of juggling. When you are a competent juggler, you have a number of different balls to deal with. At any one time, you’ll have at least one ball in your hand, you know exactly where it is. The other balls are up in the air dangling above your head. You know where they are but they don’t have all of your attention just yet.
Last week I was at my desk, work ball securely in hand, until I got a call from the childminder to say Boy2 was unwell and needed to go home. At that point I had to make a decision. I had to throw my proverbial work ball up in the air so I could grab hold of my motherhood ball.
Once he had been tended to back home, I then had to take hold of the housework ball and sort out food. Then the teacher ball came out and I helped Boy1 with some homework. Once that was done, the work ball was back in hand for a couple of hours.
You see, this is what happens in life. Not just for working parents, but anyone who works and has a life of some sort. Its all about knowing which balls need to be in your hand at any given time and which balls you can let go of, safe in the knowledge you’ll grab hold of them again. Sometimes you will have to let go of the motherhood ball and miss an assembly, so that you can go to that all important work meeting. But sometimes you’ll decide to throw the housework ball up in the air so you can go splashing in puddles with the mummy ball. And don’t ever forget the ‘you’ ball. It’s usually the smallest one in my juggling bag, but I try not to forget it (the eyebrows are a visual reminder).
None of these balls can be let go of for too long, otherwise they’ll all fall down around you. That’s happened to me on a fair few occasions, but as soon as you drop them, pick them back up and start again, maybe at a different pace, with a different style or with some help.
I’ve come to realise that I can’t let anyone else’s juggling style influence my own. Everyone will have a different number of balls of different sizes or weights and they’ll need to juggle at a different pace. I’ve had to find my own style. And guess what, the guilt levels have reduced massively.
People might say I’ve found a balance, but I’ve really just become a great juggler. Let’s face it I feel like a bit of a clown at times, but hey, my kids seem to love me for it.
Disclaimer: the juggling analogy is just how I view juggling. I could have it totally wrong. I am by no means a competent juggler in real life, so any jugglers out there should not take offence.
NOTE: This post first appeared on the fabulous Selfish Mother