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Work-Life “Balance” Does Not Exist

I’m a wife, a mother, an outdoor enthusiast, an avid reader. I work full-time. I have two beautiful little girls. I homeschool. I get asked all the time – “how do you balance your work-life?”

Simple answer: I don’t.

Balance does not exist and I think we need to acknowledge that fact instead of frantically trying to “balance” our lives. For me, the answer lies in more in integrating all of the various aspects of my life together in ways that I can manage and not lose my mind. Being kind, doling out responsibilities, and asking for help have all been keys to throwing out balance and trying to create peace at home.

Not having it all

Women have been told we could “have it all” for decades, starting with the woman who literally wrote the book on it in the early 1980s, Helen Gurley Brown. She didn’t even have kids but she claimed women could have whatever they wanted – a career, a family, passions. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg came later, with her book “Lean In”, a women’s self-empowerment cry of the same feminism that surrounded Gurley Brown’s messaging.

It’s all a lie. All of it.

I tried so hard for many, many years to follow this rallying cry, as millions of women have over the past fifty years or so. I’ve had a demanding career ever since I graduated college and attempted to seamlessly integrate marriage and family along the way. When things were going well with work, I felt like I was failing at home in some way – not spending enough quality time with my husband and then my kids when they came. When I wanted to take time off work to be with my family, I felt like my work was suffering. It was a mess and wherever I looked, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t have it all, I couldn’t balance anything.

What I’ve learned

It has taken me a significant amount of time to come to the realization that work-life balance is a crapshoot. I wish I would have realized this earlier and saved myself a boatload of anxiety. But I’m sharing here what I’ve learned to help other moms in similar situations.

1 – Be kind to yourself. Can us moms stop being so hard on ourselves? It’s ok if things slip through the cracks, if you missed a themed dress-up day at school with your kids or forgot to send a few dollars for a gift for a co-worker. It’s ok if you need to make pancakes for dinner because you’re too stressed to figure out something fancy.

2 – Hand over responsibilities. I hired a cleaning company years ago because I wanted to spend Saturdays out on adventures with my kids, not scrubbing the bathroom. It was one of the best parenting and marriage decisions I’ve made. If you’re not sure you can afford to do this, look into options – maybe instead of a cleaning company every two weeks, they can come once a month for a deep clean. Also, ordering groceries from Instacart or Shipt has been a lifesaver. It’s worth the cost of time and effort for me to do this. I’m able to spend that time either catching up on work or with my kids. If you have a helpful partner, dole out responsibilities to them.

3- Integration, not balance. This may depend largely on what kind of work you have but I’ve found that, since I work from home, I can sometimes take my laptop to the pool or playground and do work while my kids play. Or I’ll integrate homeschool work like math by asking my kids to make dinner using their growing knowledge with science and fractions, giving me time to finish up the things for work I need to get done. These are fairly particular examples and I know they aren’t for everyone but they work for me. Get creative. But most importantly, realize balance isn’t possible and that’s it ok.

4 – Don’t neglect prayer. My faith has to be my foundation or else everything else in my life will be thrown of whack. I read the daily Mass readings every morning and say prayers each day to help me put my work and family into the hands of God. I take my kids to church more than just on Sundays. I choose to work for clients that support my own values and beliefs. It all ties back to my faith in God and in the end, everything I do is because of that faith.

5 -Ask for help. So I really hate asking for help for almost anything, but sometimes, usually when I reach my breaking point, I need to do it. This usually means trying to calm down and ask my partner, co-worker or family member for help. But I do it specifically, like asking my husband to please plan ahead for dinner one weekend evening because I’m totally spent at work. Or asking a co-worker to please take care of a task that I really didn’t need to be doing in the first place. My personality dictates that if I want something done, I’ll just do it myself since it takes too long to ask someone else to do it and they probably won’t do it the same way I would. I do my best to put this aside and just ask for help when I need it.

6 – Be present. This is the one that I probably struggle with the most but when I can figure it out, it really feels great. Whatever you’re doing at one particular time, just be present. If you’re playing a game with your kids, put your phone down and be present with them. If you’re writing a report for work, be present and focus. If you’re on a date with your partner, focus on him/her, ask questions, listen, forget about what else is going on in your life. If you’re praying, focus on what God is trying to tell you, read Scripture prayerfully and with intention. If you’re reading a book, enjoy it, put your phone far away.

7 – Seek therapy. I hope we’ve reached a point in our culture where we aren’t ashamed to seek therapy if you need it. If it’s expensive where you live, search out online options or places that do sliding scale fees. You’re worth every penny.

What else would you add to this list?

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