The Lie That Is Work-Life Balance
My husband and I have been chasing the ever elusive idea of work-life balance for quite some time now. It is a term that seems to be thrown around in corporate settings, on self-help podcasts, and in the media with such cavalier nonchalance that one might assume everyone knows what it is and how to achieve it. Being a stay at home mom, when I speak of “work” I am referring to all of the time my husband is not home and I am solely responsible for all of the duties relating to the kids and the home. When I speak of “life” I am speaking about all of the things I do after my husband is home and the shared tasks that we take on to keep the home running and the kids alive. If work-life balance is the goal, then why is that so many people can’t seem to make the weight equal on both sides of the scale? Why is it that there is never any prolonged consistency when we do feel balance has been found? After trying to figure it out for quite some time, I have come to the conclusion that this balance simply does not exist. Work-life balance is a myth.
I think the biggest pitfall when it comes to seeking a work-life balance is the belief that we can compartmentalize work and life into two separate entities. Work and life are in constant push and pull with each other. Each acts upon the other such that when something occurs in one realm there is an inevitable effect in the other. For example, if you get a promotion that comes with more work and higher pay it will effect your home life. You may have to work longer hours, meaning less time spent in the life realm but your higher pay may mean you can afford more luxuries. In turn, if your child suddenly got sick it would most likely effect your work in that you may need to take some time off or maybe you can’t focus solely on the task at hand as you once would have. Basically Newton’s Third Law, but with time and resources.
The inability to separate these two spheres of life creates a secondary problem which is the failure to fully disconnect. Daniel is expected to take work calls, follow up with work e-mails, and complete tasks after “work hours”. Of course, he has limits and boundaries but that doesn’t mean that it’s not something he has to check off of the list when he gets a chance to do so. It also means that his thoughts can not wholly and fully always be on home life during home life hours. It’s just not a possibility. I too, have to answer to work even as a stay at home mom. Whether it’s registering for classes that open at 7:00pm, planning activities for the following day, or packing snacks for preschool the night before there are certain tasks that I just can’t escape completing after hours.
In the same vein, we also aren’t able to turn off home life during work-life hours. When Daniel is at work, I know that he thinks about the kids (possibly me as well), what he is missing out on, what they are doing, and how our day is going. When I ask him to help me out with something he typically does what he can as soon as he can. Just today, I asked him to look into ordering the Disney Channel for Maelle, and he paused whatever he was working on to put the order through. Likewise, during my “work” hours I am often planning birthday parties, scheduling dinner get-togethers, prepping to host people, reading for book club, working on my blog, all things that wouldn’t be considered my core work duties.
So instead of making our goal to find perfect balance between work and home I think it would be better to look at life holistically. The key to finding any real equilibrium is to accept that at times there will need to be sacrifices made in both domains of life to accomplish various goals. There is an inevitable ebb and flow of work and home life and, at times, your focus will be weighted differently. Your priorities will shift, rearrange, and completely change as the season of life you are living transforms as well. The most important thing is the idea that you feel complete in both work and life. Are you are able to unplug from work when necessary and focus on your home and family to the fullest extent required of you? Are you completing work tasks to the best of your ability? Are you happy with how your home life and work life function? Are you giving yourself enough time and space to recharge your own batteries? If, when you look at the larger picture of your life, you can answer those questions with an honest “yes”, then you are probably on the right track. And the second you feel that there is some form of balance, you will be knocked right over, requiring you to reassess and restructure again.