I had my ah-ha moment as a working mom the day I realized that work-life balance doesn’t exist and never will. It was last spring, and I was still working my corporate job. I had been asked to travel out West and realized that it would keep me away from home 18 nights that month.
I was furious. I wanted to quit on the spot. I did NOT sign up for this, I thought. I’d expressed my displeasure over the travel topic with leadership more than once and did so again that day. I was told that it wasn’t negotiable; I had to go. So I did—pissed off—but I went.
Work-Life Balance Is a Myth
When people talk about work-life balance, women automatically feel like they are failing. “Balance? I don’t have balance!” they say. “My life is a mess. I feel like when I am succeeding in one area, I am failing at another!” That’s because you probably are, and women need to stop feeling guilty about that.
How often does a dad come home from a long day at work to a messy house and think he’s failing his kids? Never. Dads come home from a busy day at work to a messy house and assume that to be normal. Women come home from a long day at work to a messy house and automatically think of all the ways they are failing their kids.
When We Succeed in One Area, We Fail in Another
The day we have our first child, our lives will never be the same. From that moment on, interests we used to have, friends we used to hang out with, and free time that we used to enjoy will be gone. We start trading our free time for dirty diapers, projectile vomit, and sore nipples.
Women start to panic: How are we supposed to take care of this little human and keep up with our work calendar, social events, house cleaning, food prepping, party planning, finances, and every other daily task that requires our attention? It seems impossible because it is. We’ve been lying to each other about what we can accomplish, and it needs to stop. We’re not doing anyone any favors by pretending we always have our shit together.
The sooner we realize that to succeed in one area of our lives is to fail in another, we will be happier moms, employees, and spouses. You have a big deadline at work this week? Great, don’t cook dinner or commit to any extracurricular activities at school, and for the love of all that is holy, don’t feel guilty about it! You are only one person who can only be in one place at one time.
Learn to Say No
Placing unrealistic expectations on what you can accomplish in a single day doesn’t help anyone, and it certainly hurts you. The sooner we learn to say no to the nonessentials, the happier we will be.
Women are wired to be nurturers. We don’t like upsetting our loved ones by saying no to something that is important to them. Sometimes we just don’t have the choice. There are only 10,080 minutes in a week, roughly 3,000 of those you will spend sleeping, at least 2,400 you will spend working, 600 you will spend driving, and 500 you will spend eating or figuring out what to eat. That doesn’t leave you much time for the thousands of other tasks that litter your to-do list, not to mention the quality time you want to spend with your children and spouse.
Saying no isn’t to be mean; it’s for your own sanity and the well-being of your family. The sooner you accept that less can be more, the happier you will be.
Embrace This Season of Life
Sometimes we look back at our pre-baby lives and think of all the things we used to do that made us happy. It can make us sad for what we used to be, and sometimes we end up feeling like a shell of a person for a while.
Let’s start embracing where we are in the moment instead. As our babies grow, things you used to enjoy can slowly be added back in. Remember that glass of wine you used to treat yourself to occasionally? You won’t be nursing forever! What about date night? Your oldest is almost old enough to be a responsible babysitter for a few hours, and if not, that’s what babysitters are for.
Life changes. We change. Embrace the experiences of today, and stop worrying so much about what you can’t do and start appreciating what you can do.
Work-life balance is whatever you can get done in a day without losing your mind and giving yourself the grace to be OK with letting things slip. It won’t be like this forever, but it’s like this today and that’s OK.