Work and home life balance is a concept that has been pushed on American working mothers since we entered the workforce. And yet for most of us it remains an elusive goal that can never be fully accomplished. But Germans seemed to have mastered drawing a clear line between work life and home life with the concept of Feierabend. And working moms could use a little more of this concept in a time where the lines between work and home are near invisible.
As the BBC explains, Feierabend is a German word that describes when work is done, and a period of leisure and rest begins. The word can be broken down into two parts: Feier meaning a party or celebration and Abend meaning evening. And at the end of a work day, Germans often say ‘Schönen Feierabend!’ meaning ‘Enjoy your after-work time!’
The closest English phrases that seem to be equivalent are “happy hour” or “quitting time.” But I think the best way to describe it is the feeling you get when you are finally home and can take your bra off for the day.
Nevertheless, I don’t believe that American culture allows the luxury of delineating between work life and home life for most people. Based on research by Rescuetime, 40% of American professionals use their computers after 10 pm and 26% work outside normal working hours. Not to mention, we are checking communication tools like email and instant messaging every six minutes. So I think it’s fair to say these habits of overworking have created a performance-based culture that is not serving any of us.
This hits working moms particularly hard. Many of us are carrying the “2nd shift” on our very tired shoulders and were already struggling with balancing it all prior to the pandemic. And these days, it feels like there is a 3rd, 4th and 5th shift needed to get everything done.
Frankly, I have always believed that “balance” is bullshit and the concept is just another way to guilt moms into believing they should be able do it all. But I am beginning to wonder if that’s really the case or does American work culture make it near impossible to achieve.
For most working moms, the idea of Feierabend seems laughable at best. Add this pandemic and work/home life boundaries are more blurred than ever. Kids are home 24/7, we are making three meals a day every day, and trying to maintain our homes in a constant tornado of chaos. Not to mention needing to stay up far past bedtime to catch up on work or just take a minute so your ears stop ringing and you can have uninterrupted thoughts. So believe me, I understand if the mention of “balance” makes you want to scream.
When everything went to hell in a handbasket in March, I stuck to my normal schedule and tried get work done while the kids were in virtual classes … (insert maniacal laugh that borders on hysterically crying). As you probably know, that didn’t work very well.
I was being interrupted every 10 minutes for a myriad of reasons and it was impossible to focus on work. It felt like I was working nonstop but never getting anything done. But I kept trying to power through and frankly, I was losing my mind.
When I first heard about Feierabend my initial reaction was to roll my eyes. But when I thought about it, I realized that the pandemic had forced me to create my own version of Feierabend to keep me from completely losing my shit.
I desperately needed to create some realistic boundaries on my time. There was no way I could stick to the schedule that I had prior to COVID. It couldn’t get any real work done while my kids were in the middle of their virtual learning schedules.
I also realized that I needed breaks throughout my day and time to breathe before I transitioned to the next thing. The intensity of having kids home 24/7 with little to no quiet time was not working for me at all. I had to find ways to better balance my day.
First and foremost, I set a reasonable schedule that works for me. Unfortunately, that means I have to get up earlier to get work done. I also break up my day into segments to accommodate my kids’ virtual learning schedules. And I sometimes have to add work hours to my Saturday mornings. It isn’t ideal, but creating a schedule helps me clearly define work time and home time. Not to mention, I am a lot more productive.
When I am not working, I try my best to unplug from my devices. I want to avoid seeing the nonstop, anxiety inducing notifications that show up on my computer, tablet and cell phone. And if at all possible, I completely turn notifications off and avoid glancing at my emails and DMs so that I can fully engage in my time away from work.
I let people know what is going on if I get behind on work. I realized a lot of colleagues, clients and bosses are facing similar challenges and are willing to be much more flexible with expectations. So instead of drowning in overwhelm, I decided to openly communicate. It made a world of difference in my stress levels. Not everyone will have the luxury of understanding clients or bosses, but you never know if you don’t ask.
It also helped me to add a daily ritual to separate work time from home time. I go for a walk or drive or play outside with my kids. Sometimes I just take off my “work” clothes and put on something more comfortable. The goal is I get a moment to breathe so that I can transition to the next part of my day.
And the hardest part for me is remembering I can’t do all of this on my own. I have to constantly remind myself to rely on my spouse and kids to do their part. That way we all work together to divide and conquer the never ending to-do list. Then I can enjoy real downtime at the end of the day.
With this pandemic, I lost my transition time and most of my downtime. The entire day seemed to merge into a neverending blur from sunup to sundown. I had to find ways to separate my work time, home time and me time if I wanted to keep my sanity intact. And I know that so many other working moms can relate.
So now more than ever, I urge you to find ways to build your own version of Feierabend into your daily life. Schönen Feierabend, Freunde!