A modern working mother’s guide to balancing work & life
If I get a penny every time I was asked about how I balance work and life, I could probably retire and live off all that money already.
It’s true. Balancing work and life is something that many people like to know how to do well and many people try to do well. When I am asked the question, I usually reply with a practical advice, such as learning how to prioritise using a prioritisation framework or the well-known method to getting things done aka the 3 D’s, Do, Delegate and Drop.
However, the truth is that, I don’t even know if there is an official definition of work-life balance or is it something that I want to follow rigidly. I am often still doing work past 9pm when my daughter is asleep or checking my social media, slack messages or replying to work emails on weekends. Just last weekend, my daughter was invited to a birthday party at a play centre and I spent half of my time there sitting at a quiet spot and putting together a plan for an upcoming project while my daughter runs around happily with her peers. The other half of my time there was spent mingling and chatting with other parents. One of the other parents asked me why I was working on a Sunday and that work should be left strictly for weekdays only. To which chuckled and said I would like to have more time to do other stuff during the week like cooking and cleaning so I was working today to give me a head start for the week ahead.
To me, work-life balance means knowing that I am doing my best at both while not being stressed about them. It is really not about when I do one or the other.
The myth about how children of working parents with no work-life balance or work-life separation tend to suffer and feel unloved couldn’t be far from the . truth. I came from a middle class working family whose parents both work and they both had side hustles even before side hustles were a thing back in the day. Both my parents worked at a medical university and they were also well-known authors in the field of medicine. I never felt like I was being ignored, unloved or not being given the attention that I needed when I was growing up. If anything, my upbringing has taught me the value of hard work and persistence.
So without further ado, I’d like to share my version of balancing work and life.
Do everything in moderation
Some days, I would be working til midnight but other days, I’d be in bed at the same time as my daughter’s bedtime. If there is anything I have learned after becoming a mother, it is that I have to learn to be kind to myself and not push myself too much because I can only be an understanding partner, a good mother, a helpful colleague and an empowering leader when I am not feeling burnt out. Likewise, I might be doing work on a weekend one week and then taking a whole week off work during school holiday the next week.
Schedule ‘me’ time
As an introvert who thrives in quieter environments, I always make time for myself to have that quiet time during the day. In my calendar, I blocked out lunchtime so nobody could schedule any meeting with me during that time. It is my time to get out of the office, go for a walk or sometimes just sit at a bookstore or library. Someone once asked me how I managed to get people to not schedule meetings during that time. I didn’t really think about it before but what I did which seemed to have worked is that if anyone tried to book me in for a meeting during that time, I just denied politely. And over time, people get it. To me, it is all about being disciplined with myself and my boundaries and knowing how to conserve and recharge my energy.
Focus on the big picture
Do you know what you want out of your career and your life? If you were to imagine your life from many years from now on, feeling successful and happy, what do you imagine? Once you have answered that question, you can work out a plan and strategise how you can get there. For me, I want to be doing something that integrates my personal values with the values that my work brings. I want my family to be thriving. I want to find joy in simple things in life. And ultimately, I want to be able to leave a legacy that I’d be proud of. Once I know what I want, I am able to stay focused, motivated and not sweat at the small stuff. And trust me, there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of small stuff that will make me go insane if I let them.
Ask help and support from others
I can’t do everything alone. I can’t do everything by myself. Without the support of others around me, I cannot thrive. Sometimes I have to be courageous and ask for that support but more often than not, if I ask, I will receive. For example, there are some tasks at home that I rarely do, such as laundry, taking out the rubbish, mowing the lawn or driving. I can do them if required but the thing here is not about whether I can do them but it is about whether I can get help from someone, in this case, my husband so I am not doing everything and feeling like I have no time to do the stuff that I really want to do. The same thing applies to work. Earlier in my career, I enjoyed doing everything by myself and taking on all the responsibilities. But these days, I have become wiser. I am more than happy to delegate, teach and share the spotlight with others. Because that is the only way have a sustainable work-life balance.
Realise that nothing lasts forever
“Nothing lasts forever, so live it up, drink it down, laugh it off, avoid the bullshit, take chances & never have regrets, because at one point everything you did was exactly what you wanted.”
Isn’t she beauty and brains? Whether I am having an awesome time or an awful time, I remind myself of Marilyn Monroe’s quote. When I am having a good time, I try to be grateful and appreciate every moment. When I am having a bad time, I tell myself that this, too, shall pass. Sometimes I make mistakes, like losing my temper at a loved one or showing my annoyance at someone for bad work ethics. Or sometimes, I hear an amazing praise about me and I go on a cloud nine. In either circumstance, I come back to reality and just keep on moving forward. Because nothing lasts forever.