Give up looking for work-life balance! If that sounds radical, read on as we explore reasons to do so and how to do it.
I recall taking a work-life balance workshop and filling in the pie pieces to assess if I was balancing work with my marriage, with care of our children, with my friendships, with my physical health, with expressing creativity, with my community involvement, with my spirituality . . . and I don’t remember what else. The outcome was I felt exhausted and guilty!
The Origin of Work-Life Balance
What is this trend called work-life balance or work-family balance or work home balance? It first appeared in the United Kingdom in the 1980’s driven by the Women’s Liberation movement. They advocated for flexible work schedules and maternity leave. There was no guilt involved here. The movement was intended to provide relief for women who worked long hours in industrial jobs as well in their homes.
I did my own research of women’s work lives for my book, From Woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work. I asked women questions about their biggest work challenges. Twenty-eight survey respondents identified their biggest challenge as caregiving demands. Another 13 specifically described their major woe or challenge with the term balance. One woman wrote, “Keeping balance between work and play.” A single parent reported the challenge of, “Balancing working and raising my six kids alone.” Imagine the stress!
Eliminate the Term ‘Work-Life’
First, let’s eliminate the phrase work-life because surely work is part of life and for that matter, a significant part of it!
Secondly, balance is probably not possible. The demands of work and family are more like a teeter-totter or a roller coaster where balance is sporadic Perhaps the best we can do is aim to maintain some kind of internal stability in the middle of the storm. Then create spaces for peace, quiet, and rejuvenation.
Relief for the Caregiver
Beverley Smith, the Canadian caregiver advocate, believes the problem lies partly in the work-life balance question. She views both employment and family responsibilities as work. It is genuine work to listen to a troubled teen, to make a family meal, to care for your senior parents or to get up several times at night with a newborn.
Often caregiving jobs are those for which we did not apply. Beverley notes, “We are all one phone call in the night from being caregivers.” Some people have chosen to be their family caregiver and that work can be significantly demanding. We need to discuss the demands of paid work and unpaid work in the home and community.
Lighten Your Load
Look at all your decisions holistically, including activities that nourish you physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, creatively and spiritually. How about experimenting with backing off on a task or two to make time and space for some self-rejuvenation? If you can financially afford to do so, pay for tasks that are a drag on you. If you can’t afford that option, consider delegating tasks. “Delegate!?” you may ask.
Bear with me. I detect a groan and the thought, “He (she, they) won’t do it like I want. I have standards, you know.” This is a very effective strategy for scaring away willing supporters. When moms are over-responsible, they rob other family members of demonstrating their capabilities. Parents do their children no favor by doing for them what children can do for themselves. Sometimes our need to be needed overshadows our bodies’ and minds’ needs to have rest, relaxation, recreation and down time. Fortunately, you can change your belief to a sane position of, “I appreciate your cooperation and you do not need to do it perfectly.”
Families in which support, cooperation and fairness are exercised have less conflict and illness. They put into action valuing their family relationships and teamwork. Please don’t your health.
In addition, you could hold Family Meetings. Not only do family meetings provide an opportunity to share the household load, they create a cooperative framework for sharing feelings and ideas. They also support family members’ wishes and goals. Plus they facilitate problem-solving, plans for family activities, and harmony and fun in the family home.
Also, for those involved in the care of aging parents, family meetings involving adult siblings can be an effective means to share the care.
Then there is the powerful concept of self-care.
Self-care Beats Work-Life Balance
Lastly, The World Health Organization defines self-care as: “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.”
Ultimately you can do your best, learn, and aim to demonstrate self-care in the middle of your family, work and community demands. You can decide if the concept of work-life balance supports you or adds to your stress bucket. I like to aim to breathe in the middle of the up and down rhythms of life! What about you?