Work-life balance sure sounds pretty great, right? The term suggests equilibrium, calm, and steadiness. It suggests that work and life come together in harmony – no stress, no tension, no instability. Who doesn’t want a life like that?
And yet, if you’re a working parent, at this stage of the game you know that reaching a place of perfect balance is hard – maybe even impossible. But when you’ve been exposed to the myth of work-life balance – and its promise of productive work days that transition easily into happy evenings with Baby, with maybe a session at the gym and a coffee with friends thrown into the mix too, plus casual weekends of laundry and fun family outings and answering a few work emails stress-free here and there – reality can feel pretty brutal, and might even make you feel like you’re failing to find a balance that everyone else must have already figured out.
But even if you can come to terms with the idea that maybe that perfect work-life balance doesn’t really exist – and you should, because it doesn’t – how do you move forward trying to find, if not complete balance, at least something that helps you feel a bit more stable?
Understand the term is imperfect and life exists in flux
The term work-life balance is misleading at best and damaging at worst. The problem isn’t just the balance part of the term, but also the suggestion that work and life are two different things. Your life includes your work, and so much else – your family, your friends, your hobbies, your upcoming vacation, the community volunteer project you spend time on, that favorite yoga class you attend, the garden of herbs you tend to, that craft project you’ve been working on for months, and the list could go on. These spheres of life are interconnected and influence each other.
It can be more helpful to think more in terms of blend, or integration, or even harmony. How do all these things fit together? Does the way they fit together work for you and make you happy? Or is something misaligned?
It’s also unrealistic to expect that these many moving parts in your life will remain static – whether today or three months from now. After Baby was born, maybe you had to pull back on the time that you committed to that community volunteer project for a while. Or you decide to switch shifts at work so that you’re able to be home for family dinner every night. And taking on extra hours for that big work project means you can finally take that weekend getaway with your family that you’ve been dreaming of since Baby was born. Life is complicated and messy, and things always exist in flux.
Forget the ideal and focus on what you want your life to look like
The ideal of work-life balance is unrealistic – as are the Instagram-worthy, picture-perfect toddler birthday parties that you might be comparing your life to – and if you try to aim for these unrealistic visions, your goals will always feel unreachable and you’ll keep feeling frustrated. Consider instead what you want your life to look like, not what other people are suggesting your life should look like.
Do you care less about being number one in sales and more about having Saturdays free to hang out with your family? Do you not mind working a little extra one month if it means you can take some time off for the holidays? Maybe you want to just try your best to be a good parent and a good employee – and if the pots and pans don’t get washed right away or if you need to get an extension on a work deadline because, hey, sometimes Baby gets sick, it’s really okay. If letting something go a little in one area of your life works for you right now, don’t sweat it.
Life will always be in flux and surprises will come your way, and the way you manage them will change as your life does. If you approach life knowing what your priorities are while also remaining flexible and open to change, it can really help you realize that, hey, maybe you’re doing alright after all.
Aim for realistic goals
With all of this in mind, just how can you get through the day a little more easily? Again, think about what you want your unique life to look like, consider your priorities at this point in time, and approach your to-do list in realistic way. What’s most important to you? And just how much can you really get done in a day?
If you make a to-do list or set goals, make them manageable – again, not all toddler birthday parties need to trend on Instagram. Meeting priorities and accomplishing goals makes us feel in control, so it’s not that you can’t aim high and think big in terms of what you want to achieve, but know that with a little one, especially while you’re working, there might be days where you just can’t get everything done or be everything to everyone.
Don’t forget to ask for help when you need it, and to be kind to yourself in the process – it can go a long way in helping you feel good about all the wild and wonderful parts of your life.