Seemingly people have this perception when they look at my husband and I, that we have it all together. Well, let me just set the record straight – that is a misconception. We don’t always get the balance right and there are times when we try to stay afloat.
As full-time working parents, running a household, having a social life as well as taking on other responsibilities – it surely is challenging. We are not super parents that have the perfect equilibrium. Trying to fulfill the needs of work, family and the demands of life can come at a high price. In saying that, In 2012 I lost the balance completely so much so that I had a spate of anxiety attacks. These attacks occurred only at night and was due to an accumulation of work and life stressors. I tried to juggle part-time studies, work, family, household chores and everything else that life threw at me. So getting my shit together wasn’t always easy.
Until my husband gave me an ultimatum to stop taking on too much. Which was a challenge because when I commit myself to something, I want to see it through. I had to seriously scale down. And the most important aspect was saying – NO. There is no denying that the art of multitasking and self-sufficiency is a trait of a woman, but for me admitting that I needed help was a huge lift from my shoulders. Surrendering to the fact that it was ok to fail and not to succeed at everything in life.
I had to make some serious adjustments. Life is not organising and balancing everything on a tipping scale but having flexibility too. Being flexible and adaptable to change meant shifting my attention to neglected priorities and easing up on those who had primary focus. It was time to reassess my life to see what was important and what was not.
It’s important to acknowledge that life doesn’t always go according to our plans. And when your child get sick, the geyser burst or an unexpected deadline looms – it can throw you off course. A year ago my mother-in-law had a major heart-attack. Luckily she survived it but in turn ended up being hospitalized for almost a month. This rocked the boat completely as we didn’t see it coming. As my in-laws are our support system when it comes to fetching the girls from school, the dynamics had to change slightly. It meant that we had to shift certain things or put it on hold.
Fast forward to now, we have streamlined our life for our own sanity. I do the school run in the morning and my in-laws do the pick up in the afternoon. If something comes up and I can’t do the drop off at school, my husband will step in. Vice versa with pick up, if my in-laws have a prior engagement, either my husband or I will leave work a bit earlier to fetch the girls from school.
It’s safe to say that although we still don’t have the perfect balance, we also not completely sinking the ship.
To find the balance, here are some elements we’ve put in place.
Elements of finding the equilibrium of work-life
Having a good morning routine helps us tremendously. Getting our day off to a good start sets the tone for the rest of the day. The night before; bags are packed, school notes and diaries signed. This eliminates everyone running around like headless chickens and saves us from forgetting anything.
Organise the calendar
So basically our life is on our fridge door. It’s probably not the most practical way of doing things but it works for us. Shopping list, notes and reminders go on the fridge door. Then there is the calendar which is also in the kitchen with circled and highlighted appointment dates. As well as diarising appointments and setting reminders on our phones.
Gone are the Stone Age, where it was expected of women to take sole responsibility for domestic duties. Certainly, that is not the case in our house. Plus we also don’t make use of any outsourcing services to do household duties. As a family we have shared responsibilities of household chores. This include the kids.
Washing a load of laundry in the week and another over the weekend prevents it from piling up. Prepping and cooking meals take place over the weekend for the whole week. Other than freeing up time during the week to prepare meals, it allows us to make healthier food choices and saving money. Dinner is usually before 18h00 in the evening as it is just popping a meal in the microwave to warm up.
When it comes to attending school meetings, both my husband and I generally attend. However, if somethings comes up and we can’t both attend, then one will go. We juggle extracurricular and sports event pick up between the two of us.
Time management is important. During the week our time is limited. It is important to have to-do lists that are urgent and not urgent. We spent 8 hours at work and another hour in traffic. So basically it only leaves 3.5 hours to spend with the kids when we get home. After work; time is set aside to assist with homework, dinner at the table and having family discussions. Meetings, school outings, social events, vacations and family get-togethers are scheduled. On the odd occasion we will attend unplanned events which pops up spontaneously. But if we simply can’t fit it in, we will send an apology.
Although my work pays the bills, my health and that of my family takes first priory. Any family crisis comes before my work. The kids are our responsibility (my husband and mine) and not that of grandparents or other family members. There is just no compromise on this. Weekends are devoted to spending quality time with family.
Even though we might think we have things under control, we always need help. That is why we are blessed to have a good support system to help out in times of need. School parent groups on whatsapp is useful when it comes to information sharing, reminders and assisting with lifts from extramural activities and sports events.
Like the saying goes “you work to live, not live to work”. Communication is key to setting clear boundaries. I have set working hours and have committed not to bring any work home. If it cannot be completed at work, it can wait for the next day. When at home or over a weekend, I do not check any work emails or take work related calls. As for my husband, who is a teacher, he sets his own boundaries. Time is set aside for his admin but making sure it does not impact on our family time.
Set realistic goals
It is imperative that the goals that we set are realistic and measurable. For example with my studies, I gave myself four years to complete my Masters as I was doing it part-time. This might seem like a long time but incorporating studies with work and family life can be difficult. At the end it only took me three years to complete but it was still time consuming. Striving towards unrealistic goals can have a negative effect on work-life balance.
Prioritise what I am passionate about
I have learned about the power of saying “NO”. I am often approached to serve on committees or to attend certain events. With all due respect, I know that those who ask me have good intentions and see my ability. But I simply can’t stretch myself thin with everything else I have on my plate. There are certain things that I am very passionate about and I will devote my time to it. So when I say NO, it doesn’t mean that I am selfish and people shouldn’t take offense to it. It’s simply that I don’t have the time.
Having enough time for everything and everyone else is already a challenge, not to mention time for yourself. We all need a break sometime and doing it guilt free is important. Spending time on my own going shopping, go for a walk, meeting up with friends, writing my journal or just relaxing with a good book is making time for myself. Sometimes I only require 30 minutes to myself without any interruptions.
The point is, in time our priorities and goals will change and our kids will be older. And so too there will be a shift in balance again. At that point we will have to reassess our life and see how we can maintain the balance.
In conclusion, your situation differs to those of others. Do not compare your life with those of others. Perhaps you are a single parent and don’t have the support of a partner and have many other challenges to face. Balance as best you can and see what measures you can put in place to make it work but don’t strive for perfection.