What Does it Mean to Find Work/Life Balance as a Mother?
My life before kids didn’t have a lot of balance. My husband and I both worked a lot and I was primarily focused on my career. When we had our first child, like many working moms I had to decide if I could continue being so career-focused. I knew that I wanted both – to be a great mom and advance in my career – but at first, I didn’t know how to make that work. I had to understand more deeply what that meant for me and to reshape how I operated in nearly every aspect of my life to find my ideal balance.
It’s Not As Easy as It Looks
Balancing motherhood and a career brought a slew of challenges that I wasn’t prepared for. Pre-kids, if I had a big deliverable, I could control my schedule and just get it done. Now that I have kids, I never know when one of them might get sick and have to stay home from school or daycare on a day I have a full day of meetings planned or I’m under a tight deadline. I read various articles and books, such as Lean In, which helped me navigate the complexities associated with being a woman in the workforce, but not the specifics of finding that balance of motherhood and career.
Luckily, when I reached this juncture I was working at a place where I saw other women finding this balance and succeeding. On the surface, other working mothers around me made it seem easy. I picked their brains and came to find that it was not nearly as effortless as it appeared, but they had found ways to make their careers and their family life work together instead of being at constant odds. They showed me that what I wanted was possible.
I believe that what “work/life balance” means and how it is achieved is different for everyone. To me, it isn’t having everything at every moment, but in the big picture, it is being able to have both a fulfilling career and dedicated quality family time every day – two very big and important things to me that balance each other in my life. I have come to accept that in certain cases to achieve that, one or the other might have to give for a short period of time, but with a reliable schedule and support system, I can get them back in balance. For the other moms out there trying to find your balance, here a few things that have helped me that I will share in the event they help you too…
Find Your Schedule
When I started on this journey as a working mom, I knew that I wanted to be present in both my career and with my kids. With that as my goal, I had to build new habits and a new schedule to allow for both. When building your schedule, start with your goals first and work backwards from there.
For me, that meant figuring out a child care schedule and working hours that allow me to see my girls every morning and be home with them every night for dinner and bedtime, with few exceptions. My husband and I went through three iterations of changing schedules before we found a routine that worked for us. And it often requires some unorthodox working hours such as early mornings or evenings after my kids are in bed so that I can make sure I’m not taking away from “their hours.” My best piece of advice is: don’t get discouraged — especially during the early stages — it takes time and trial and error to figure out what will work for you.
Build Your Personal Support System
There is a reason that the old adage “it takes a village” still gets thrown around a lot today; it’s true. I feel very lucky that my husband is actively involved with our children, and I can lean on him. Having people who support you and are willing to help is essential. It may not always be a spouse/partner – maybe it’s your parents, a neighbor, or other family members.
Today, more than any other time in US history, dual career households are the norm at 60%. But the reality is that regardless of that, more of childcare work and the household chores still fall on women. That’s why it is so important to be your own advocate, know your support system, and ask for more support when you need it – whether it is from your partner or someone else.
Work Support is Essential Too
Your support system shouldn’t end at home. It’s important to have people you can lean on and trust when you do need to be out of office with your family. If your child is sick and you have to miss a meeting, having strong people around you who can step in and do a great job is critically important.
I know this part can be especially hard for women who’ve had a single-threaded focus on career before having kids. I’m a pretty Type A personality, but having a child gave me the opportunity to adjust my mindset and relinquish more control to my team. This is one of the aspects where I believe that being a mother has made me a better teammate and leader.
You’ll Need Some Breaks and People Will Give them to You
The final piece of advice is to make sure you give yourself a break. My experience indicates that other people will too. Challenging situations rarely come up at good times, and usually happen without warning. Sometimes your support network can step in to help without a hitch, but that won’t always be the case. And when faced with a challenge there’s always something that has to give. For example: when a child gets sick, you will ask yourself, am I going to ask someone else to step in so I can stay focused on this big deadline? Or, am I going to prioritize being a mother this time to be the one who helps and comforts them? Is there a more complicated solution that gives me both? There’s no wrong answer. Each one of these solutions can be the right solution depending on each individual circumstance. That’s life. In these moments we’re reminded of our priorities and boundaries that we set – and that we’re human after all.
People understand that life happens. Make sure you remind yourself the same thing. Even though my family has a routine, every day my children are getting older and presenting new challenges. But I know, with the people I have around me we can make it work. For those of you reading, finding your own balance may not be easy. But, if it is something you want, I believe you can do it too, and by doing so, you will help us to bring better overall balance to our workplaces.