Article first published as Is Work-Life Balance for a Working Parent a Myth? on Technorati.
We’ve all heard of ‘work-life’ balance and we all want a better one, but do we actually know what it is and when we’ve got a good one? According to Ann McElvoy in My Working Woman’s Guide to Surviving Family Life, “the work-life balance is a myth cooked up by magazine writers and HR departments to save on contracts” (The London Evening Standard online, 26 October 2011).
Her rationale on this is that when you would prefer to be at home you are contracted to be at work, for example, when your child is contagious with chicken pox and no nursery, childminder or school will let them go within an inch of another child, that’s the time when it’s vital that you’re in the office. Conversely, when you would rather be at work i.e. there’s nothing going on at home, it will be a day that the employer won’t need you. Work-life balance doesn’t appear to be an exact science – life is much more challenging than that.
So, how do we get a better work-life balance? Are we doomed for failure? Surely it’s different for each one of us. Some of us think we’ve got there when we have been feeling happier and organised for a few days, and then a crisis appears out of the blue, just when you have booked that relaxing morning off for an Indian head massage or round of golf.
Ann McElvoy also writes that as a working parent “you have an office to escape to – a place where few colleagues throw tantrums and most of them don’t leave their underpants on the floor”. That is so true – I quite often make an announcement when I sit down at my desk that ‘I’ve come to work for a rest’
My job as a project manager by day and freelance writer by night might be stressful but focusing on ‘me’ and ‘my job’ sometimes feels easier than dealing with the unorganised chaos around the house (which I must admit that I usually create!). After all, I’ve worked full-time for nearly 4 times as long as I’ve been a parent so maybe that’s why it’s sometimes easier. At work I can make a cup of tea when I want (most of the time), I get to have a lunch break (most of the time) and as long as I plan my day, I know what it’s going to bring (most of the time).
So, is work-life balance for working parents a myth? There is so much about it in the news and in magazines and it always catches my attention; however I struggle to work out if it is maybe just a feeling or something that can be measured? We all want to be happy, but in the current economic climate (where one or both parents have to work in order to pay the bills) we don’t always end up in a job we are particularly passionate about which doesn’t help.
In my opinion, as long as we are continuing to focus on what we enjoy doing and also trying to fit more of what we want into our lives, then everything else should fall into place. The main measure for me is that I feel happy with the way things are. I also need to remind myself to ask for help when I need it.
Family life will always be stressful and a little haphazard, but being a parent we bought into that from the start. I’m finding that things get easier as my children are getting older but I’m now hearing stories of teenage issues – I’m nowhere near that stage with my children yet. Help!
Until next time…