Parenting

The crock of work-life balance

Tracy believes in the quest for work-life balance, but insists it's missing a very important four-letter-word

Sean started a new job two weeks ago. This was a big move for him. He’s worked for the same company for 13 years, learning, growing, moving up the ranks. It was a very tough decision for him to leave, and they were sad to see him go too.

This change wasn’t motivated by the usual factors. It wasn’t for a more prestigious position or more money. While he will be learning new things that will benefit his career long term, a big draw to this new job was the chance to have a healthier work-life balance.

It’s a much better commute. No more hours on the highway between downtown Toronto and the burbs is a really big deal. But even better, this job also promises to be mostly nine-to-five, which is something we simply don’t know in this house. In his old job, Sean was always working — always checking in, always needing to be available to solve problems day or night, always spending his evenings catching up because his days were spent in meetings. And that wasn’t when a major project was going on, which would completely consume him.

On paper, my work situation seems the ultimate in work-life balance. I work three days a week, mostly from home (that’s when I do my job with the Today’s Parent Special Editions) and my kids are in daycare these days. But I’m a freelancer, which means my work doesn’t always stop at my “day job.” There’s this blog (and I’m sorry I’ve been a bit absentee — balance, you know!), and other interesting opportunities that come my way that I don’t want to pass up. But because the kids are with me the other two days of the week, that work is pushed to evenings and weekends. And, while working at home is great (I won’t complain) there’s a pervading feeling that I could always be working. After all, it’s sitting there, just a few feet away in my office, waiting. And since Sean was always working…

So we’ve been thinking a lot about work-life balance at our house. It’s a term that was thrown around a lot in the media a few years ago. The quest for work-life balance. Is work-life balance possible? Three families tell you how they achieve work-life balance.

But there’s a problem inherent in the term. “Work-life balance” assumes that people have their work, and they have their life, and it’s just these two pieces that need to be in balance. But that’s not it — that’s not my reality, anyway. There needs to be another category, another four-letter-word: kids.

For me, lumping everything that’s not my paid work into one manageable entity is a recipe for failure. Parenting is its own beast. Balancing it with everything else is the true challenge for me. It’s when I’m only working and parenting that I feel my least balanced, my least productive, my least peaceful.

When do I feel balance in my life? When I’m on top of my work and I’m enjoying my time with my kids, but most importantly, when there’s time between those things to do something I want to do — and I don’t mean the laundry. Cuddling with my husband on the couch and catching up on some TV shows. Reading a book. Going for a run. Meeting friends for dinner or calling one for a long overdue catch-up. Going shopping by myself. Doing anything like this without feeling guilt over the things I should or could be doing instead.

For me, it’s about not having every waking moment of every day crammed with tasks. It’s about days not punctuated with rushing and stress. I’ve enjoyed these phases and appreciate when it’s all working, and also realize we can’t have balance all the time — life is too unpredictable. But I never underestimate the importance of getting it back, and have learned to reach out to my husband, my kids, my friends when I need a hand.

I think we are getting to a better place with our work-kid-life balance. Sean’s new job is helping me grasp that it’s not normal or healthy to tuck the kids into bed after a long work day, only to go back to work. And with that, I’ll sign off.

Do you agree that we should think of it as work-kid-life balance? Do you feel you have a healthy balance in your life, or do certain areas always get the short shrift (you, for example)? If you have it, how do you hang onto it?