Work-life balance doesn’t really exist

Katie Dupuis used to think work-life balance was about efficiency; now she knows it’s about triage.

1Sophie in red
Katie tries to balance work and time with her daughter Sophie. Photo: Katie Dupuis

Today’s Parent managing editor Katie Dupuis likes structure and organization. A lot. Now, imagine this Type A editor with a baby. Funny, right? We’re sure you’ll love Katie’s musings on life with Sophie and husband Blaine.

I used to think that having kids would just mean a restructure of priorities — that the bath routine and bedtime would come before catching up on emails, that I’d just put in some extra computer time before breakfast, and that Saturdays would be a mix of work and trips to the playground or family swims at the local rec centre. I’ve always been good at getting through a to-do list, so I figured I’d just to-do list my way through parenthood. I value efficiency (go figure) and hate wasting time (I’ll bet you never would have guessed that).

But what I’ve learned over the past two years is that trying to strike a balance between work and kids (and, god forbid, should you ever want to get a haircut or go to a fitness class) is so much more than just writing out a list. It’s navigating life on a day-to-day basis — or, even, a minute-by-minute basis — and learning to restructure your day when the little people in your life get sick, have a complete meltdown over a Kinder egg in the grocery store, or need help with their homework (or in our case with Sophie, help with building the Duplo circus Santa brought). To-do list derailment is pretty much an hourly part of my day.

Read more: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”: My thoughts >

I’m not complaining, and I wouldn’t trade my life — I have a job I adore and a healthy, happy family — for all the sea salt caramels in the world (I’m a little obsessed), but being the best employee, wife and mother I can be takes serious effort. It would help if I left work at work at the end of the day, but that’s not the way I operate — and it’s not the way my colleagues operate either. I often joke that I talk to my boss more than I talk to my mom.

Sometimes I think about scaling back on something — I don’t have to make the birthday cupcakes from scratch, or if I don’t answer that email until the next morning, the world will not implode (I don’t think, anyway) — but I worry about letting someone down. And I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling. I want to do it all, even if it means sacrificing sleep or me time. Is that healthy? Ha. Um, no.

Instead I’m going to try and live by the Oprah rule: “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” That seems to make the most sense. This year, I’m restructuring the to-do lists to prioritize by imperatives — what has to be done immediately vs. what can wait if I run out of time. (Yes, I’m triaging my life.) Sounds complicated maybe, but it seems to be working. It means I can go to bed at night (and not at 2 a.m.) without thinking about what I missed that day. It helps me slow my brain down when it’s time to relax.

I don’t know that I’ll ever truly have work-life balance (and, to be honest, I’m not sure anyone ever really achieves it) but I’m trying. And hopefully that’s enough to help this mama let it go every now and then in 2014.

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