Saturday, October 1, 2011

It’s about integration, not balance

I was never particularly co-ordinated, but I just know that if I tried to work on my ‘work / life balance’ I would fall off. ‘Balancing’ motherhood and work suggests two things to me. One, that there is a perfect alignment that is ultimately achievable if only we tried harder. Two, that working is one thing and life is another.

Both statements are ridiculous.

For me, the best way to make it work is to accept that both parts of my life are important to me. Work is important because it’s part of my livelihood and my demanding job means that it’s often more lively than I’d like. My job will never come first to me (sorry job – never) but realistically I have an obligation to give it my all and it’s really hard to manage sometimes. How can I give my job my all when at least 50% of my brain is permanently focused on my family? I found this particularly hard when I first became a ‘working mum’ almost seven years ago. Everyone seemed to want a piece of me and some days my head was screaming under the pressure of being asked to give my all to too many things. There was just not enough all to go around, especially when there was no way I was giving less than 100% to my family... you can see the problem I have with ‘balance’. Thinking back on my early attempts at working and mumming, I’m surprised I didn’t go postal.

Over time I learned that the more I blurred the lines between ‘home’ and ‘work’, the easier it became for me. Fast internet and my iPhone (and my employer!) have allowed me to do my work wherever I need to and the same is true for organising my home life. I just get the job done, whenever, wherever. These days I base my success at work on outcomes, rather than the hours I work or how far I’ve climbed on some made-up ladder. I don’t care about my job title anymore, I just want to have interesting conversations and have the flexibility to give my family the 100% of me that they deserve. This wasn’t just handed to me by my company, of course. I had to work out what I wanted, go and ask for it, trial it and prove that I could do what I said I would. I have never looked back. These days I work four days a week – three in the office and Fridays from home. I also arrive late on a Thursday as I do reading in my daughter’s classroom until 9.45am. My work supports me because they know that I will deliver to my job specifications without interruption, issue or problem. I work independently and I just get the job done.

There are important parametres, of course. Aside from a quick email here or there, I haven’t ever tried to mind my children while I’m on the job. I have childcare throughout my working week, even on Fridays when I work from home because I don’t think trying to do both jobs at the same time is fair on anyone. My advice to mums who do work from home and are stressed to the max is to question whether you really can be committed to two full-time jobs that require your attention at the same time. Look for loving childcare alternatives to help you make it work. Or ensure your work knows that you will be working from the hours of 7pm until 1am or whatever works for you. Otherwise, you're really not doing either your babies or your work a favour and it's not fair on anyone. Especially your little ones because if you're anything like me you really like the work you do and can get totally absorbed in it – such that a little voice saying "Mummy can I?" becomes like nails down a blackboard and it takes everything you've got not to snap bile at your little needy dearheart for interrupting your day... yikes, I am showing my true colours here, I know.

Which makes you realise why I believe in the maxim "you can have it all, just not all at the same time."

Maxabella Loves working and mumming and combining the two as artfully as possible. I love making stuff. I love that I'm really bad at baking and sewing but I do them anyway. I love moving things around at home and organising everything far more than is strictly necessary. I love writing and curiosity and adventures. I love sitting down. I used to love sleeping , but the Tsunamis (my three children) cured me of that.


Kelly Exeter said...

As always you have nailed it bron! The next time someone asks why my son is at daycare even though I am working from home, I will be able to reply "because I am not silly enough to try and combine doing two full time jobs at once!" thank you!

MultipleMum said...

You are the master of work-life integration Maxabella! Hats off to you and your smooth operation of family and work x

PinkPatentMaryJanes said...

Oh yeah, I hear you. Trying to balance meant I often fell over... integration's a far better option.

Anonymous said...

Great post Bron, yes integration a much better word than balance :)

Jacki said...

Great post! It's so refreshing when Mums are honest about how tricky it can be to balance both!

Brenda @ Mira Narnie said...

spot on honey! great post...i think it's all about team work too...the partnership has to understand the other persons own personal aspirations too...xx

MummyK said...

Crap just been going through this now. Great timing. Sigh. Hard work balancing both worlds.

PlanningQueen said...

Maxabella you should check out Sarah Wilson's artivle on Tilting

It has really made me think about what I try to achieve:

"These happy women, he said, realised that balance was impossible (and therefore stressful) to achieve, but also rather boring. Instead, they “tilted” towards activities and commitments they liked and found meaningful. Scanning the “sad female lawyer” study I found the happier blokes did the same. They were more likely to take breaks at work for personal activities, which I took to mean play golf and eat lunch away from the office, and for simply relaxing. Which I read to mean, not for balancing out an excel sheet of life order."

ally said...

I couldn't integrate - work kept infiltrating and I left it behind to concentrate on the mothering. Poorer but happier. Still judged however - for wasting my education!! There are no winners in this game.
You seem to have it mostly under control - well done!

Kymmie said...

I love the way you change the wording, therefore changing the thinking. After an article you wrote about juggling, I've now put the balls down.

It's helped immensely!

Thanks for featuring here too!


Kylie said...

When employers leave it to women to prove they can do the job well under flexible circumstances everyone benefits! If only more employers would have the confidence to do this... and maybe some more men might consider the notion of finding a better balance.

Great post. Thank you for your example!

Faith said...

SO love this post!! I wrote a bit about balance the other day in a guest post on My Tiny Big Life and I agree - it's NOT about everything being in perfect alignment. Love this perspective!!