The Holy Grail of Work/Life Balance

Laura Bentley

That Balanced Life Coach

As working mothers we are in constant juggle mode. The endless to do list, the play dates, the school raffle, the housework, the life admin and then chuck in your actual job and it feels well… overwhelming. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done, so how are you supposed to create any sense of balance?

We are told that we should be focusing on ‘self care’ in order to achieve this balance. But what does that term really mean? And how do we achieve it without the often all consuming feelings of guilt that emerge when we try to put our needs before others?

back to work after childcare

Mum guilt. It underpins a lot of why striking a healthy and sustainable balance is so difficult. I work almost exclusively with mums, and the most common shared experience I hear is that feeling guilty is ‘just part of motherhood’. As a coach, my job is to challenge that belief and help you explore what it might feel like not to have that ingrained thought and how freeing that could be. With freedom comes the ability to make choices without questioning if you ‘should’, leading to doing things you actually want to do and to a sense of balance.

But, ‘balance’ is another concept that gets overused. For me, a work/life balance doesn’t mean having things in perfect equilibrium. It’s not possible to maintain such tight control over everything that there’s no room for sway and wobble. Being too controlling is often a protection mechanism for many mums and if we let go of our tight grasp over the ‘way things are done’ who knows what might happen?! We are searching for balance, but actually the idea of letting go of some of the stuff that would give us balance is terrifying. And, on the other hand, when we don’t let go of control we become overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious.

rocks balancing by the sea

So what to do? How can we strike a balance without spiralling into feeling out of control or overwhelmed?

3 tips for creating balance

Ask for help

Many working mums feel a responsibility to have it all under control. To do it all and be strong enough to ‘cope’. We don’t want to burden others with our problems and so keep piling on the mental and physical workload. We have less rest than we need, we say yes when we want to say no because we feel obliged or duty bound and so the cycle of being overwhelmed and out of balance continues. We feel guilty for needing help. All of this only serves to perpetuate the notion that we can ‘do it all’. We can’t. We are allowed to ask for help, to lessen the load and to lighten the expectation we place on ourselves. Asking for help is a strength and shows that you can prioritise your own needs. When you do this, you’ll begin to feel lighter and more balanced. Ask for help from friends and family but also seek professional help where you can. Coaching, counselling and therapy all offer different ways to help, so find what suits your needs now and get talking.

Rubber balls vs glass balls

As we know, we have a lot going on juggling work and home life. The plates are spinning, the to do list is endless and there simply isn’t enough time. We can’t create more time so what can we do to manage everything in a way that feels less hectic? By identifying which balls are rubber and therefore can be dropped (see ‘lighten the load’ above) and which balls are glass; less ideal for dropping. When you recognise your priorities in this way it can help create balance because suddenly not everything is as urgent or important as it seemed. It’s also important to remember that your perception of what constitutes a glass ball may be different to other people’s, so communicating why something is so important to you (with your partner, family members or friends) helps with sharing the load.

Take time to understand yourself

When we know what we want and what makes us feel calmer, lighter and motivated, it becomes easier to make those things a priority. This is just as important a form of self care as yoga and long baths. Knowing what you want from all areas of your life brings a sense of balance. It also allows you to say no more confidently, because you are acting from a place of grounded self knowledge about what is best for you and your family. The best way to understand yourself is through reflection – using the noticing techniques above to help you note down what makes you smile and what makes you snarl! You can also use tools such as ikigai – the Japanese concept of the meaning of life, or the wheel of life to help you identify what makes you tick. Do get in touch if you think those would be useful exercises to have a go at.

So is it possible to have a good work/balance? The answer is yes…but probably not always! But by being self-compassionate, easing the foot off the mum guilt pedal, recognising your priorities and asking for help, you will start to feel the balance more often than not and, most importantly, address things more quickly when the balance starts to tip.

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