Work-life balance – when does it topple over?

By Annette Perrin

Recently, I was in a meeting at 7pm and got a text from my husband ‘WTF – where are the kids?’

Just to be clear, I hadn’t left them standing at a school gate waiting to be collected. I had picked them up hours earlier, we had been out for dinner, and they were now sitting in the corner of the meeting room eating the rest of their spag bol and watching Shopkins. The problem was that I was chairing a meeting while they were doing so and I had forgotten to tell my husband where I was and that I had the kids. However, it was certainly a moment to reflect on whether the work-life balance was really balancing or whether I had lost my mind!

Looking back on the circumstances I realise that I had just taken several days off work to spend uninterrupted time with my daughters so was feeling cocky about how good I was at parenting. I then felt I ‘earned’ the ability to bribe them into sitting quietly while I worked because it was all part of a grand bargaining situation whereby my kids were buying mum-time upfront only to pay for it later in TV watching. Was it perfect? No, certainly not as nothing is. Was it necessary? Well, yes in order to keep the flexibility of working some days in order to have others off.

Flexibility is the key and what I have realised over the years is that there is no such thing as work-life balance because the mere implication that there is balance implies a trade-off. And requiring that I trade-off time with my kids against work is abhorrent! I am still the same person, I’m just in different environments with a different focus. At work I am a mum who does a lot of cool stuff leading and helping others. At home I’m an Executive and Director who does lots of cool stuff playing Lego and jigsaw puzzles.

Work and life are not mutually exclusive concepts and shouldn’t be treated as such. Do we say we live a sleep-awake balance? Or a family-friend balance? Or do we just accept that sleep co-exists with being awake and that family and friends provide different, albeit equally fulfilling, roles? So why can’t work and life be the same – different but equal?

I have found that in running my own business I needed to accept some late nights were caused by sick children and others by looming work deadlines. Neither were ideal but both equally important at different times. And that’s ok! So instead of self flagellation, I opted for acceptance that I am a person with different interests, skills and passions that all need to be fitted into a finite resource called time. Instead of allocating my 168 hours per week into x% for work and y% for life I would allocate 100% for life. It just happened that some of which happened to be enjoying family time and some of which happened to be enjoying working and helping others. I don’t need to judge myself or my choices, nor do I judge others. I make choices that I’m happy with. And that’s why work-life balance will always topple over into 100% life!

 

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