Working mums often speak of juggling. Work, kids, house, bills, cooking, cleaning… and the poor neglected partner barely manages to sneak in as one of those balls. I personally dislike this metaphor. I mean, I don’t want to be a clown. My life shouldn’t feel like a crazy circus!
So I started looking at how other cultures see work and family, and came across an interesting article on the difference between work-family conflict in the USA and China. Western cultures are described as “individualistic” with an emphasis on the individual rather than the collective (the extended family). Work is seen as serving one’s own personal ambitions, and therefore in conflict with the family. In addition, Western cultures value family time more highly than in Eastern (collectivist) cultures. Whereas, in Eastern cultures, the collective (extended family) is the most important, and work is seen as valuable self-sacrifice for the family’s overall gain (“honor and prosperity” being the underlying goals for family success). Work is not for one’s personal gain, and is seen as part of the whole picture – family and work are complementary parts of the overall goal. Hence, Eastern cultures report less “family demand” than Western cultures – that is, less conflict resulting from family intruding on work.
Which got me to thinking – what if all the balls aren’t actually separate, but, taking the Eastern view, are all part of one big ball? Would it feel less like juggling, and more like…a relaxing stretch?!
Obviously this would require a paradigm shift on a few levels. Firstly, that work is not seen so much as for one’s personal gain and selfish ambition, but to benefit the family as a whole…and there are many reasons why this might be. In fact, a recent study re-confirmed what research has been saying for a long time, that feeling happy and fulfilled at work, particularly in an organisation that has a “family friendly” approach, results in greater family satisfaction, particularly in women. Instead of work-family conflict, there is “work-family enrichment”. And when women are happy at work, their partners are happier overall too. You know what they say, happy wife happy life!
Employees may also learn skills and different perspectives at work that improve their functioning at home. Plus there is the enormous benefit of feeling like their lives are meaningful and serve a purpose, not to mention increased income and in the future, greater ability to support kids educations and opportunities. Go to work, feel happy, come home, make everyone else feel happy, put food on table, help the kids in the future. Winning!
Secondly, I think for me there needs to be a reorganisation of how I see myself as a person. I have occasionally felt fragmented, as though I have a “split personality”, running from being buried deep in statistics and reading papers or seeing patients, to daycare pickup and having kids jump all over me, home to a manic rush-hour. Here, I refer to the French again as an inspiration. French women see themselves as having three pivotal roles: as a working woman, wife and mother. All of these roles are part of the woman’s psyche and sense of identity. None of them overwhelm other roles (in particular, they don’t neglect their roles as wives and partners). So I need to begin to see myself as all these roles in one, and not running from one to the other. All these roles are complementary, not conflicting. One improves the other and vice versa. Additionally, I believe my children need to see me as someone who not only cares for them, but who plays a role outside the family in giving service to others. My work, as do my family, make my life meaningful.
Once again, it all comes down to expectations, attitudes and the Working Mummy Mindset. (Like in everything else, our happiness relies a great deal on how we choose to see our world). And a new, collective view of myself, as a cohesive part of the family unit, rather than centred on myself and seeing the other parts of my life in direct conflict. Because if everything I choose to do from now on is to benefit the family, and if I consider myself as an equal part of the family with my own needs, then I foresee that meeting my needs should be just as important as meeting the needs of other members of the family. That way I hope to avoid the paradox that working parents face in the West, where work is seen as personal ambition, family time outside of work is highly prized and seen as in direct conflict, and therefore parents end up feeling guilty both at work and at home.
I’ve just discovered that the approach I’ve arrived at above seems to be similar to the fourth habit from Stephen Covey’s classic “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The fourth habit is to “Think Win-Win” and is “a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.” I’ve just finished reading Stephen Covey’s “How to write a Personal Mission Statement” which I would highly recommend to anybody who needs direction in their life (don’t we all?) I can’t think of anyone who needs to be more effective than a working mummy, so I’m looking forward to reading the 7 Habits as soon as possible.
Writing this post has been enormously helpful to me. I dropped my beautiful babies off at daycare this morning after a ten day “holiday” and tears ensued. I left with the usual heavy dose of mother guilt, but as I drove to work I thought about my purpose in life, which includes my family and my work. These parts of my identity are inseparable so it is, in a way, inconceivable that I drop what I do for a living, as much as ceasing to be a mother is inconceivable.