What I Think About Work-Family “Balance”
“I wanted to ask you how you manage to balance it so beautifully” she asked shyly. “Work, family…”
I felt like a fraud when the young PhD student said this to me. (Yes, I suffer from Impostor Syndrome at home too.) I don’t feel like I am balancing anything. Let alone beautifully.
It’s the end of a very long year and school is not out yet. I’m barely hanging on by a thread in these final weeks of the year. I am just so tired of the struggle.
I struggle every day with my career. There is a real desperation, the way a starving person looks at food he simply cannot afford. The loneliness of being a postdoc, the crushing rejections that seem to happen on a weekly basis, have worn me down. I feel like I am trying to claw my way out of a deep well, with those at the top quite non-plussed at my inability to get out to where they are.
I struggle at home too – the daily battle to get socks and shoes on (their feet, not mine), to get food into little tummies, to get small people in and out of the bath and into bed. The PhD student doesn’t see me snap at my children. She doesn’t see how I spend too much time on Facebook at night because I am too tired to do anything else. She hasn’t seen me cry all the way through a chapter on “Mistakes” in my “Mindful discipline” audiobook (a brilliant book, by the way) – tears streaming down my cheeks all the way on my commute home, thinking of the countless ways I have failed my children.
So, balance? I’m not that good at it. Work and life consume me and I am wrung out at this time of the year, with almost nothing left to give.
And yet, I can see that she sees something different. Perhaps she sees a part of me I am blind to. Perhaps I see the same thing in my role models – the hugely successful academic women who have raised children and do this well. Perhaps they, too, feel like balance is a load of bollocks. (Excuse the language).
Perhaps what she sees is someone who wakes up every day and shows up, who fights for the things she loves, who is determined to make it work despite it all. She sees the part of me that is organised, resilient, resourceful, and able to laugh at myself. She sees, somehow, that I seek ways to keep myself going during the week – a beachside run, some meditation practice, blogging on my smartphone in the car before picking my son up from daycare. She sees the gratitude that drives me, literally in my darkest moments – the way I linger in bed breathing in my sleeping children during those cold mornings when I face a pre-dawn commute. And she must see the times I am in flow at work, and when I say a silent prayer for being paid to do something that I love. Perhaps this is the true balancing act. The fierce determination to create a meaningful life, even if it’s no walk in the park; the ability to see the Yin and Yang of our full catastrophe.
Perhaps balance is all about resilience, the “bouncing back”. It’s about digging deep, but also knowing how to fill the cup again after it has run empty.
I am looking forward to bouncing back after the Christmas holidays. I have not had a proper break for more than 12 months. I have had sneaky little breaks here and there but they have been much too short for any lasting rejuvenation. I have both career and mummy burnout. But the end of the year is almost within reach.
Most of all I am looking forward to a few weeks of not having to explain to my children that they have to put their shoes and socks on every morning and hurry up because Mummy is late.
Wishing all my loyal followers a safe, happy, relaxing end of year break. Merry Christmas if that is what you celebrate. And a very happy and healthy New Year. x