There is this old episode of Roseanne in which after a long day at work, she comes home to the kids fighting loudly and needing attention, the house a mess and dinner not ready. Her husband looks up and offers “You want me to fix dinner?” She replies “But honey, you just made dinner three years ago”!
Having a family and work is not easy. Studies show that even when women work outside the home, they still have the bulk of the childcare and housekeeping responsibilities.
As a psychiatrist at TOH, a professor at the University of Ottawa School of Medicine, consultant, author, speaker, and mother of 3 sons, I have worked with many professionals and had my own experience in trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance. I had three children in a year – my oldest son was born in my last year of residency; I had the twins the following year as a fellow. These three young men, who are now 24, 24 and 25, continue to teach me a lot about work-life balance!
Here are some overall concepts about work-life balance:
- Can we really achieve Balance?
- Balance is an illusion.There is no such thing as perfect Work-Life balance! It is a dynamic concept. Just when you think you have it balanced, something happens to throw off the balance.
- Anticipate and embrace this. Just find a balance that works. When it stops working, look for another workable solution.
- How do we achieve a practical Balance?
- Balance is about making choices. Achieving balance would be easier for us if we were less capable. The average person has 3 things they like to do; it is possible to fit them all in. We have about 53 things we like to do!
- We cannot do them all, at least not all at the same time. We have to make choices about what we will do; this is not easy because it involves making choices about what we will not do, even things that we want to do, that we are good at, and others want us to do.
- How do we make these choices?
- Making choices is easier when we recognize that there are specific phases in our lives, and we are only making this choice for this phase we are currently in. It is not a forever decision.
- At another phase, we can reassess, make other choices, and take up something which we had previously put aside.
- Can you elaborate on The Five Ball analogy, please?
- We are constantly juggling the 5 balls: Work, Home/Family, Relationships, Friends, Self.
- Of all of these, the Work Ball is the rubber ball. If it falls, it bounces back. If you have to make a choice, choose to drop this one, in a responsible manner.
- The other balls are much more fragile – if dropped, they can dent, crack or shatter entirely.
5: Can you give us some tips on how to achieve a normal healthy balance?
Here are some specific tips:
- Fatigue is normal. It is exhausting; don’t try to do it all.
- Flexibility at work is the most important factor that helps at this time. See if you can have flexibility about your start/stop times, number of hours at work, working from home, compressed work week.
- Fathers want to be involved. Encourage them to take a more active role, be positive and appreciative.
- Fitness is critical. Make time to work out regularly – it is good for your physical and mental health. Can give you much needed time alone, or time with friends.
- Friends will help and support you through this time. Stay connected to them, laugh.
- Find good child care. You will miss the kids when you are at work; you do not want to worry about them. Leave them in good, capable, hands.
- Forget perfection. A wise older friend reminded me when my children were young that ‘out of your sanity, happy kids, and a clean house – you can only pick two’! Enjoy this phase of life.
- Forgive yourself – let go of the guilt!
Having a family is a special gift and an amazing time in your life.
Enjoy every minute of it.