The three words work, life and balance have formed some sort of relationship and become a popular catch-phrase known as work/life balance. What does it mean? Is it possible to achieve? And how does it work for us creative types who can’t always schedule our creative moments? How about work-at-home parents or anybody juggling business and children?
My husband and I have had several conversations around this, as I alluded to in my interview of him a few weeks ago. Some of the conversations are calm, some are heated but they all, eventually, end with “Ok, we’ll figure it out.” Sometimes we go a good stretch without needing to “figure it out” and sometimes the topic pops up repeatedly over a short time, like crickets with their little butts on fire. As someone who has always worked full-time outside the home, Nadir has become very good at turning off the work switch when he’s at home and he, how should I say this…, encourages me to do the same when he finds me at the computer or on my phone during what are his after-work hours. For me the switch is not so clear as I have no shift in physical environment between my work and my home life.
Like every work-at-home mom, I am constantly moving and flowing with the goings-on at home and the kids while injecting quality work time in to my day. Laundry, dishes, cooking, playing, feeding, cleaning, teaching, driving share the day with reading, writing, networking, developing, planning, and bugging tech-savvy friends for help. The line between these two sides of my day often gets blurred – while cooking I may be inspired to take pictures and plan to blog about the experience. While driving to pick up my daughter from preschool I may be struck by an idea for a future workshop. My son has become a very keen backseat listener and answers “What, Mommy?” on cue when I ask “OH my goodness, you know what would be AWESOME for the next workshop?!” (Inevitably I will not hit a red light at which I can jot the idea down.) Often I need to wipe a butt or change a diaper while on the phone with my web designer or the executive director of a non-profit I am writing a grant application for. I have brought my kids over to my working world occasionally by asking them to join me in my studio while I work. My daughter sets herself up on the crafts table while I am at my writing desk and my son will spend a very joyful time bringing in his toys, one by one, from the living room and dropping them on the rug. Or I will move my laptop to the dining table so I can be close by when they end up fighting over a particular building block, of which we now have a collection of 500. They seem to always “need” the very same block.
There are many moments in the day when this line is not blurred. For example, right now. For two hours every morning while my daughter is at preschool and my son sleeps I am just working. I don’t do anything household related. And for a big chunk of the afternoon I am just focused on my kids. I don’t do anything related to Let ME Out or the nonprofit work that I do. And then there’s the times I mentioned above, the blurring of these two parts, that accounts for a small part of my day.
It sounds so easy and perfect and simple. It is not. There are days when I am scheming of ways to get in just a little more work time, battling with the guilt of neglecting the children. I may fake having to go to the bathroom to return an email on my phone to the background of my son knocking on the door asking “Moooom, what you doooooing?” Or while the kids are engaged in the living room I may tiptoe to the studio and work feverishly for 15 minutes until someone notices I’m gone. Those are not so bad days. Once in awhile I will have a day or a stretch of days when I am thinking “I totally need to work outside the home, even part-time, just so I can work without interruptions.” But that’s not what I really want because I love being at home, I’m lucky I can work in my sweats, and I would miss my children terribly if I had to be away from them all day.
Work/life balance. For some people, the search for balance means trying to add more “life” into their day and for others, the search for balance means trying to add more “work”.
Like reality itself, this idea of balance constantly shifts. It is possible to feel completely balanced and do only one thing all day, like cuddle with your kids and play with them. In fact, today feels like a day I want to do just that. There is no right or wrong, and you can’t gauge your balance by your to-do list or by the way your day is divided. It’s more an internal sense that is a very beneficial sense to develop and understand.
Which way does YOUR scale tip? What do you do to balance it out? How do you know when you’re not quite balanced?