Work-life balance is a popular topic of discussion in professional circles today, especially among working mothers. These days, many mothers continue to work while raising children and creating their own companies. According to a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, both husband and wife are employed in 59 percent of families of married couples with children.
But I can speak from experience: Achieving an equal balance between work and family life is next to impossible. Being present every day at both home and work is unachievable.
But instead of throwing in the towel and choosing one or the other, I use a lesson that I learned while helping a dear friend with her newborn. My friend asked me to rock her baby’s cradle while she took a phone call. That one moment crystalized for me my “rocking the cradle analogy."
Setting up support systems. The first step to “rocking the cradle” is to recognize that managing everything alone may not yield the best results for everyone, family members, business associates and you. You need to create a support system so you can rock one cradle as you attend to either family or work while your support system tends to the other in your absence. At the same time, you must accept that you may be upsetting family or colleagues with your decision at that particular moment.
One way to help lessen the guilt of missing a soccer game or needing to reschedule a business meeting while you care for a sick child is to be up front. I begin all my working relationships by letting my colleagues know that my family is extremely important to me. I assure them my work will always be done: It may be accomplished, however, during different hours then they are used to.
Being present at home. I set the same expectations when it comes to my home life. When I volunteer for a school event, I schedule specific times with other parents when I will be available to help. Setting expectations is key. If people know what to expect from you up front, they will be more understanding of your need to choose family over work or vice versa.
Achieving a so-called work-life balance also requires not judging yourself. Give yourself some slack and let go of the perception that there will be a perfect balance. Some days will be closer to balanced than others but many days will require your full attention on either work or family life and you will have to choose. Coping with the tension this causes is essential to being present and successful in both parts of your life.
Giving yourself space. One small thing that you as a parent can do to help deal with the stress at work is to audit your workspace. If it is cold and corporate, you need to bring in family photos, artwork, a favorite coffee mug; do whatever you can to make it feel homey and make you feel closer to your family. Then you need to commit to making your time at home just as important and productive as your time at the office.
I set a goal of spending one night a week with each of my three daughters and one with my husband doing something special. I also never check my email on Saturdays unless I have something previously scheduled that can only be dealt with on that day. Everyone should schedule an email-free day. Not only does this give you one day a week to completely devote yourself to your family, it also gives you time to recharge mentally.
Many CEOs and executives are beginning to meditate to help regain focus and mental clarity and avoid breakdowns. Finding a few minutes or an hour to do something like meditating is vitally important. I do hot yoga. It took me three years to try it, but what I have found is that the moves are so hard that you really cannot think about anything else for an hour or you will fall over. It is the perfect antedote for Type A personalities who have trouble letting go.
Overall, any parent trying to achieve that perfect work-life balance needs to stop. Discard your notions of what perfect should be and do what is works best for you at the time using the tools you have put in place to generate the best possible outcome.