Work-life balance is the concept that a person feels comfortable with the amount and quality of time spent on their job versus their personal life.
Sarah Buckley Friedberg recently shed light on the elusiveness of this concept in a Facebook post that went viral. She outlined the contradictory set of demands placed upon working moms and the difficulty of living up to society’s standard of work-life balance.
As a working mom, I agree that it can be a challenge to find work-life balance. I love my job and normally enjoy going to work, but it can be really hard to leave my kids in the morning. And when I’m at work, I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not enjoying all the everyday moments with my kids, that I’m not with them when they’re not feeling well, or that I’m missing out on some class party or field trip I know my kid wanted me to attend.
At the same time, at home, working moms can feel stressed about the limited amount of time they have for household tasks. They may also face the issue of work encroaching on family time, whether through working extra hours, being distracted by work emails or calls, or feeling the stress of work weighing them down. Desire to excel and advance in their careers may keep them feeling frustrated about being able to spend less time at work than they’d like.
What does work-life balance look like?
Work-life balance looks different for each person. To figure out what your ideal work-life balance would be, ask yourself a few questions:
- What are your goals, both in terms of your career and your family?
- What are your priorities and values at work and at home, which guide your decisions?
- What do you feel you are missing at work and at home?
- What are the things that you are doing (or not doing) that are keeping you from reaching your goals at work and at home?
- What are the non-negotiable things you have to do at work and at home, and what are the things that you could let go if necessary?
- To what extent are you basing your decisions on what you think society is telling you to do instead of what is best for you and your unique family?
- How much control do you have over your home life and work life? What can you actually change?
- In what ways can your partner or spouse contribute more substantially to your work-life balance?
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How to Achieve Work-Life Balance
Once you have the answers to these questions, you should have a good sense of what work-life balance looks like to you. Consider the following ideas of ways you may shift either your work or your home life to achieve more of the balance you desire.
Flex your schedule
Working out a flexible work schedule with your employer can help you achieve greater work-life balance. Start by figuring out where your time at home is most impactful and adjust your schedule accordingly. For example, if you are stressed getting home during the rush of dinner and bedtime, perhaps you could start work earlier in the morning and arrive home in early afternoon. If your young child naps much of the afternoon away, maybe you could spend some quality time with them in the mornings and work later in the day.
Telecommute to save the travel time
It takes me roughly a half hour to get from the door of my house to the door of my office. This means that on days I telecommute and work from home, I gain an entire hour back of my day. It’s an hour I don’t have to pay for childcare or be away from my kids. If your employer allows you to telecommute on occasion, or even on a regular basis, that is a great way to reclaim some work-life balance. Not only do you gain more time at home, but you could also take a second to switch a load of laundry, or empty the dishwasher while on a conference call.
Reduce your work hours
Since shortly after my second child was born, I have worked 30 hours per week instead of 40 at my job. This is still considered full-time at my work, so I am eligible for full benefits. But I reclaimed ten hours per week at home (plus commute time), spending time with my kids, hanging out with my stay-at-home mom friends, and taking care of non-work responsibilities. It really helps me feel more balanced as a career woman and a mom. Of course, I did have to take a 25% pay cut in order to make this work, but it also saves a day of childcare costs, and I gain so much from those extra hours.
Find a flexible work-from-home job
Plenty of women leave their full-time jobs to stay at home with their kids. But many of these end up finding ways to earn money from home. Women generally choose to find these side gigs because they need or want to contribute to the family budget, or because they want to do something productive outside of parenting.
I recently surveyed several moms who had left the workforce to become stay-at-home moms. Among these moms, there were a host of entrepreneurs:
- Samantha, Jessica, and Ashlee run their own photography businesses.
- Direct sales businesses have provided income for Cathy (Park Lane Jewelry) and Rachel (LuLaRoe).
- Jessica provided childcare from her home.
- Lindsay teaches private music lessons.
- Laurel does contract curriculum development.
- Another mom and her husband brought in money through freelance writing and blogging for profit.
Figure out how much you’d like to make and what hours you have available to put in when it is convenient for you and your family. You may be surprised how much you can earn with a side hustle!
Set clear boundaries
Work-life balance can be thrown off when the lines start to blur between work life and home life. Make it a point to truly be wherever you are. When you are at work, throw your all into it. Lock your phone away, block yourself from online shopping sites on your computer – whatever you need to do to be as productive as possible. The more you’re able to get done at work, the less distracted you will be by unfinished work tasks at home, and the less stressed you will feel. Besides, if you’re going to be spending the time away from your kids, better make the time count.
If you have breaks, it may be helpful to go to work with a short, concrete list of home-related tasks you need to take care of while you have a moment to yourself. Schedule the appointment, fill out the school form, order the birthday cake – knock out a few things that will both take a small load off your shoulders and free up the time you have at home with your family.
Then, when you are at home, be at home. Turn off work email alerts. Refuse to answer the phone for work-related matters. Say no (if you safely can) to additional work tasks that may cut into your family time – or, for that matter, home-related tasks that may do the same.
Be strategic with your vacation time
Hopefully, you are earning vacation time at your work. Think about what the best use is for your vacation time. Would you and your family benefit most from a long vacation that is taken all at once? Alternatively, what about taking several long weekends throughout the year? Or, you could use your vacation time to make sure you are at all the school events, field trips, class parties, or volunteer opportunities that mean most to you and your kids.
Evaluate your childcare situation
The amount of time spent getting to and from daycare can really eat into your time with your children. To create a better work-life balance, find a more efficient childcare solution. Seek out a center that is on the way to or from work instead of having to go out of your way. Find an in-home childcare provider so that you do not need to walk as far from your car to the door or navigate hallways to get to your child’s classroom. If you can afford to, bring a nanny or sitter into your home so that you do not need to do drop-offs or pick-ups or pack a bag.
Meal plan and prep
How often do you get home from work only to have to think about what to make for dinner and then spend time actually doing it? You are likely tired from work and probably don’t want to have to work so mentally and physically hard on dinner. On top of that, the kids are hungry and cranky, so what little time you do get to spend with them is stressful.
Achieve better work-life balance by planning and prepping your meals ahead of time. Having a meal plan ready takes the guesswork out of what’s for dinner, and it helps you ensure you’ll have all the necessary ingredients on hand. Meal prepping can be done while kids are asleep, so you do not have to cut into your time with them. We are big fans of using crockpots and the Instant Pot to save cooking time, and we also like to build leftovers into our meal plans.
Implementing effective organizational processes can help you attain work-life balance by reducing stress and helping you feel more in control of your time. The less often you feel you are forgetting something or rushing, the better. Make sure you have a good:
- Calendar. Do you prefer to have a shared electronic calendar, such as Google calendar, or a giant calendar in your family command center (or both)? Keep an up-to-date calendar so that your family stays on the same page about important events, appointments, and deadlines.
- Morning and evening routine. What do you do in the mornings and evenings to set yourself up for the day? Maybe you pick your kids’ clothes out at night so everyone is not rushing around in the morning. (If you do, try this awesome organizer!) Maybe you set aside a planning retreat to make sure you have a full mental picture of the day or week ahead.
- To-do list. As things occur to you, dump them into a list. I often write things down on our family whiteboard when I am at home. Sometimes I dictate reminders into my phone as soon as something comes into my head, such as, “Remind me at 8 pm to order a birthday gift.” Here are some other ideas for staying organized as a mom.
Outsource some of your household tasks
If you’re finding that much of your home life is overtaken by household tasks, try outsourcing them to restore more balance. What are the tasks that take the longest or are the biggest thorn in your side? Rather than spend an hour at the grocery store, order your groceries online for curbside pickup or delivery. Hire someone to come to your home to clean your bathrooms every week or a local high school student to mow your lawn. Yes, it will cost a little bit of money to outsource, but the time and peace of mind you recover will likely be worth the price.
Be thoughtful about how you use your time with the kids
If you’re finding your time with your kids to feel too limited, take a careful look at how you’re spending that time. It’s easy to get caught up in the amount of time we spend with our kids, but the quality of time is crucial. A little bit of true quality time connecting with your kids can go a long way.
- If you have household projects and tasks to take care of, are you including your kids? If they are old enough, they can be a big help and also learn valuable life skills from you along the way.
- Take the time to connect with your kids in a real conversation or in play, even for just a few moments.
- Consider leaving your life a little less structured with activities. After all, if your entire weekend is taken up with baseball games or dance competitions, it will be hard to spend quality time together.
- Scheduling in a fun outing during the weekend can create fun memories. It doesn’t have to be huge or expensive – my kids have great fun at a park or just grabbing an ice cream cone.
- Consider finding some ways to capture the little moments that make up your time with the kids, reflecting on their joy and hearing from them what they have found most memorable.
Build a support network
If you have a tribe of supporters, both at work and at home, you may find yourself better able to balance work and life. I am fortunate to be part of a work environment where I feel valued as both a colleague and as a person, and my coworkers have my back if family issues affect my attendance at work. This kind of supportive culture helps me to feel as though it is acceptable for me to prioritize my work-life balance. I also enjoy going to work because I like spending time with my colleagues. If you have the luxury of being choosy, find a work environment where you have friends in your coworkers, people recognize your talents and accomplishments, and coworkers respect your time and priorities.
Likewise, at home, having friends and family around to lighten the burden can help you feel more balanced. In our culture, moms often feel as though we have to be able to do everything on our own, but I have found it so important to create a village for my kids. Find other moms who can form carpools, run over to watch your kids in a pinch, or lend extra hands or eyes at the park. And, of course, we all need other moms who we can set aside time with just to relax, chat, or have fun without the kids. Finding that time just to do something for yourself and recharge is an important component of work-life balance.
Finding Your Work-Life Balance
At the end of the day, work-life balance is something you need to define and evaluate based on your own standards. One person may feel as though she needs to scale back her career goals to allow for more time with her kids. Another may feel she needs to spend more time at work to advance her career but find ways to make her time at home more meaningful. And if you are in a marriage or co-parenting relationship, it’s important to remember the burden does not fall squarely on you. Perhaps your partner or spouse can make sacrifices in one way or another to help you, as a family unit, feel you are finding the work-life balance you seek.