Work life balance

We have come to the end of our series of Friday ‘Flexible working mums‘ posts.  To round the series off we thought it would be brilliant to hear from Elinor Wilde, the working mum coach.  She is a brilliant and down to earth lady with some fantastic ideas about how you can manage your commitments and get the most out of being both a Mum and a woman.  In this guest post, Elinor explores the ideas of ‘work life balance’ and juggling commitments; although not necessarily in the way you might expect…

Why I shudder at the words ‘work life balance’ and ‘juggling’ and so should you

Many of my clients use the words work life balance and when I hear them they fill me with dread.  I don’t get how you separate life from work; surely work is part of our life. Anyhow, when I hear it, I immediately conjure up the picture of a tight rope walker teetering on a rope, desperately trying to balance work on the one hand and life on the other.  Striving for work life balance seems such a precarious thing to aim for and so fleeting. Even when the tight rope walker is in control, it doesn’t take much for a wobble and the balance is gone.  That aside, I am pretty scared of heights so this is not a comfortable image to be filling my head.

The other popular term clients use is juggling.  Why is the life of a working mother reduced to circus metaphors?  Juggling again is an interesting goal to aim for.  It implies that you are looking up trying to keep all the balls in the air and the risk is that at some point you are going to lose focus and drop one.  It involves a huge amount of concentration, breath holding and is really difficult to sustain. Not a comfortable intention to set yourself.

I believe the sooner we stop using words like work life balance and juggling the better  – I’m serious. By striving to achieve them we are unwittingly setting ourselves up for failure. When we accept that these are idealistic unattainable concepts the sooner we can start to enjoy the present instead of feeling guilty and worrying about the future.

So how do we do this?  Basically it all boils down to living the life you want as much as possible and protecting the boundaries to make this happen– simples! Here’s how to get strated:

Decide on your intention as a mother:

What do you want your family life to be like? How do you want to spend your time?  Find this kind of thing hard to articulate? Sometimes it’s easier to start by writing down in detail what you don’t want then flip it to what you do.

Find you time leaks and plug them

Now that you know what you want to spend your time on you have to take a good hard look at how you are using your time.  Keep a timelog for a few days and see where the time goes.  If you are rolling your eyes and saying that you don’t have time to keep a time log then you definitely have to do this! Identify where you are spending too much time doing stuff you don’t want to do and where your time leaks are.

Say no to stuff that doesn’t fit

So you want to spend more time doing more of the stuff you want to do with the people you love but you find it hard to say no. Your family is the most important thing so use this as a reason to turn down things. This takes practice but it can be so liberating to decline gracefully if activities don’t fit with what you want. If you find yourself quaking at the very thought of saying no then stop and consider, what is that all about? It’s useful to think behind the discomfort about saying no.  Are you scared of people rejecting you if you say no? Are you living up to some ideal of what you think you should be doing? Where does that unrealistic image come from and how does this help you? This is a juicy topic with lots to consider so dig deep and have good look at what is going on. I love exploring this with clients – this is where the real shifts happen.

Look after you

I’m a broken record with my clients on this one probably because it’s the one I find hardest to prioritise.  I found this easier when I was employed. The freedom of being self-employed is great but it can mean a less structured day where things slip. There are two big reasons for looking after you -you are the powerhouse of your family and need to be healthy, happy and well rested to do the job properly.  Secondly, you want your children to grow up prioritising self-care and respecting the needs of others so you have to show them how not just talk about it. Decide on the things that feed your soul and keep you healthy then book them in your calendar.  You are so much more likely to do things if you have protected the time and scheduled it, whether it is going to zumba or reading the newspaper.

Our self talk and the language we use when we describe our lives can have a powerful impact.  The language we use when we talk to our children and also when we talk about them is fascinating but that is a whole other topic.

If you find yourself dwelling on achieving goals like work life balance and juggling, be aware.  When someone asks how you cope with it all – notice what you say. Find a phrase that works for you that makes you feel good about how you live not guilty or a failure. I usually smile and say something like ‘Just happily ticking along fitting in as much as I can’.  What do you say that makes you feel good?

Elinor Wilde is a psychologist, coach, writer and mum and is the founder of  Elinor will help you take life by the horns, make small changes to get more time to do more of the things you want to do and be the mum you want to be. It’s all about doing a little to make a BIG difference. Sign up to get a free copy of ‘Working mums – how to ditch the guilt demon’, and join her on facebook  and twitter.



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  • Well said…. It might seem pedantic to some, but…. One piece of language I’m trying to reform is the use of the term “work/life balance.” If language shapes our reality even just a little bit, then “work/life balance” – although its meant to be have positive connotations – must be reinforcing some negative views of life for all of us. Work and life are not somehow distinct “realities” that we can balance. “Work” is surely not meant to be devoid of “life.” Equally, considered, engaged and relational work can surely be part of a highly connected, health-ful life (even potentially a very big part of it). I know the term is coined to try to get us to live in a more “balanced” way but I suspect it simply allows those who see “work” and “life” as mechanically disconnected realities, to continue with that problematic viewpoint – and to continue tinkering with work to make it a “bit more friendly” rather than reforming the notion of work and its part in a whole life..

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