Healthy Work Life Balance
When it comes to work life balance, we often think of flexible shifts, supportive office environments for expecting mothers, and a private place to pump breastmilk for new ones. For many women, the idea of a job that endorses even one of the aforementioned conditions may sound like a fantasy. The reality is that no employment situation is perfect and so many factors outside of the workplace also contribute to healthy and sustainable work life equilibrium.
By the time our son was four months old, my husband and I were each working forty plus hours away from home. Luckily, we were able to carry out alternating work schedules but for financial and personal reasons, we chose not to outsource childcare. However, while we both enjoyed this opportunity to be at home with our infant, we essentially had to adapt to a new pattern centered around caring for a young child while still being diligent employees at our workplaces.
This work life balancing act required that we were well-rested and industrious and also emotionally and physically healthy but let’s be honest, our parent relay of what I, in fun, call “The Baby Toss & Turn” didn’t really allow for diligent fitness regimens and relaxing slow cooked meals. It was more of a daily, hour by hour, detailed program of scheduled naps, constructive play, feedings, and keeping up with house chores. Additionally, tracking milk supply throughout the day and organizing meal prep for the adults was essential to keeping ourselves on course.
Working from home, traveling for work, and being home full-time require creativity and compromise as healthy parenting remains a function of stable work life balance. Some variables change with high points and low ones in between but what’s important is that even when energy is diminished our outlook as parents remains bright.
I leave you with an article on work life balance and motherhood from Cindy T. Graham, PhD. Dr. Graham is a licensed clinical psychologist and a parent to two young children. After studying psychology at Princeton University, she earned her masters and doctorate from Louisiana State University and completed her training at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dr. Graham is a published scholar in the Journal of Child Neurology and Research in Developmental Disabilities. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and find her helpful tips on her blog, The Mental Health Perspective in Everyday Life at www.cindytgrahamphd.com.
THE PATH TO GAINING WORK/LIFE BALANCE
It might have been seventh grade when I was standing in the kitchen with my mom and we were talking about the future, motherhood, career, etc. At that age I knew I wanted to become a psychologist and have my own private practice. I also knew that I wanted to have four kids. Yes, you read that correctly—4 children. All of a sudden I became quite worried about making all of this work…being a mother, wife, and business owner. I very frantically said to my mom, “Kids, cooking, cleaning, private practice!! How will I make it all work?” My mom, very calmly replied, “Cindy, you will have a husband to help you.”
Fast forward about 25 years. While I am married with kids, my original hopes of having four children has been downsized to two, and while I do not own my own business, I do work full-time at a wonderful private practice. Furthermore, I have chosen to become an advocate for mental health awareness through social media. I am far more busy than I had imagined I would be. And while I have not achieved a perfect balance of home life and work, there are several changes I had to make to head down that path. (I’m probably doing better at it than I am giving myself credit for, but that’s a post for a different day.) Here is what I have learned since becoming a mom on how to achieve greater balance between my work and home lives.
Don’t try to do it all. Trust me, this is a bad idea. It is darn near impossible to accomplish. At least I have not figured out how to do it all. So if you are looking for tips on trying to do it all completely on your own you may want to check out a different post. Besides, the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child” exists for a reason. No matter how much you may feel like you should be able to get it all done know you don’t need to put that kind of pressure on yourself. My husband, my kids, and I live about 4 hours away from our closest family member so we have to lean on our village as necessary. Humans are social beings for a reason and it is healthy to call upon others when you need help. My husband does help with chores around the house and with caring for the kids. For example, we have our own days for drop off and pick-ups of the boys. For the days of the week one of us drops the kids off, the other picks up (and the one who did the dropping off works late that day). Also, we have used daycares and preschools that offer before and after-care services to accommodate our work schedules.
Automate what you can with delivery and pick-up services. This has probably been the biggest game changer for me. Many of the regular household supplies we need I have delivered to our house. Some by subscriptions (through vendors such as Amazon and Target) where I pick the frequency I want certain items delivered. This was a HUGE time saver when my boys were younger…diapers and wipes came automatically each month. I have everything from hair care supplies to bath wash to air purifier filters coming at regular intervals via online subscriptions. I don’t have to think about purchasing these items. Then there are pick-up and delivery services. It is great to be able to order what I need online and pick them up at the store (usually groceries—except produce, I like to pick out my own produce). This saves tons of time!! If I happen to forget something important I need, rather than running out to the store, I use any of a number of online delivery services which will bring me what I need for a nominal fee as long as I meet the minimum purchase requirement (examples include Amazon Prime Now and Instacart). This allows me to get various chores done around the house. And automatic bill paying is a necessity. I am somewhat of a control freak so this was difficult to let go of. I still check to make sure that correct amounts come out, but it does not take nearly as much time as setting up each payment used to take.
Have a plan but be flexible. What I mean is to know how you are going to tackle everything you have on your plate. Working as a psychologist in private practice allows me to set my own hours so I am able to squeeze my work week into 3.5 days. It makes for some long days at the office, but for me it is worth it to have a day and a half each work week to accomplish other responsibilities—things like doctor appointments, post office runs, and other incidentals that need to get done during regular business hours. Fridays and Saturdays are days for cleaning. Sundays are for laundry. And also for cooking meals in advance. I make 2-3 dishes in a large enough amount to feed our family for 2-3 meals. If I am feeling particularly frisky, I will make that much plus an additional meal to store in the freezer—perfect for when you need a quick meal one night and have nothing prepared but don’t feel like getting take out or fast food. I defrost, reheat, and serve. This means I plan my meals for the following week by Saturday afternoon so that the shopping can be done in advance. If you are not into spending a large chunk of your weekend cooking meals, then plan to prepare quick meals each weekday. Or prep on the weekend by cleaning, chopping, seasoning, etc. and then cooking the day it will be eaten. Most importantly, even the best laid plans can go awry. So BE FLEXIBLE. (This is coming from a lady who LOVES her routines.) Often, getting stuck in our regular routine can make it difficult to adjust our path when something gets messed up. You may have to change your routine for a day or two, or you may have to change your routine for an extended time. Know that you can handle it. Know that you will adjust. Know that whatever comes you can figure out a way around it.
These are a few of things I have learned to get my life on a path of balance. I’m fortunate to have a career that allows me to adjust my work schedule in a way that fits with my life. It is not what I envisioned for myself when I was younger, but it works for my family and me. I recently reminded my mom of the conversation we had when I was a pre-teen about balancing life and work. “Mom.” I said, “You made it seem like it would all be easy.” To which my mom said, “I couldn’t tell you the truth. In that moment you needed hope.” My wish is that after reading this you, too, have the hope you need to know that although it may not be easy, balancing work and life is do-able.