For a parent who works outside, and even inside, the home, the promise of work-life balance is magical. I mean, of course I want to have a perfect parity between my career, my family, and my social life. Of course I don't want to feel like I'm ripping at the seams every minute of every day. Of course I want harmony. Who wouldn't? It turns out, though, that the whole work-life balance thing a myth; a fantasy conjured up by someone who enjoys lying, apparently. Because when I was expecting to experience some kind of "balance" in my life as a working mom, I was laid-off shortly after I had my first child. And while it was a very difficult time for my family, I was fortunate enough to not have to juggle my career and take care of an infant. Eventually, however, I did find work, and my life became increasingly difficult to manage.
My position ended right as I was midway through my pregnancy with my second child. My contract was up in January and I was due in April, so I decided to hold off on applying for positions until after I had my son. Unfortunately, and fortunately, I couldn't find a position until my son was close to 14-months-old. At that point I was a mother of two and working full-time outside of the house. My commute, each way, was about one hour and 45 minutes, so I spent almost four hours of my daily life commuting. The company I worked for promised flexibility and a "great work-life" balance. In fact, they prided themselves on providing what has now become a "buzz word." But, very quickly, I found out that their flexibility wasn't all that flexible, and when I asked to work from home a few times I was accused of taking advantage of the company's "understanding." Humorously enough, some male employees had scheduled work-from-home days every week. I guess they weren't taking advantage, though.
In any case, work-life balance never really felt like a balance to me. Instead, it felt like a constant compromise that always left me feeling guilty. I was always giving up something: my time, my happiness, my sanity. So, unless you work for a super awesome company that let's you work from home whenever you wish, without giving you a side-eye every time you do, work-life balance is nothing more than a myth, and for the following reasons:
Many people believe balance means being able to do multiple things at once without losing your mind. Balance, however and in its true form, means "two different elements are equal or in the correct proportions."
So here's the thing: if a person must get eight hours of sleep to be a normal functioning human, and that same person works from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at a job outside the home, with an hour commute each way, the total time spent away from home is 10 hours. So this person has approximately six hours of non-working, non-sleeping life. There's already an imbalance of time, you guys. Then you have to consider everything else: one hour to get ready for work (and get the kids ready for school), one hour cooking, one hour cleaning, one hour putting the kids to sleep. You're down to two hours of family time.
So if you can find a "balance" with that kind of schedule, please share your secrets with me.
Now that we've established the undeniable fact that "balance" isn't really the correct word for what working mothers are attempting to accomplish, allow me to suggest the word "juggle" as a suitable alternative.
Personally, I was never any good at juggling; was never coordinated enough to make it work. In real life, however, I've have so much practice juggling kids and work and activities and friends, that if I had a dollar for every time I heard "I just don't know how you get it done" I could pay for my children's future college tuition. But I'm not trying to be a martyr here. I don't know how I get it done, either. But if I were to guess, it's probably at the cost of something important.
Currently, I have a full-time teaching job and a part-time writing job. It's a tough juggle, but I love both of my jobs and they make me happy, so I'm not giving either one up. My children and husband also make me happy, so they get to stay, too. My family and friends make me happy, so they aren't going anywhere either.
But, I can't do it all so something's got to give. And currently, that something is my health. Before I became a working mom of two I used to absolutely make time for the gym and weekly meal prep. Now, I'm lucky if I get 30 minutes per week to go some type of exercise, and meal prepping is a thing of the past. So, I've gained weight and I feel sluggish, but I honestly don't even know how to fit a trip to the gym into my weekly schedule.
Work and life will always overlap. I make all of my appointments during work hours, because when else can I? I stay after work to do more work, thereby cutting into my "life" hours. Work emails don't stop at 5:00 p.m. and the babysitter doesn't always show up at 7:00 a.m. every morning. And kids get sick and work gets busy. There are always conflicts and complications and, as a result, stress.
The guilt is strong when you're juggling work and life. As I mentioned earlier, something is always getting left out. For me, I have to say "no" a lot. I say no to adult dinners with my friends. I say no to activities for my kids. I say no to birthday parties, events, and school functions. I say no to happy hours and to going to the movies with my friends. I've even said no to a girl's night out once, you guys.
But, the guilt really eats me up, because I don't want to say no all of the time. When my daughter says something like, "But, all of the parents are coming to the Halloween parade, mama," I want to curl up into a ball of shame and guilt and just cry. I don't know what "all" of these other parents are doing with their lives, but this parent does not have days off for Halloween parades.
Seriously, work-life balance is the "new" buzz word employers like to use in order to lure in unsuspecting and trusting employees. It doesn't exist, you guys, no matter how "flexible" your employer is.
I'm aware all companies are different, but apparently Americans are still taking way less vacation time compared to the rest of the civilized world. Numerous reasons are citied for this really unfortunate "norm." I live in Pennsylvania, which is an "at-will" state. That means my employer can terminate me whenever and for whatever reason, without notice. Such provisions are terrifying to people, especially parents with families to support. So, we take less days off because we realize that taking vacation isn't encouraged and, in the end, we want to protect our jobs and our steady income.
In my world, and I do realize everyone's worlds are different, I get home at 4:00 p.m. and I work until about 6:30 p.m., at which point dinner is on the table and I must force myself to stop. I often start working again after the kids are in bed, around 9:00 p.m., and until I fall asleep. My husband's schedule is eerily similar, just shifted in hours. We want to leave the office at a decent time, but at the expense of working from home in the evenings and weekends. Where's that balance, again?
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