The thoroughly modern mummy: why there is no such thing as work/life balance

The big fat myth

Work/life balance, how many times do you hear people reference this? I mean, the number of companies that advertise this as a perk of working for them – it’s crazy. It’s a big, fat, myth.

The only people who can even do a reasonable job of half pulling this off are those who have tons of help in the background, and then, well, are they really pulling it off anyway?

We beat ourselves up about not being able to find this magical balance – we can’t find it because there is NO magical balance! So stop looking!

One of the implications when we talk about this mythical work/life balance is that work is bad and can be balanced out by the good of life. Life isn’t like that though is it? Also, work can be amazing and fulfilling and exciting, as well as aspects of life.

mountain adventures

They don’t offset each other in the simplistic way we are lead to believe they do, they are not the opposite of each other. Work is part of life, just as relationships, family, recreation and anything else we do.

The burn out

So many modern women (in particular) are burning out just trying to achieve this ridiculous notion of ‘balance’ – here’s a snippet of the average day in a modern mummy’s life.

  • It’s non-uniform day at school, has everyone got their £1?
  • Who has a birthday this month – have I sent a gift/card/both
  • Did I put the recycling out?
  • Have I replied to those 50 million emails
  • Have we all had our 5 a day?
  • The dishwasher needs emptying…again and the sink is full…again
  • Did I arrange the travel insurance?
  • Must put those whites on a hot wash
  • At least two of the children need a hair cut
  • I must finish writing that article for work
  • Sit ups, must do sit ups – and pelvic floor exercises, lots of those!
  • Did I message my friend back?
  • What are we going to eat for dinner tonight? Tomorrow … and every day after that?
  • Did I book the dentist?
  • Must book in to give blood
  • Did everyone get enough Vitamin D this week?
  • Must give child A a big bag of tins to take into school for the food bank
  • Oh those poor birds look hungry – where’s the bird food?
  • Need to hoover the car – it’s grim
  • “Mum there’s a hole in my tights and the others are in the wash”
  • Must send those invoices
  • Must cut the children’s toe nails
  • Need to clean the car seats…again!
  • Need to meet those 8 work deadlines
  • Need to by extra advent calendars to give to that fantastic children’s charity
  • Did everyone get their 10, 000 steps today?
  • Did I complete that consent form for school?
  • Crap, must reply to those 15 party invitations the children have had, get the presents and cards
  • Have I paid that sponsorship money?
  • Work call – sorry, can I call you back? I just need to ….
  • Also need to sponsor friend whose doing that charity event
  • What do I need to read before the governors meeting?
  • Must update the calendar
  • Have I got the swimming kit? Crap…child A needed new goggles and I must remember the bag needs a new bottle of shampoo – wait, do we have any spare, no, must buy a new bottle
  • “Mum, I need clean PE kit…now”
  • “Can I have £2 for that thing today at school?”
  • When am I going to have time to exercise?
  • Must see if we can get a cheaper deal on our electric – oh and need to shop around for car insurance before it automatically renews
  • Shit, they have to take cakes for school tomorrow, I forgot to buy some so now I have to bake at 11 pm
  • I’ve still not shaved my legs, washed my hair or painted my toe nails!
  • What food do we need this week? When am I going to have time to A) go to the shop B) order the shop and put it away
  • Ironing needs doing, it resembles Everest
  • Now it’s ironed it needs putting away – how is the washing basket full already
  • Have I been for a wee yet today?
  • Need a cocktail night with the girls – we might all be free by 2022, what will I wear?
  • When did we last have a date night?
  • When did I last just lie in the bath?
  • Must send photos of the children in that play, match, contest, doing that funny thing to grandparents
  • Must read that report and highlight the key sections
  • Need to help child B with their lines for the school play
  • Wanted to do that squat challenge
  • I really should complain about that mouldy bunch of bananas…. I was sent and I need to return those trainers that were too small for child C
  • Reading books – we need to do reading books, every night, and word tins and sound books
  • “Mummy my feet hurt” – need to go and get new school shoes, trainers, wellies
parent and child holding hands
  • Must get up early tomorrow
  • Of course I can help you with that report, form, task
  • Must drop off those baby things at the charity shop
  • Who has homework? We need a box for that art project and a jar for the science project and “Mummy, you need to pay for my school trip”
  • Christmas – don’t talk about it. Order the cards, write the cards, write the addresses, buy the stamps, remember to post them, think about what to buy everyone, compare prices of everything, buy everyone’s gifts, wrap everyone’s gifts – breath, did I order the turkey?
  • Has everyone got water bottles filled for school?
  • Must try to get an early night
  • Yes, of course we can have another story, kiss, cuddle, yes, tell me your funny story from school – I love you to super space and back and I wouldn’t swap this crazy life for anything

Look for the blend

There’s no balance. It’s a myth – don’t look for a balance, you will end up disappointed, it’s much more about the blend. It’s not a case that work is the bad thing that has to be balanced by the rest. It’s much more about how we can blend all the key aspects of life (work, family, relationships, recreation and contribution). Sometimes one will be given more focus than the other, but as long as that’s not a permanent situation you are blending as well as you can at any given moment.

Trying to keep aspects of your life separate from others doesn’t work. The reality it that modern life is full of tough trade offs. We will always be met with competing priorities, compromises we need to make, and of course conflicting responsibilities. These aren’t going away, we can’t control that, but we can control how we respond to them.

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