What’s Better Than ‘Having it All’? Having What You Want of Course. Secrets to Striking a Work Life Balance.

What's Better Than Having it All? Having What You Want Of Course. Striking a Work Life Balance

I have a confession to make. There’s a question that strikes fear into me like it owns me. To be fair, it’s not so much the question, but the timing of the question. Tell me if you’ve been there: It’s a school morning at 8:05am (as in, ‘we should have left 10 minutes ago’ ) and the clue that it’s coming is the hurried thumping of bare feet on the timber stairs. Oh that sound. Maybe I loved it once, but now … I digress. Right. The question. The question is paired with the thumping – they belong together, and it’s this:

‘Mum … do I have any socks?’

Me:  ‘Yep. Sure. There’s some in the dryer. I’ll grab them.’ By that, I mean I’ll find the pair on the laundry floor that look the least grotty, throw them in the dryer for a quick spin – you know, to ‘freshen’ – and deliver them neatly folded to you looking so fresh you can practically smell the daisies. I may or may not have done this more than once.  

I struggle to keep a work life balance. How could I not – they’re both important and I want to give both my full effort. Of course, home will always win without question, as long as dirty socks and the odd several consecutive days of takeaway sushi dinners don’t fall them.

I struggle, but I don’t feel compromised and I don’t – ever – feel like I’m falling short of ‘having it all’. Uggh. Even as I type that phrase I hate it. I actually hate it. Like there isn’t enough pressure on women, and men, for that matter, to have it all figured out. Now, ‘having it all’ struts two steps ahead arguing hard that ‘all’ is better than enough. I’m not buying it. 

Here’s the thing. I could say I ‘have it all’, but the components of that ‘all’ take it in turns to be excellent. Some days I’m an amazing mum. And some days I’m rubbish at the job. Some days my home is the happiest place on earth, and then there are those days that it has the charm of a two week old temper. Sometimes I can give my career everything I’ve got. And sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my housework is completely up to dat… actually, no – my housework is never up to date. I’m not always the best wife or mother and I’m not always the best friend. I always try to be, but the truth is that some days I’m so far from it, I have to hope that my crew come back to find me – which they always do. They’re pretty awesome like that. 

So then, for me, ‘having it all’ is off the agenda. Let’s talk instead about how to have what we want. 

  1. Accept that both work and life might want more than you want to give at a particular time. And that’s okay.

    Having work life balance doesn’t mean that you will be able to give both work and life what they need to flourish – not at the same time, anyway. The truth is, life and work are intertwined – and that means sometimes one has to compromise for the sake of the other.  Decide where you want to put your energy and why, then make the decision free from stress, guilt or regret that you can’t do more. 

  2.  Be deliberate.

    There will always be competing needs. You can give time and energy to all of them at different times, but not all at once. Let me illustrate …

    Think of the important areas of your life – the big ones for me are self, relationship, work, children. It may be different for you. Imagine that each of these areas is represented by a light bulb. To burn at their brightest, they require 10 units of energy each. So to have all 4 light bulbs glowing at their brightest, 40 units of energy is needed. But – here’s the issue: At any one time, you only ever have a total of 20 units of energy available to put into those light bulbs.

    The challenge is to accept that, and to distribute your energy wisely and – here’s the rub – guilt free. So, you can have each at an average glow but if one is to excel, the energy has to be taken from somewhere else, compromising the glow from that bulb/s. With me? One can be up to full, but that means there is only 10 units to share between the other 3, so the other bulbs will be switched down to low … you get the idea. Where you give your energy will change from time to time and probably throughout the day. But the thing to remember is this – when one is fully on, the others get next to nothing. Spend your 20 units of energy wisely.

  3. Decide what’s important. 

    What’s the role you enjoy the most? Wife, husband, mother, father, friend, professional? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it’s the one you enjoy that it’s the one that can wait. Be deliberate.

  4. Be ruthless about what not’s important.

    Work-life clutter is just as suffocating as any form of clutter. Get rid of it. Keep what’s important and get rid of the rest. First though, you might need to make a checklist of what counts as important. Will it get you home earlier? Will it tighten the ties? Will it make you more productive? Will it teach you something? Will it help you achieve something?

    Or are you including it because I want to or because you don’t want to say no. Which brings me to …

  5. Learn to say ‘No.’

    When you say ‘no’ to the things that aren’t important, you’re making room for the things that are. That ‘no’ might have just paved the way for dinner with your kiddos.

  6. Don’t make yourself too accessible.

    Email. Phone. Twitter. Facebook. All good to have but don’t check them all day. Self-impose a restriction on phone and social media – unless you want to do it of course. Try banning yourself between the hours of 7pm-7am – or whatever works for you.

  7. Make your goals specific.

    What are your long term goals? A successful career? A happy relationship? A stable family life? Put your goals into specific terms so you know what it looks like when you reach it, or when you’re straying off track. What will ‘a successful career look like?’ Rather than, ‘I want a successful career,’ try, ‘I will attend 2 conferences/workshops this year.’ Rather than ‘I want a happy marriage,’ try ‘I will have dinner with my wife/husband once a week’ or if you live with little people and getting away is tricky, whatever works for you. Rather than, ‘I want a good relationship with my kids,’ try ‘I will be home to read them a bedtime story at least twice times a week.’

  8. Big Rocks and Little Rocks.

    You’ve probably heard this one but let’s do it again – because it’s excellent. This concept was developed by Dr Stephen Covey. Imagine that you have an empty glass jar, a pile of big rocks, a pile of little rocks, and another one of sand. They all need to make it into the glass jar so what goes in first? The big rocks. Then the little rocks will settle in between the spaces and finally the sand will fill the leftover gaps. Do it the other way round and the rocks – or the big things in your life – won’t fit, however much you want them to. The lesson? Make the big things your first priority – get them in the jar first (give them your time and energy). Once the bigger things are taken care of, the smaller things will find a way to fit into the gaps.

  9. Get home at least twice during the week for dinner and, if you have kids, for bedtime.

    Stay too much out of the day to day routine during the week, and it will take longer to feel like you’re part of the family routine come the weekend. You don’t want that. And they want that less.

  10. Stop comparing yourself.

    It’s so easy to focus on what we don’t have compared to what others do, but that will never end well. People tend to put their best foot froward and keep the struggles quiet. If only everyone knew everyone’s shortcomings – could you imagine! All of a sudden we’d be so much more settled with our own.

As with most things, a large part of achieving balance between work and life lies in how you think about it. You can’t change workload or the expectations of other (pity!) but you can experiment with putting boundaries where they need to be and accepting that which is stubborn to change.  

(Image Credit: Unsplash | William Iven) 

3 Comments

irene dixey

life is hectic. I enjoyed your article as we think everyone else is managing. they make it look so easy. main thing do what you can and except that this is okay. enjoyed.

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heysigmund

It’s such a trap isn’t it thinking that everyone else has it all together and it’s so important to remember that we can only do what we can do, and that that is enough. Thank you for taking the time to make contact.

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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