Tips for Women on Balancing Your Work and Home Life
To be clear, this is not a thesis on the best methods to preserve your sanity while appearing to be a perfect wife, mother and worker. Nothing here has been researched to provide the best psychological basis for raising your children while also holding down a high-powered career.
This is, a rambling of someone who has been there - still is. Unlike most of what I write these days, this will contain elements of first-person experience and pure speculation based only on my point of view, not science or proof of anything. Incidentally, I have been published on this subject before in Physician's Practice journal.
Take it in that context- this is opinion, not advice per say. I will publish this when I have a few ideas down. If you have other topics on which you want my expert (just kidding) opinion, I may edit this as time goes on. These tips may or may not apply to you. If they do, great- maybe it will help you sort out your conflicted feelings. If not, feel free to ignore while silently criticizing me under your breath, behind your computer screen.
Rule Number One- Compartmentalize
When you are at work, do your work without obsessing too much about what is going on at home unless someone is ill. Your employer will likely understand the need to have some contact with, and awareness of, what is going on in your home at times. If it regularly interferes with your job performance, though, that understanding will wither pretty quickly.
When you are at home, leave your work behind. Unless there is really something that can't wait until your next day at work, it's time for your family to get your undivided attention. If you spend all day at work and still seem focused on it when you get home, your spouse and children will always feel less important than the job. This is obviously detrimental to the family.
Rule Number Two - Break Rule Number One
Your children, depending on their age, may become curious about what you do all day. They will feel more connected to you and perhaps, accepting of your job, if you talk about it. Answer their questions. Explain why you sometimes get home late- why someone else needed your help.
Use these discussions to explain that you are not ever choosing your job over them. Talk about why you work and how it makes you feel. Explain that you don't always get to control your hours (if it's true) and sometimes it will seem to take too much time.
Rule Number Three - Understand that You Will Not be Perfect
The more thinly we spread ourselves, the more we feel like we need to be perfect at all of our endeavors. When these things concern our careers and our families, there is a lot at stake.
Whether we feel like we have something to prove, or we are afraid of disappointing someone, we really do have the drive to be perfect. The smallest mis-step can sometimes feel like a huge failure.
But, guess what? We are going to make mistakes- every one of us. Know this from the start. Take the pressure off. This doesn't mean to slack off and accept poor or lazy effort. It just means that if you have to let the laundry go for an extra day, well that just might be ok.
Rule Number Four - Give Yourself Permission to Not be Perfect
And, right now you are saying to yourself "yeah, but I have it dialed in. I know exactly how to stay on track and be wonder woman and get it all done."
When the dog hides your shoe as you are trying to walk out the door and the baby spits up on your blouse as you are trying to give one more kiss and your older child forgot to give you the permission slip for today's field trip.... Well, let's just say, you will feel very human and imperfect at that point.
So instead of just understanding that you are not perfect, actually give yourself permission not to be. Those are different concepts. Strive to do your best and realize that even that will make you feel inadequate at times. Forgive yourself and move on.
Your family will notice if you are preoccupied with work. They will feel the effects of any stress you bring home with you. Your boss, likewise, will be able to tell if you are just 'going through the motions' so you can get through the day without investing in your work.
Be present wherever you are. It doesn't mean there won't be some crossover, but really stop and look around when you are with your children. Notice their changing interests, help them with their homework with patience and find joy in their laughter. Really take the time to appreciate the each moment. Moments become memories so make them good!
Let Go of the Guilt
This may just be the hardest of all. (Personal interjection: this is definitely the hardest for me. As a doctor, my job demands all of me a lot of the time. But, my kids deserve all of me, too. The math doesn't add up and I was lucky enough to work part-time because I realized that for me, I needed to be with my children even though other sacrifices had to be made).
When you are at work, you may feel guilty that someone else is holding your child when he or she is sick. When you are at home, you may feel like you aren't committed or driven enough in your career. Or, you may feel you are letting your team down if you can't do more 'extra' work when others are doing that.
But, your situation is yours. You have to divide your time and that's just a fact. So, don't waste even more time worrying about what you are not doing. Some sacrifices will be made on both sides in spite of the feeling that it's not fair to ask anyone to sacrifice. It is, it will happen. Make the best of the time you have and let go of the guilt.
And with All Your Extra Time...
Time is at a premium and it is WAY easier said than done, but you do need to take care of you. (Yes, I struggle with this).
Whenever it is- find some time to exercise, meditate, plan date night with your spouse, grab a cocktail with friends or another couple... You are still human (not super-human, though) and you will need a mental or physical break once in a while. Plan them, prepare for them, and tell your family ahead of time so that it is already factored into their expectations.