work-life balance

Unravelling the work-life balance knot: making time when you have none

If life as a working mother had a trinity, it would be: balance, time and guilt.

We want one, need the next, and the last gets in the way of both.

These three elements seem to endlessly loop around each other – we want to unravel the knot, yet somehow keep tying ourselves up in it.



Work-life balance is not just a matter of time

At the heart of achieving a better balance, is time.

And at the heart of having more time, is guilt.

In order to have some kind of balance – to feel less strung out, less stretched – we need to make time for the other end of the equation that is work-life balance. Time for the relaxation of those tightly wound strings that keep us tied in knots as we wind our way through the day from one place to the next.

Time to remember who we are at our core – more than a carer, more than a cleaner, more than a cook. Time to reclaim a part of who we used to be.

This is where we stumble.

Making time for things other than the work that goes with looking after other people and houses and jobs, requires saying no. Saying yes to ourselves means saying no to someone or something else. You can’t fit more anything into an already overstuffed schedule. You have to kick something out of the way to make way.

Which is the no part – the no that will create space for something else – and with the no, comes the guilt.

The guilt of not doing something, the guilt of doing something – there is always guilt.


Time v guilt: the ultimate battle to balance

I suspect we may never not feel guilty when saying no.

It’s not a bad thing to have a twinge of regret for saying you can’t do something for someone else – it shows a kindness within you.

So feel the guilt but say no anyway. Because it passes. That twinge goes as soon as you get on with the yes, whatever it is.

I always have that twinge just before leaving to go and do something that is mine, and leaving the trio to manage themselves. Even if it’s just going to the next room to do yoga, or going to have a bath when they are getting dinner ready – I hover a bit longer than I should.

They don’t need me, my three, at that time. They are perfectly capable and my presence is redundant in these moments. Yet, I hover.

I wait until the last moment before walking out the door – to work, to a conference, for a walk – because there’s this inner twinge that what I’m doing is somehow not right. That I am in some way breaking an unwritten ‘code of motherhood’ that says what I’m doing is against the rules.

But once I get to where I’m going, the twinge disappears.

So in order to have time for that idea of balance, you have to ignore the guilt.


Letting go of responsibility

As long as we continue to allow guilt to be a barrier to change, we continue to feed the status quo of expectations that largely burden us with a weight of responsibility that can feel impossibly heavy.

Without making a change, the unspoken expectation that women are in fact responsible for doing everything, will remain, and we unwittingly continue to fuel it.

We can, through gentle actions and quiet determination, start redefining and reshaping those expectations and ideas, and choose for ourselves exactly how we want to spend our time.

Much has been written about women, work and balance. We’ve been told:

  •  we can have it all but not at the same time;
  • that we can’t have it all; and
  • to lean in.

It doesn’t really matter which is true, if at all. Regardless of what you think or feel about all those opinions, balance in any shape or form requires a no somewhere.

Saying no isn’t always an option. We have to turn up to work. Kids can’t be left stranded on the side of the road. But once the necessities are taken care of, there is time for a no somewhere, even a brief moment, in order to find space for a yes that’s important to you.


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