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At MyBump2Baby, we understand the importance of a healthy work-life balance which can be challenging for many mums. Finding and maintaining a healthy, stress-free home is so important. Today we are excited to share an article from our expert Nicki Young the founder of MumMe Mojo. Nicki shares her game changing tips for a better work-life balance for mums.
Hands up if you have got the work-life balance nailed?
It’s the Holy Grail for working mothers, isn’t it – this “work life balance” concept. Hands up if you’ve got that nailed? I bet not so many of us put our hands up… Being a mum and trying to balance work life and home life seems to always be on the never-ending to-do list, doesn’t it?
So if we have been swapping solutions with each other for so long, yet so many women still struggle with the balance, what needs to change? What if we’ve actually been achieving a work life balance all along, but just didn’t notice or appreciate it? “Well that’s silly,” I hear you say, “I’d know if I was achieving it, I’d feel better, more in control and be better at time management”.
What does work life balance look life?
Let’s test that theory shall we? Just yesterday I happened to be talking to a highly successful woman, who is also a mother, who felt overwhelmed and like she had no balance. She felt that her schedule was too career heavy, with not enough time for the kids. When we explored it further, she realised that she hadn’t actually laid out what balance would look like, so actually she wouldn’t even have known if she’d got there or not! When she thought about it, she felt she was actually doing better than she’d realised… How many of us do that – judge ourselves without even really thinking about what we’re judging? A few more hands going up now…
So you may be surprised that this isn’t going to be a list of lists that I recommend you make, in order to organise your schedule. I do refer to preparation and time management, but in reality, most of it is all about our mindset. As Wayne Dyer, who was a world-renowned self-development and self-help specialist, once said, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you like at change.”
So let’s look at this work life balance idea a little differently shall we and change it?
1. What is “life” outside of work hours?
This might not be quite as existentialist as it may seem! The term “work life balance” is bandied around willy nilly, but let’s stop and think about what it actually means… The work part is fairly self-explanatory, whether you’re an employee in a full time job, returning to a role part time or a business owner or mumpreneur, work is usually relatively easily defined.
So what is the “life” part? For many working parents it involves spending time together as a family and with your partner, maybe organising childcare providers, school, extra-curricular activities for your baby or children and whatever else is needed to make home life run smoothly; shopping, meals, chores…
All too often, we overlook one or more of these elements of life and then it gets crammed in at the last minute. Then, of course, we women give ourselves a hard time for not being able to get the work life balance right like “all the other working parents” seem to manage!
Being realistic about what the “life” part actually means for you and your family is a critical part of being in a position to achieve the balance. If we don’t acknowledge that actually, shopping and home chores take up 5 hours a week (or whatever it might be!), that’s pretty crucial, don’t you think?
Let’s commit to changing that now, acknowledge every part of life that needs to fit into the balance – whether that includes yoga, going for a run, a massage, let’s be realistic about what all of “life” looks like for ourselves.
2. Define what balance is for you?
For most of us, it is about feeling that we have a good balance between work and children/family life.
Notice that I said it’s about feeling that we have a good balance? How many times have you stopped and thought about what that would be like? I’m sure most of us have berated ourselves for not having enough time outside of our full time job to spend enough “quality time” with our children, but how many times have we actually thought about what the “balance” is? It doesn’t automatically mean equal time between work and “life”, it will differ for each unique family situation. Take some time to think about what balance will feel like for you.
3. What does 10/10 look like?
Just like the lady I was talking to yesterday, there’s no point having “work life balance” on your to-do list for ages, without actually deciding what it is. We mums are notorious for berating ourselves and thinking we could/should have done better. At everything. By taking a few moments to decide what work life balance actually is in number 2 above, then we look at where we’re trying to get to, and most importantly, we’ll then know when we get there!
In my coaching, I use a process called “scaling” with my clients. It is particularly useful in helping us make “how we feel” a bit more tangible. In the case of work life balance, I encourage you now to think about a scale of 1 – 10, where 1 is no balance whatsoever and total chaos, and 10 is… well, you can decide.
Based on number 2 above, what does 10 feel like for you in terms of work life balance? Is it less hectic? Let’s face it, you have both a career and children to focus on, so to assume we will be earth mother or the unicorn mum (magical but not real!) we often see portrayed on Instagram where life is wonderful, giggling baby, no mess, flawless hair and make-up and everything is a breeze, just isn’t realistic! But maybe it could be less hectic, with more “you time” perhaps? Or maybe you want to be able to spend more quality time with your children. How much time? Seriously, how much? We always want more time and there are only so many hours in a day and week, so what is a 10 for you? More family meals together? More time to take them swimming?
The great thing is, you get to choose. Then put that time in your schedule. Maybe it’s less about time and more about feeling calmer and in control. I hear this a lot from my clients (mostly working mums who are due to go or have just gone back to work from maternity leave) – they don’t feel in control any more. What? You mean, you used to be busy enough in a full time job as it was, now you have a small child or two (or more!) to add into the mix and you don’t feel in control? Not surprising is it… We’ll come on to how to deal with that further down our list, but think about how you would really like to feel differently. Is it about snapping less at the rest of the family? Is it more about knowing in advance where you’re supposed to be instead of constantly being taken by surprise? Again, you get to choose. Make sure you choose what 10 looks like for you, nobody else, then visualise how it will feel.
4. Decide where you’re at now.
This one is nice and quick. When we use scaling, we think about where we’re at on the scale of 1-10 right now. You’ve just defined your 10, so what number do you feel you’re at now? No judgment (I know, we mothers are really good at the self-judgment!), just decide which number you are. It’s not a test, if you’re a 3, you’re a 3. If you’re an 8, great – maybe you’re actually closer to a 10 than you thought! Make a note of which number you’re at right now and move on to number 5 on our list.
5. Which three actions can you take, today, to get to the next number on the scale.
It might be that being more prepared could help you (see number 8 on our list below), so is there something you can do to feel more prepared (and usually more in control) today? Or is simply writing a list of all that adds up to “life” from number 1 going to help you? It might be efficiencies, such as switching to online shopping or your partner doing it instead if they don’t already. We parents have so many responsibilities that nobody prepares us for, how can we make it more straightforward?
List just three things that you can do today to move up to the next number on our scale of 1-10. Make them manageable and realistic. Then guess what, once you’ve reached the next number, you do the same: another three things you can change to move up to the next number.
6. Give yourself grace and space
This is a phrase I use a lot with my clients, friends, family, myself. Giving ourselves the grace to acknowledge how we feel is so important. I’m personally not a fan of being told what I “should” be grateful for… Psychologically, if we feel we should be grateful, there’s a cognitive dissonance and our brains simply don’t recognise the gratitude and we can actually feel worse.
How many of us have felt this on maternity leave as an example? Feeling like we should be loving time at home with our precious baby, when actually it feels a bit strange sometimes to feel like a supporting character when you are used to being the lead role? So next time you feel frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, uncertain about your work life balance, acknowledge that and feel whatever is real for you. Then give yourself the space to move forward in the way that feels right for you, when you’re ready to. It takes the pressure off and is empowering to know that you are in control of how and when you move forward.
One of my clients says this has been a real game changer for taking the pressure off herself and being able to balance work and home, she now says this phrase to herself every day. Give it a try, feel how you feel and take the next step when you’re ready.
7. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
We all know in theory that self-care and wellbeing is hugely important. But what do we actually do about it? How full or empty is your cup right now? Chances are, if you’re feeling like an overwhelmed working mum who simply can’t get the work life balance thing right, your cup probably isn’t that full.
How can you fill your cup again? Take time for yourself, take a break, see friends, delegate a task, have a night off, take something that actually isn’t that important off your list, get out into nature. Whatever you choose to do, add it to your list in number 5.
I promised that I would cover time management and being prepared. Most working mums are the most efficient people I know – most of us already multi-task and get tomorrow’s dinner out of the extra freezer at the same time we’re putting the kids’ school uniform in the washing machine!
So I’m not going to suggest that you look at how you can be more efficient by making all the meals for the week each weekend or sharing more of the cooking with your partner or other family members (disclaimer: not your toddler!)… Mind you, if you don’t do that, you could consider it.
The game-changer here is about looking at when your energy is at the level best suited for which preparation tasks. If Sunday evening isn’t your best-focused energy time to be thinking about your work week and checking your inbox, do it on Friday afternoon instead, or Monday morning if you’re a morning person.
When we’re “inflow” of our energy, it takes us less time and energy to carry out those tasks, so think smart and prepare when you’re going to do each different element of your list.
9. Say No.
Aah, yes. A slightly uncomfortable one for many women, this one. Sometimes, the correct answer when somebody asks us if we want to/can do something is “no”. I’m a people-pleaser and don’t like “letting everyone down”, whether people at work, friends, family or husband at home. However I’ve learnt that being realistic and saying that actually, no – this year doesn’t suit you to be on the PTA and organise the school Christmas market, is not only OK, it’s kind of sensible if your cup is feeling a bit on the empty side… At the office, what can you sensibly say “no” to? Likely not something directly related to your career goals, but maybe when you’re asked to help out with an extra optional project? Get yourself out of the habit of saying yes all the time at the office as well as at home. Consider putting something on your list in number 5 that you’ll say “no” to. Obviously don’t be mean about it! But you don’t have to do everything, it’s ok to say no on occasions…
Having worked your way diligently through tips 1-9, you now know what the “life” part of work life balance is for you and your family, you know what 10 looks like, where you’re at on that scale right now and you have actions to take you from your current number to the next number.
So what do we do when we make it to the next number? And to a 10?? We celebrate!!
When I use scaling, sometimes it’s really powerful to consider “if you’re a 3 on the scale, what is stopping you from being a 2”? Sometimes my clients feel a bit hopeless being low on the scale. But let’s celebrate what is stopping you from being a number lower on the scale, what isn’t completely crap or chaotic?? That’s a win!!
Give yourself grace and space, move on when you’re ready and you’ll find yourself moving up that scale before you know it. Then celebrate! Celebrate all the work you’ve put in, knowing what the balance looks like and all the progress you’re making.
Congratulations, welcome to the work-life balance mums club!
Nicki is the founder of MumMe Mojo, the home of resources and coaching programs to help working mums gain clarity and confidence. Nicki’s passions are coaching, facilitating and employee engagement: she loves helping people to gain insights and fresh perspectives so they can get unstuck and propel themselves forward towards their goals. You can also find Nicki on Facebook.