Work / Life Balance:
Myth or must-have for working mums?
I bet you’re not reading this article with your feet up, in between leisurely sips of something ice cold and deliciously grown-up. No, chances are you’re scanning it while glancing through your emails and maybe paying a bill online at the same time. You might also have dinner on the go and a watchful eye on someone doing homework, and serious multi-taskers are probably squeezing in a quick phone call, too.
If a recent study by Co-operative Food is to be believed, any sense of work / life balance for modern working mums and dads is something of a myth. Their survey of 3000 working parents concluded that we’re all so busy juggling our careers and the demands of family life that we’re left with little time to ourselves at the end of the day. So how can we redress the balance and find a little more me-time in the average day?
Mum of two Keira O’Mara, 33, says her work / life balance improved exponentially when she gave up her full-time job to run her own business, Mamascarf (www.mamascarf.co.uk). she says: “I was working on my business in the evenings when my son was in bed and I was permanently exhausted. I felt like I wasn't getting enough time with my little one and I hated my job more day by day.” Keira decided to leave when her request to work part-time was turned down. “The minute I made the decision to leave work I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders,” she recalls. Keira now runs her business from home and fits work around the needs of her family. She admits that life is busy but says she loves being her own boss, and the freedom of being able to choose when to work.
But running your own business isn’t something that suits every mum, so is a balance between work and life possible without striking out your own? Blogger and Mum of three Lisa Durbin, (www.wittydomainname.blogspot.com), 41, thinks so. Lisa’s children are aged 5, 3 and 18 months and she works part-time as a writer in the software industry. Lisa says: “My company have been very good about flexible working and after each of my children were born I returned to work part-time. I work three longer days a week with two days off to just be a mum, doing things like going to playgroups and seeing friends. I couldn’t live happily with my normal working day which would have meant seeing the kids for an hour in the morning (which is always a chaotic time of day) and an hour in the evening before bedtime, but this is perfect.”
But Lisa admits that there’s still very little me-time in her average day, even with a part-time working life. “Depending on when I collapse into bed I have about 2-3 hours in the evenings to myself once the kids are in bed, but even then I'm doing all the things I couldn't do during the day like laundry and washing up.”
It seems that achieving balance between work and life isn’t just about working fewer hours - it’s about cultivating a sense of balance no matter how many hours your work or family life demands.
Amy Purdie (www.whiteacresdesign.co.uk) , 26, has a fourteen month old daughter. She splits her week evenly, spending three and a half days at home with her daughter and three and a half days at work, and thinks this gives her a great sense of work / life balance. “I set my own hours so I could be at home as much as possible, and it’s working very well. Much of the “life” side of things is spent cleaning and cooking, and I do still work a bit too, but I also get to spend lots of time with my daughter, taking her swimming, visiting friends, and spending time doing what I want us to do! I think working less makes me much more relaxed.”
For other working mums, the elusive work / life balance is something they’re prepared to do without in order to pursue the career they want. Mum of two Rachael Dunseath (www.myroo.co.uk), 35, runs her own skincare label and has a second job that requires her to work 18 hours a week. “There are just not enough hours in the day,” she admits. “I work every evening and at the weekend too. Life is hectic, but good fun. I feel privileged that my working life is flexible enough to allow me to do the school run etc but it does mean that me-time is the thing that has had to give.”
Belinda Bull, 46, has two children and set up her business Net2Nana.com a few months ago but says her family have remained her priority, which has helped her carve out a strong sense of work / life balance. “I’ve achieved this in a couple of ways, firstly by really involving my children in the business so I can still work while they do homework, colouring, lego etc in my office. Secondly by finding a group of mums in similar positions and we all take it in turns to have each others children round for tea each week. So twice a week it’s my turn then two nights a week I can press on without being disturbed even by the school run. The children love it because as far as they are concerned it’s a play date and much better than having to go to after school care, and the mums love it because it’s free, safe and we all have businesses to run or bosses to appease, or indeed just need a few hours of me time.”
Whether you swear by certain rituals or indulgences to maintain your sense of work / life balance, or simply accept that balance is a luxury you can live without, it’s important to take stock and ensure you’re happy with your arrangements. So why not start by pouring a glass of wine or making a cuppa and turning off the laptop for long enough to think about what might bring you a better sense of balance this year?