The elusive work-life balance
Recently in our office an email was circulated titled “Struggling to Cope?” it offered free and confidential consultation by a work-life coach. In a time when people are stressed out from uncertainties at the office, it was sobering to realize that in our Asian culture, this consultation and coaching is not something that people take to easily. While many do struggle to cope with official and domestic demands, very few are likely to seek professional help. In this culture, it is considered to be an admission of weakness or mental instability to go see a psychologist, counselor or mental health professional.
Funnily enough while this was on my mind, I received a phone call from a friend who is struggling to cope with the domestic demands of running a household while keeping up with her kid and the demands of parenthood. I couldn’t tell her how to run her life more smoothly but what I could do was to tell her how I cope.
Before I had kids, I indulged my workaholic characteristics completely. Given my devotion to work, one thing that I realized early on is that I could not be bothered to spend time or energy after work fixing the house or even dinner. I hired help who would take care of these details for me. Grocery shopping and errands were something that I would keep for the first day of the weekend.
Post kid, my routine changed. Instead of one, I kept two maids, but I was still determined not to waste my precious time on inane activities that numb the mind and eat away at the precious little time that I get with my son. Grocery shopping, running errands, maintaining the car were also something that I delegated as much as possible. I developed a network of people who did home-delivery of different kinds of services and I took full advantage of these.
I roped in and took advantage of having two sets of grandparents. I became better friends with people who had kids of the same age. It was the easiest way to schedule play dates, swap toys and still have some adult interaction during the weekend.
I love my work and give it my hundred percent. However, when my kid gets sick, work takes a backseat. I take advantage of having internet connection at home and the ability to securely log-in to the office network to continue my work from home. I stay available on the phone but encourage my office people to text me instead. While my son is up and about, I am with him, when he takes his naps or turns in for the night, I take care of work so it wouldn’t fall behind or get piled up.
In the age of technology, ready made food, mobile phones and even mundane things like the washing machine and micro-wave oven, I fail to see why some women struggle so much. Lower the bar for yourself women. The house doesn’t have to be spotless. You don’t have to serve freshly cooked meals every day. Kids thrive on attention, not on force feeding them nutritious food that you slave over for hours.
I don’t care if my house is not spotless. I don’t care if my cat leaves her fur on the sofa. I don’t care if the spilled drinks had left a spot on my dining table covers because I put them through the washing machine instead of hand washing it. I don’t care if I am heating up yesterday’s chicken curry in the micro-wave instead of cooking again today.
Here’s what I do care about. I care about whether my son feels like he’s getting enough attention. I care about whether I have the time to sing, dance, color with crayons and play on the PS2 with him. I care about whether my son’s hair is getting long and shaggy or if his nails need to be trimmed. I care about how he’s coping with school and ensuring that I attend every single event in which he participates. And all these take priorities over my OCD tendency kicking in and demanding that the cleaning be taken care of immediately.
At the end of the day before you allocate and spend time on an activity, ask yourself this, how important is it for you to do it yourself? Are you even going to remember doing this one month from now?
Decide on your priorities and stick to them. Allocate time to things that are more important to you. Be that your kid, your pets, your hobbies or just the simple pleasure of taking care of yourself by exercising or preparing a good meal. Do what feels right to you.
If more people took the time to do what is right for them, when and as it is right for them, I believe that they would find that elusive work-life balance. Take care of yourself and your needs before you aspire to be the Martha Stewart of your office, social circle, friends or family… and watch that stress melt away 🙂