The working mum’s balance

Hello! Anybody still dropping by? I’ve been a bit quiet. Things and stuff and whatnot going on. Lots of work stuff taking hours and turning my mind to mush.

I came up with this analogy about balancing things in life.

Some people don’t like the term “work life balance” as it implies that there is a disconnect between working and living. But lets face it, if you have a full-time job you spend more time at work than you do on anything else, so it is never really balanced. And there are so many things in the “life” bit.

So here’s my metaphor.

Imagine you have a five ring gas stove top to represent aspects of your life.

20140215-125358.jpg One ring is work, one family, one home or your physical environment, one friends and one ring all about you and self-care. Each ring has four settings – very low, low, medium and high. You have enough gas pressure to run any of the rings but the total can only be 12. So you you have to switch some off to run others at high, or run all at low. You don’t have the energy to run all at medium, let alone at high.

When my kids were little, I ran work and family at high. A total of 8, leaving 4 for home, friends and my fitness. I didn’t do much for me and was a bad friend, probably burning each at very low. My house was never as clean or organised as I would like and my efforts in the garden was spasmodic; running this at low. If I wasn’t in such a stressful profession or after promotions, I could have consumed less energy for the work burner and diverted more to run other burners. There is no way I would have run my family at lower than high.

Now my children are older and need me less, I can turn the family burner down to medium. Work is still running at high. That leaves me 5 for the others. Is it selfish that I am upping the burner that is about me? I am spending more time and energy on my health, fitness and personal interests. Running it at medium.

What to do with the other 2 energy points?

It pains me, because it is not the sort of person I want to be, or want to admit to being, but I put little energy in friendships. It’s not that I think work is more important than friends, but clearly I must do, as I give more time and energy to it! I can rationalise it (need the money to live; do a job, do it well; get fulfilment from work etc) but it really is rationalisation. Those who put their time into other aspects of life away from work can just as easily rationalise not working on their career. Sometimes it seems energy has been allocated to aspects of life without a conscious choice.

You might rename some of your burners, eg a community burner. For me that came under family as I did community things for my kids’ interests, such as volunteering for sporting clubs and school activities. Now it comes under home, as I work with neighbours to protect and support our area.

Anyway, the point is we cannot have everything and be brilliant at everything. We just don’t have the energy.

So what burners are you diverting energy to? How do you feel about it? Did you suddenly find yourself with one burner blazing away that you never thought you’d want to turn up? Or is the reverse true: one burner is barely flickering and you wish you could turn it up?


13 thoughts on “The working mum’s balance

  1. What a brilliant analogy. (Yes, I’m still here, and checking in since cheeky wordpress won’t send me alerts of wordpress bloggers new articles/posts).

    I think I have set my work burner on low to medium more of my life, and these past months (since about August), it’s more between high and medium. Then there’s health and fitness, now also on high. So I agree, social engagements become a burden on the ‘me’ time that’s left. There’s a group of friends I know is slipping away, and if I’m honest, I’m OK with it. We’re different enough, and in some ways I’m even pleased – less obligations, less awkwardness. But I do feel hermit like sometimes too. Enough that a friend said last weekend ‘I feel like you must be super busy all weekend nowdays’ and it’s not true. I’m not busy, I’m just ‘recovering’ from working all week, and being out 3-4 week nights, so feeling like I have no ‘me’ time… or whatever. God only knows how (and when) children will fit. As you say, something will have to give!

    • Thanks, I quite like my analogy. I’ve been using it for a while to reflect on my life and where I out my energy and time.

      And yes, I’ve had friends slip away – different phases of life, moved workplaces, moved to different sides of Sydney. And like you, I am OK with it. Because I just can’t put another obligation onto my life. I had one friend whose every weekend was back to back “appointments” with other friends – brunch, lunch, movie and afternoon tea or quick drink, dinner. That’s 4 dates in one day. Repeated on Sunday. Just too exhausting for me.

      • Yeas to both your comments. I’ve had pay rises that just seem to get absorbed into my spending with no real noticeable change, like more groceries or an extra night out.

        And I think many of us, me included, have found ourselves going for, and getting, a promotion because we thought we should, or were encouraged, to go for it, even though we enjoyed our current job. That niggling question, “What if I don’t get this opportunity again and then feel stuck in my current position?” and add the need to keep challenging yourself. Sometimes you end somewhere you never thought you would be. There is a reward in that, even if the actual work is not as fun as previous positions.

      • I’m most annoyed that work means I stay back a bit, which makes a crunch to get a healthy meal cooked, and my exercise done before my ‘community’ activities 3-4 nights a week. Thankfully, my family burner is ok to run lower – I have adult parents and siblings, so they manage with less visits/calls than I could do. And living with the BF has made all this after work stuff more possible than when we didn’t live together.

      • Actually I just feel I need to be more organised, or something? I also know it’s temporary. But honestly, the money is no different to me. As in I know there is more, but I don’t adjust to it, but I don’t have a target really for the extra dollars either (like early mortgage pay off) – it just sort of gets absorbed…

        The decision is whether I apply for the role when it’s advertised. I don’t want the role, but as someone said, if I don’t apply, I may just get looked over for management for a long while… so I’ll apply, and cross the bridge when I’m offered a permanent role!

  2. That is a fantastic analogy. For the past several years I have definitely had burners blazing and flickering that I’ve wanted to change.

    I don’t think it’s selfish at all to up the ‘self-care’ burner allowance. I try to think of all these things as a long-term balance. When you have little kids, ‘self-care’ can be almost non-existent. It averages up over time as kids don’t need as much.

    – ‘work’ is currently on high (4 pts?)
    – ‘family’ is on ‘medium’ (3 pts?) [with a child getting older]
    – ‘friends’ are always on at least ‘medium’ (3 pts?)
    – ‘house’ is currently on ‘very low’ (1 pt) – but I can live with that!
    – ‘self-care’ is possibly ‘very low’ (1 pts?)

    I say ‘possibly’ on the last one…but work, friends & family contribute hugely to ‘self-care’. I think the key is sometimes to get the burners to overlap (e.g. exercising as part of ‘friend’ or ‘family’ time; combining hobbies with friends etc.)

    • That’s a good idea: to cover self-care with other aspects. (And of course, having friends and socialising is good for your mental and emotional health, as is work, good relations with family and a nice physical environment.) But trying to meet up with friends regularly to do hobbies or exercise didn’t help much when I had no time or energy with full time work and two littlies. Now I do an exercise class with a friend, so we catch up every week. And a regular book club.

  3. So true! No one person can do it all. Right now I think family, work, and self are all at similar levels – 3, but friends and housework are very low (1) or off. Once we have kids, I think the me time will have to decrease so I can devote more time to the care of little ones (and more time on housework, as I’ve heard kids are quite messy haha).

    • Kids can be messy – I just learnt to not look down at the floor and accept a lower standard. I don’t know how I managed it but when my family needed me more, I also managed to garden and paint my house. Actually, I do know – work was burning at a lower flame.

  4. Love this post, Lucinda! For me, it depends on whether some aspects of my life overlap. For example, Rom and I grocery shop and meal plan together and like it, so they don’t feel like housework. On the other hand, I hate certain parts of self-care like doctor’s visits and haircuts, so I consider them chores! Right now my work commitment is steady but not stressful, family/couple time is integrated with everything else unless a crisis arises, and I seem to have about 4 hours a day of personal time – which I never thought would be possible!

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