I have my fair share of meltdowns. Days when I feel like I have let my little one down, days when I have not been patient enough, days when I wish I had more time and did not rush her. Rushed, because we were getting late for school or for a playdate. Impatient, because I had to cook or do the laundry or I am just tired. Sound familiar? This, to me, is the life of a mom. If you are a working mom, add to this the bonus of work deadlines and if you work from home, add the guilt of tearing your little one off of yourself, because you have a conference call starting in 10 seconds. The guilt is just heart-wrenching. Life feels like an endless juggle between chasing timelines to chasing my little one, running into a meeting to running late for a school pick up/drop off or for her soccer class. I am constantly making lists and prioritizing and then re-prioritizing. And at the end of every day, I think, “Am I spending enough time with my little one”?
One may ask, why is it so important for me to work? You see, I come from a family where the value of money was taught to us from the very start. We had to save up for everything, be it a chocolate or the latest trend in the most expensive brand. Nothing was impossible to attain, but one had to save for it or better yet, earn it. So being financially strong and independent has always been very important to me. Having a career and making a mark for myself is equally important. I drive a whole lot of my self-worth and my sense of fulfillment from it. Prior to my daughter being born, I strongly associated my happiness with my success at work (I know, it is a recipe for disaster to associate your happiness with one single thing, but that is a topic for another day). Yet, when I had my little baby girl, it was beyond difficult for me to choose between her and my career. May be it was because I had her after years of trying and multiple miscarriages or may be as I held her tiny hands, she wrapped me around her little fingers to never let go. Going back to work has, without a doubt, been the most difficult decision I have had to make.
When I was pregnant with her, I read a gazillion articles and saw a trillion videos about how women can have it all and maintain that perfect balance between work and life. What was not written about, at least explicitly, was that there are trade-offs and compromises. While I truly believe that you can “have it all”, I think the meaning of those three simple words changes at various stages in your life. While pre-kids, having it all meant owning a nice house, car, clothes, post kids, a full night’s sleep makes you feel like you have conquered the world.
So how do you have it all, is it even possible? It depends… (No, this is not just consultant speak, it truly does apply here!).
The quest for balance for me began with accepting the reality (or as they say in consultant speak – setting the right expectations) that on any given day, I may not be able to check off all of the things on my to-do list and I may have to reprioritize due to changing circumstances. It will be much easier to accept and adjust quickly than trying to change the situation or resist it. Mind you, I am not suggesting giving up, merely adjusting course to meet the end result.
Next came defining clear priorities and taking actions to focus on them. Your priorities could be anything – personal health, kids, work, your partner, your home, cooking, and the list goes on. With my history of health conditions, I have realized that my health will always have to be my #1 priority. Putting myself first on my priority list was a big shift in mindset for me. It was a move away from the traditional thinking of women being the epitome of self-sacrifice. We all need our physical and mental well-being to sustain a happy healthy life. I have realized that nothing will get done if I am not well, including the care of my daughter. So, I go to the gym at least twice and sometimes three times a week, eat healthy and most importantly get 7-8 hours of sleep. During work hours, I try to focus on work and steer clear of social media, as this takes valuable time away from my tasks at hand. Having said that, it is true that for women, priorities can change every hour, if not every minute. So accept, adjust and move on.
As part of accepting reality, I also realized that I need a support system. Living in the US, away from a lot of our family, my husband is my biggest support system. Without each other, it would be extremely difficult to achieve the balance we are both seeking. Not to say, that we don’t have our disagreements, but finding our way around those is our biggest strength. I also have an extended support system in the form of household help and child-care. Can I do without them? Absolutely! Is this a luxury everyone can afford? Unlikely. And neither did it come easily to our family. We had to make conscious decisions about cutting expenditure elsewhere to accommodate this. But it was a choice we made, because that is what made sense for our family. Pre-kids, I loved cooking, but I don’t have the luxury of time anymore. After getting back from work, I can either cook or spend time with my daughter and the choice I make is a no brainer. The important shift in my thinking was realizing that in order to make sure my family eats healthy food and gets the nutrition I would like them to get, I need to facilitate it, not necessarily do it myself. Now, I choose to cook when I want to make something special for my family.
A big part of having it all also means that compromises will have to be made. There are times when I need to make more of the compromises. This is not because my husband does not want to or is not capable of making them. It is solely because my daughter needs me more; especially when she is sick and is in need of comfort (and I secretly hope it remains this way in her teens too!). This meant more unplanned absences from work, declining a job profile with greater travel demands and making the transition to flexible work arrangements. My husband and I regularly have reset conversations about our responsibilities; as and when there are changes to our life. A reset conversation, to see if my new role within the company will allow for flexibility, or if my husband can continue to do school drop-offs with the changing organization structure at work or how do I find the extra hours in the day to work on my blog or any other changes that are added to our schedule. While I may jump in when the nanny takes a sick day, he takes over bed-time routine so I can have the time to write. Compromise doesn’t come easily to me, so this was and continues to be the most difficult part of the balance. However, amidst all of this, having a sense of humor helps! Laughter definitely makes things easier. The ability to pause, take stock and then laugh at situations has helped me diffuse the most difficult/tense situations.
It has been almost three years since our daughter came into our life. A day never goes by when I don’t feel the guilt of leaving her to work. Over the years though, I am learning to forgive myself for ‘to-do’ lists that have not been completed, a not so productive day at work or the days when I feel like I have not been a great mom, just an okay mom. I have realized, balance is not something you measure over a day. It is something you achieve over a lifetime. So when I think about the “not so great” days, I also remember the days when we laugh together, play silly games because there is nothing else to do, and are just perfectly happy laying down together, singing songs. Those are the days which reaffirm that I am doing well as a mommy too!
So, can you have it all? The answer still is – it depends.
We would love to hear from you and how you balance work, life and all of the things that come with it. You can comment below with your own story, your perspective of balancing act of having it all!