That magic feeling of equilibrium between opposing parts of our lives – it’s something nearly all of us are chasing, but the verdict seems to be out on whether work/family balance truly exists.
There are the believers, who say they’ve achieved it, harmoniously moving from boardroom to preschool STEM camp without batting an eye. And then there are the rest of us, caught somewhere on the continuum between skeptic and simply exhausted, running the hamster wheel of life and trying desperately to calibrate some sort of symmetry between work responsibilities and family time. Is this a race we can win? Maybe it all depends on how you set your expectations.
On the surface, work/family balance might seem black and white: the ability to spend equal time and energy on your career and your family. That’s a tall order, though, and maybe it’s why so many parents feel they are failing at it. What if, instead, we aim for work/family significance; that is, in finding meaning in both of these parts of our lives? Here’s what it might look like:
Setting Achievable Goals
You won’t do yourself any favors by trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, focus on where you can have “wins” both at work and at home. Maybe you can’t coach your daughter’s soccer team and take on the special project that requires weekend work. Instead, shoot for attending every soccer game and finding a way to give a needed assist to your colleague working long hours on an important team project.
Focusing on Mental Health
If you let outside influences be your guide as to whether you’re achieving work/family balance, you’ll always feel like a failure. After all, your neighbor’s Instagram posts aren’t a representation of real life – just the posed highlight reel. Instead, look inward and focus on your mental health. If you’re feeling a lot of stress about one area of your life, spend more energy there for a while.
Both work and family responsibilities will always be a moving target. That’s why it’s best to think about your life as a sliding scale. Sometimes, you’ll have to spend more time and energy on work endeavors in order to find meaning there. At other times, increasing feelings of the dreaded “mom guilt” might mean you’ll need to give more to your family life for a season. The important thing is to realize that work/family significance isn’t a destination, but an ongoing journey that will change over time, meaning you’ll need to reevaluate and recalibrate often.
Work/family balance – or significance, if you begin reframing it that way – will look different for everyone. If you set goals that are achievable for your unique circumstances, look inward instead of outward to judge your success and continually make adjustments to suit each season of your life, you may very well find yourself a believer.
You don’t have to live your life on the hamster wheel, chasing some objective idea of “balance” that does more harm than good. Instead, focus on the subjective goal of finding significance and meaning in all parts of your life.