Healthy boundaries to help you thrive at work and at home
How to balance a family and a full-time job
Often I am asked, “How do you maintain a work-life balance with a full-time job, a husband and two children?” For a long time, my answer was simple. I didn’t.
I beat myself up for years due to work-life imbalance. I poured myself into my job, chasing the ever-elusive next level of success. With little time and energy left over, my household tasks, school field trips and quality time with my husband began to fade into the background. While I excelled at work, I felt like a failure as a wife and mother. I felt an insistent need to respond to work emails within minutes and to accept every single meeting invitation out of worry that I might miss out on valuable opportunities. Long hours in the office spilled over into self-imposed homework, thus leading to less cooking, more dishes in the sink and bigger piles of laundry on the floor. (It’s important to note that none of this work pressure came from my supervisor; it was all my own doing.) How could I be doing so well in one area and so poorly in another- the one that matters most? I was frustrated, tired, angry and wondering how I had let my job detract so much from domestic life.
I took the first step toward work-life balance prior to a family vacation about six weeks ago. I automated my “out of office” email reply and told my supervisor I would not be answering emails while I was away. I had done both of these things before, but this time I also turned off the email notifications on my phone. This move was a first, and I even had to Google instructions on how to change the settings. Seeing how many unread emails I had was a source of anxiety, so this step was critical. In all honesty, I did log in a couple of times to “look” at my emails, but I refrained from responding to any of them!
Within the past six weeks, I also stopped bringing my computer home from work every night. Having my laptop home with me quickly led me down a rabbit hole of work tasks. I stopped checking and responding to emails after 7PM. My supervisor and team respect this decision. If something arises that truly demands my immediate attention during off-hours, the team knows to text me. I have yet to receive an emergency text, and my work has not suffered for it one bit.
Limiting my social media usage to the hours between 8AM and 8PM was also a liberating practice. While this was not work-related, I found that it was eating away at my invaluable home time. If I was going to cut back on working at home, it made little sense to replace work with hours of endless scrolling.
I have also made some concessions at home. First, I realized my house was never going to be photo-shoot-clean. It’s not a hot mess, but it’s lived in and I’m fine with that. I have someone come to the house every other week to help me catch up on cleaning. In between her visits, I have started teaching my boys how to wash dishes, do laundry and even clean the toilets. My weekends are now devoted to planning my weekly cooking schedule ahead of time so that I’m not rushing to figure it out after work every day.
I still don’t know if a perfect work-life balance exists. But I do know that in what will seem like the blink of an eye, I will be dropping my boys who are now ten and eight years old off at college. I don’t want them to remember me as always hunched over a computer, incessantly working and hopelessly stressed. I want to fill their childhood with memories of dancing in the kitchen while cooking dinner, enjoying our favorite television shows or embarking on family adventures. I need them to know I am just as committed to their growth into happy, healthy, responsible, kind adults as I am to my career. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to make it to every field trip, nor will I be home every day when they return from school, but I will be there when it matters most, and I will make the most of the time we do have together.
For now, these small steps work wonders for me. I learned to stop wishing for some magical work-life balance to just happen come upon me out of nowhere. I learned to stop blaming myself when it didn’t. And most importantly, I actually defined and executed a work-life balance that fits the needs of my job, myself, and my family.