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The myth of balance

How to let yourself off the hook for being "all things to all people all the time"

by Dr. Mary  |  4728 views  |  4 comments  |        Rate this now! 

The title of this article may seem out of place or discouraging in a forum for working moms, but bear with me on this one;  it’s not that overall balance for working moms is impossible, but it is a myth that there will always be balance between our personal and professional lives. 

Getting used to this idea is a watershed moment in the lives of working moms, and once accepted, the idea is liberating.  For example, as a working mom, a large part of my job is grant writing and lab research, essentially all of which is driven by deadlines.   I spent years beating myself up about the fact that when I have a grant deadline looming I end up working on the weekends in the lab or at my office to make sure I hit the deadline.  My husband and kids take it in stride, waving goodbye to me on Saturday morning and heading out to see a movie or play in the park.  I return home in the evening, strung-out but successful in my work tasks, and constantly apologizing for being gone during family time.  Finally, one night my husband asked me what I was apologizing for.  “It’s not like you do this all the time, you know -- once in a while you have to put in a little extra time at work, and that’s OK.” 

You know, he was right, and as soon as he said it out loud, I realized that it was true --working slavishly on weekends and during family time was, and is, a rarity, made more conspicuous in my own mind by its infrequency.  I remember the smells in the kitchen, the music on the iPod, and what shirt he was wearing when he said it that night. It was that powerful for me, and I am grateful to him for having said it.

I’ve had the pleasure of telling many colleagues and clients that same thing since that night, with similar effect.  Interestingly, this concept of accepting that it’s really OK if sometimes we let work come first to meet a deadline, and equally, that sometimes (often?)  it’s necessary to put the brakes on at work to make a baseball game, dance recital, or parent-teacher conference can be uncomfortable at first for working moms, as we’re supposed to have all the balls in the air at the same time.  Accepting that sometimes one thing has to get a bit more attention that another is yet another way that working moms can nourish and support themselves;  it reduces “supermom” syndrome instantly. 

Of course, it’s not always easy to remember that it’s OK to be out of balance from time to time, but keeping a few primary things in the front of your mind can help:

About the Author

Mary Coussons-Read, Ph.D. is a a proud Mom, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado Denver, and the founder of Powerful Mind Consulting and Coaching, LLC.

Read more by Dr. Mary

4 comments so far...

  • I remember being really nervous when laying out a work plan that would allow me to leave work 2 hours early 2-3 days a week for a short time to participate in important meetings at my daughter's school. But my (childless) boss was fine with it, my nerves for nothing. She knew I'd get things done even if the time frames were shifted and was unconcerned about perception.

    I have more trouble with my boss who does have kids; he feels he doesn't get to go to his kids' things, why do I seem to feel that is so important? I think that sounds like guilt talking and he should leave the office early more often; we know he puts in the extra hours the rest of the time.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Mich on 29th April 2009

  • I really appreciate this article! I have long maintained that you really need to keep a big picture view of your life so when things get crazy in one area, you can recognize it's a phase and it will pass. It not only can relieve the stress of the moment, but recognizing there will be a time where you have more family/fun things coming makes the heavier work times easier to bear.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kelly O on 25th June 2008

  • All good advice! We (I know it's certainly true with me) can really beat ourselves up with guilt, when it turns out that the family is perfectly okay with the way things are going.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by on 24th June 2008

  • The thing about balance is to be balanced about balance. Such sound advice. Isn't it interesting how someone else can sometimes best remind us of what we already know. Thank you for taking the time to pass this along in such a common sense, easy to remember, format

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Dr Christopher on 24th June 2008