Is it me or does the term “work-life balance” conjure up images of a parent putting in 40 hours at a rewarding job, then coming home, energized from a day of doing important things, and realizing an effective balance of completing household and parenting tasks, having fun with family and/or friends, soaking up the meaning of being a spouse and/or parent, eating a balanced diet, being physically active and getting a good night of sleep? Well I’ll tell you that in my 22 years as a psychologist and husband, and 17 years as a parent, I’ve never seen it. Actually, I think this concept has more value for employers (e.g., to be flexible with schedules and methods for reaching agreed upon goals) than it does for we working parents. One of the things I do in my parenting book is give accounts of what I believe are more typical sorts of days for working-parents. Click here to read one of these (hopefully both humorous and realistic) illustrations.
Rather than using terms like “work-life balance” I prefer a term like “living on the high road.” IMHO these are the characteristics of a working parent living a high road life:
• In my vocational life (whether that be in the home or otherwise) I’m using my top strengths to resolve or address important human problems or needs, regardless of how the culture at large values these contributions. And, my kids see me living this way.
• I’m making (not finding, making) time each week to spend one-on-one with my spouse/partner and each of my kids who are living at home (I like to think of one hour as the floor). And, my kids see me living this way.
• I’m in the fight to have healthy habits (i.e., a balanced diet, ≥4/5 hours a week of physical activity and about 8 hours of sleep a night); this doesn’t mean I become a paragon of fitness, speaking with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. It just means that I prioritize this goal and hit these marks more than I miss them. And, my kids see me living this way.
• I’m comfortable with chaos. I said to a colleague recently: “Bill, just one week I wish I could get everything done that has to get done that week.” He replied “Well, Dave, that’s the week that we hold your wake.” High road life is engaged. And, at this place and time in the universe, that comes with chaos. I’ve never seen a working-parent, on the high road, who has everything zipped up and buttoned down. But, if I tell myself that I must be doing something wrong if my life is chaotic, I may be suffering needlessly.
• I’m routinely asking myself, “what’s the loving thing to do (and that means towards myself too)?” And, more often than not, I pull that off. And, my kids see me living this way. (Tapping into your internal well of wisdom can help.)
• I experience injustice but get the most out of that. To be in the world is to have the world in me; and, the world is filled with injustice. Do you know anyone, who has been impactful in this world, who has not experienced injustice? Doesn’t it also sometimes seem like those that get the most done experience the most injustice (just a wonderment of mine)? But, at the end of the day I morph the injustice into an actualization of this formula: crisis = pain + opportunity. I realize that, as a poet put it, pain is like a dragon guarding treasure. And, my kids see me living this way.
• I make (not find) time for self-care. What this means varies wildly. It could mean killing two birds with one stone in doing physical activity. It could mean hanging out with friends. It could mean a rich spiritual life. But, I have a plan for self care and, like most priorities, I hit the mark more than I miss it. And, my kids see me living this way.
• More often than not, my parenting promotes those factors that promote resilience in kids. I don’t have space here to review them but the top research supported ones are in my parenting book.
• There are other aspects that may not be a part of everyone’s high road, but can facilitate getting there or staying there: humor, being stupid with friends, buckets of forgiveness (the unilateral and unconditional type is the purest sort), turning the other cheek (not the same thing as letting oneself be bullied), praising beauty and strength and savoring gifts. And, my kids see me living this way.
So, if your striving to do these things, and win more battles than you lose, you may be firmly planted on the high road, even though the last thing you often feel is that you manifest work-life balance ;-).