The International Women’s Day which is celebrated on the 8th of March every year is set aside to recognize women, how far we have come and to highlight how much work there is yet to go when it comes to gender equality. The theme this year is Balance for Better. I do not like to jump on trends without understanding what we are really highlighting. So I have been asking how women can balance for better and deal with the maternal wall.
Are you a woman married with children who suddenly got a superwoman cape? The average woman is expected to just carry on the way she was before children. Her job expects the same deliverables from her. In reality though, if she is a first time mum the increased demands on her time and emotions cannot be quantified. She might have a boss and team members who welcome her back after her maternity leave and see her as the same person who can deliver the same things. The other option is that she eventually experiences the maternal wall; the stereotypes, biases, and discrimination, both overt and silent that face a working mother.
What does Balance for Better really mean then?
For me, it really means that we must balance all our demands better. A working woman still carries the majority of the demands when it comes to caring for the home and the family. She is meant to give her all at work and give her all at home. The guilt is massive and constant. She feels guilty as a working mother who will miss some of her child’s activities or the first step. Movies really need to stop portraying this scene by the way; guess what your child will take a million steps. She feels guilty as a stay-at-home mum because she wishes she was more financially “balanced.”
The first thing to balance better is to accept that life is about sacrifices. We need to stop this narrative about having it all, at the same time, all the time. You see the argument about whether work-life balance is a myth or achievable will probably always be a topic. Depending on who you ask, it is either yes or no. I believe work-life balance is possible, you just need to know what balance looks like for you.
When you ask the average working mother what work-life balance looks like for her, she is probably comparing herself to some unattainable ideal, or cannot tell why she feels that she is not finding her balance. You cannot achieve what you cannot visualise.
More Balance All Around
We need more balance in the homes, on the job, in our finances and in the opportunities that we take.
Mothers need to be comfortable asking for help and be okay with not being able to say Yes to everything. It is okay to say No without apologizing or feeling bad! I read a life-changing book, called Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. My biggest take away from the book was that every time you say Yes you say No to something else.
This has been my life goals since then and helps me to strive for balance in all areas. If I say yes to something, I accept that there is something else I am saying no to in that moment or season.
Life is truly in seasons, the children need you when they are babies, they need you when they start school, they need you when they are choosing secondary school or jobs and need you when they start dating. The point is that your children will always need you in some shape or form, but will not always need you the same way or with the same intensity. How do you balance all the demands in your life? Be comfortable making sacrifices, saying no sometimes, so you can say yes to the things that matter to you.
Focus on what is important for you. Do not put your ladder against someone else’s wall! Is picking your child from school everyday more important to you than a demanding job that won’t give you flexi time? You have a choice to make. Are you in a job that is not paying you as much as your male colleagues? Make a case for an increase in salary without fear or guilt of seeming greedy.
When a woman becomes a wife and has children, she needs flexibility. I really believe working mothers need flexibility and yes, longer maternity leave.
The flexibility is, however, needed both at home and in the workplace. On my weekly radio parenting talk show today, a husband called and said he chose to sacrifice his job so that he can be more flexible and be a more hands-on parent; while his wife who is an engineer continues to rise in her career and go back to school for a higher degree. He said he takes care of most of the needs at home so she can focus on her job.
In the evening when she is too tired, he even pops out to buy her food from the local restaurant. This is what you call couple goals!
The real balance we seek as working women and wives starts with our spouses and the home first before we even talk about the workplace.
Balance The Stress and Demands
A working mother gets more added to her plate without adequately offloading her other activities to make up for the increased demands. She seems to be in a constant juggling act, with the demands on her time, work and demands of home and family. If not managed, this leads to a lot of stress.
Many women start home businesses to have more flexibility and to tend to the needs of their families. However, if you are not managed carefully the mumpreneur, carries the same stereotypes to her own business as well. She feels the need to prove that she can do it all and this just adds to the stress and demands without the benefits of the flexibility she was seeking. The difference now is that she is working even harder, and not earning enough, so money becomes a new stress point!
Work-Life Balance for Better
Work-life balance and the search for it will always be a thing. As a child, I remember my mum telling me that her dad always advised her to either be a teacher or work in the Government so that she will have adequate time for her family. I was a 9 to 5-er turned entrepreneur. In my quest to get more done, I announced to my daughter that I could no longer pick her and her brother from school everyday, to which she said “sorry I thought you were your own boss and so your time is flexible?” Said with such clarity at 11 years old! What difference a generation can make.
To all the women out there who want to balance for better, remember that balance starts with you. It starts with being honest with yourself, knowing what you want, what you can truly achieve and accepting that life comes with sacrifices. While we are at it we need to raise boys and girls who understand the need for balance and equality.