I was chatting with Antonia Kidman the other day, as you do, and my goodness, we have so much in common! She has lots of kids, and so do I. We’re both working mothers, with busy husbands, and we both live in different countries from our families. In fact, we’re both excellent jugglers, so should really be in the circus!
Somehow the conversation came around to that old favourite, the work/life balance. That one creeps up everywhere, but no one seems to have answered it satisfactorily. Most of us just keep plodding away, doing what we do (very fast and sometimes with frowny faces) relying on too many biscuits and new handbags to sustain us. And as Antonia said, “sometimes the pressure can’t be relieved.” Yup, sometimes we just have those insane weeks where there is just no slack in the system. So we charge full steam ahead, and then slam on the breaks and breathe at the weekends.
Antonia reckons it’s just is the way it is. Life with kids is hectic, and having a job, a social life, a position on the school council… well, that’s reality. Perhaps the way to strike the balance is not to fight it. Perhaps we should be more accepting of the situation as is, and implement management strategies and routines to help us cope.
We put ourselves under huge pressure to change, but that pressure only makes it worse. Since we can’t just stop going to work or sell the kids, nothing major can change, so let’s accept those things for what they are, and integrate them more comfortably into our lives.
Routine is Antonia’s secret. For her, predictability is key, and allows her to find time in her day to work, make calls and send emails. Like so many of us, Antonia juggles a number of roles and few of them are compatible with a screaming toddler. Being able to divide her day into distinct parts allows her to focus on each one, and to carve out some ‘me time’ too. Little kids also thrive on predictability, so establishing routines early on can free mums to do what they need to do, and teaches kids to respect mums’ needs too.
Another thing that helps Antonia strike the right work/life balance is focus. Now that’s not to say that we don’t all get a little overwhelmed sometimes, but knowing what you want, having an end goal and working towards it can help you to concentrate on what you have to do, work out how you’re going to do it, and think about how you’re going to make it fit. That way you can factor the kids and family into the equation, you can make contingencies, plan ahead, word the kids up and structure your time consciously. It can be so easy to become distracted or bogged down by the volume of ‘stuff’ we need to do, that having an aim should help us to avoid that.
Obviously being able to rely on family and a close circle of friends can make life easier, especially when the pressure is on, and it feels as though the balance is a bit wonky. And Antonia’s family is no different. They have always been a huge help to her as she’s juggled her busy life. Family and friends can be fantastic for emotional and practical support, and far from feeling outsourced, kids often love the attention they get from others. Not to mention the lollies they get from Grandma!
For Antonia, it’s soothing to know that she’s not the only one to find the balance hard. Most of us struggle with it, so try to keep in mind that it’s not a failure if you run late, feed the kids take-away or don’t finish your ‘to do’ list. “It’s just the way it is,” she says. And we’re all trying our best.
There are no magic solutions to the work/life balance. What suits me, may not suit you, and what works today, may not work tomorrow. The trick is to try to find something that works for you, and works now. Have a think about Antonia’s ideas, and if they sound good, I’m sure she won’t mind you borrowing one or two.