3 fascinating tips and research to empower working moms to have better work-life balance
The more I write and read about work-life balance, the more I begin to question some of the information that is out there. Here are comments I read and hear regularly:
The key to work-life balance is who you marry.
You need to hire help.
It’s the system that prevents you from having work-life balance.
To improve work-life balance we need better policies.
While all of these may improve your work-life balance, they do not empower you, working mothers who are striving to make a good life for yourselves and your families. These statements do not provide answers when you are feeling overworked, overtired, and overwhelmed.
So when I wanted to learn more about the research behind work-life balance for working mothers, I decided to go directly to the source – work-life balance researchers. Luckily I was able to come across several people, including Dr. Danna Greenberg and Dr. Jamie Ladge who have just come out with a brand new book called Maternal Optimism: Forging a Positive Path through Work and Motherhood.
I am so fortunate and excited to share that they responded to my email and agreed to have a call with me. Dr. Danna Greenberg and I had one of those magical conversations where you get so excited and inspired by what the other person is doing, that you wish you could talk to them for hours, and then meet up again a few days later with follow-up questions.
During our conversation, Dr. Greenberg shared her three recommendations for improving the intersection of work and family in your life.
Tip #1. Understand what you are passionate about and follow your passions
Dr. Greenberg’s perspective on passion completely aligns with the way we think about passion and values at Balancing Bravely. We believe that what you are passionate about, what you value most is the starting place for work-life balance. In fact, happiness comes from understanding what you are passionate about, what you truly value. It is only once you understand these values that you can craft a life that you love, and can devote your time and energy to things that you truly care about. Although there is so much dialogue at the moment about making sure you follow your passions, Dr. Greenberg and I talked about how long it can take to truly understand what you’re passionate about, what you truly deeply value in life.
Do not underestimate the amount of time, effort, and energy it can take to learn what you’re passionate about. This will also need to be reassessed throughout your life. What you value most now is likely to be different in 5 years, 10 years, and 25 years. Just think back to the way you were at 15, 20, 25, 30, 35.
Tip #2. “There is no right path for balancing work and motherhood “
Drs. Greenberg and Ladge, the authors of Maternal Optimism both had extremely different paths to happiness, despite both being mothers working in academia. One of them negotiated a part-time position, which she maintained for eight years, something that is virtually unheard of in academia. The other worked full-time as a divorced single mother.
No career path is right or wrong. No career path is better or worse. We each need to forge our own path, to figure out what works best for us and helps us create our best life.
In an era of social media, and constant comparison with other people, it can be so challenging to accept that your own path for balancing work and motherhood is likely to be very different from your close friends, your distant friends, your colleagues, and all of the people whose lives you watch on Instagram and Facebook.
We need to give ourselves permission to create a path that aligns with our values, our priorities, and our passions.
You have permission to create a path that works for you. You need to find the balance that is uniquely yours.
Tip #3. The work and life decisions you make today will not and do not need to define your entire career, family life, or success.
As I spoke to Dr. Greenberg and she shared the first two points, I was in complete agreement with her perspective. It aligned so closely with many things I have read, and the ways that Beth, the cofounder of Balancing Bravely and I describe work-life balance.
This third tip threw me for a bit of a loop. It was a totally new way of thinking about work-life balance that I had never read about, and honestly never thought about.
Dr. Greenberg talked about how there are a lot of different choice points, or decision points in your work and family life. By recognizing that you have lots of choice points, it means that the decision you make today is going to have a less of a long-term impact. Your life will ebb and flow, the amount of time and energy you put into your career and your family will increase and decrease over time.
Think about that, for so many of us it feels like the decision to go back to work full-time or part-time will affect the rest of our lives. Where you place your kids in care, whether you do daycare, or a nanny, have family take care of your child, or drop them off at the neighbors. For me, each of these decisions felt like they would have long-term implications, as if they were irreversible.
Dr. Greenberg’s children are older, and I appreciate the perspective she can glean and having lived through infancy, the elementary school years, and tumultuous teenage years. The combination of her experience and her research has helped her see that we have many different points along our career and family journeys in which we get to stop and reassess our priorities. The decision you make today does not mean that’s the decision you’re going to make a year from now or two years from now or 10 years from now.
That is so liberating. You can change your mind about your work-life balance. You can reassess and reprioritize.
I am often a very decisive person, and when I make a decision, I act on it almost immediately (sometimes even too quickly), and it has never occurred to me that I get to go back and reassess and make those choices and decisions throughout my children’s lives and throughout my career. At the same time, once a look back, I can absolutely see how that is true.
If I had found out I was significantly underpaid after my first child was born, when I knew I would have another child, I would definitely not have become an entrepreneur at that stage of my career. If I had found out I was underpaid whilst I was in the middle of my year of miscarriages and infertility, I would definitely not have quit my job to become an entrepreneur. It is only because I knew I was done having children and would have no more maternity leaves, I was able to refocus and dedicate myself to my career in a more intense way, that allowed me to envision a future in which I could quit my safe and stable job, and take on this new huge risk. Once you start thinking about the idea that you have multiple choice points, decisions seem so much less burdensome.
If you feel overwhelmed by choices or decisions you need to make related to work and family now, can you think of the next choice points you might have? These are times in your life where you might make a change or a decision based on external factors - like kids starting school, switching schools, moving jobs, aging parents...
A work-life balance plan informed by research
If you are struggling with your work-life balance, these three tips can really help you gain perspective and change your perspective on work-life balance.
Understand what you are passionate about and let that guide how you spend your time
Remember that everyone’s path to balancing work and motherhood is different – when you get sucked in trying to live someone else’s work-life balance that isn’t making you happy, refocus on you and what you value.
Know that you will have many decision points in your career and at home – the choice you make today does not define your work-life balance choices for the rest of your life.
To learn more about what Drs. Greenberg and Ladge learned about the research on work-life balance, check out their book, Maternal Optimism.