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On Balance: The Biggest Mistake Working Mothers Make
Got hot nit gekent zayn umetum, hot er beshafn mames.
"God couldn't be everywhere, so He created mothers."
A Yiddish proverb
I won't write about work-life balance or for many of us, work-life-work balance. It's not because I think you've read it all before. There's always an update and reminders have their place. It's because I don't think there is a work-life balance and, if there is, I don't think it's the right goal. I want to talk you out of it and into integration.
Steady or Ready?
What is balance, anyway? According to the Oxford dictionary "it's an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady."
Notice the difference. The goal of balance is to remain "upright" and "steady." It beats collapsing, but it's stagnant, stationary, not progressive.
Successful integration, on the other hand, is to "become more effective." Effective mothers are more competent and powerful. They are going places.
You can be balanced and lack integration
If you are like me you have a family, paying work, and spend time daily as a part-time entrepreneur trying to turn your passion into a profitable career. I'm an author and I have to consider that in 2018, a new Kindle book is published every three minutes, so standing out means I am in it for the long haul.
I've had two decades of practice with integration and some routines work better than others. Here are ten things I've learned.
Be flexible. Your reach will vary with your kids' ages. When I had five kids under the age of nine, I didn't try to integrate as many of my career goals as I do now. For example, I gave up offering in-person writing classes and switched to online. I could be nursing in pajamas and still offer classes with dishes piled in the sink.
Trade-off: What can you trade-off? It is vital to spend time with your children daily, but does that mean you have to do every carpool? Get a group of parents together, create a Google doc and share the rides.
Choose your higher values: When my kids were little, I felt I had to bake homemade cakes for their parties. On the other hand, weekly library visits were a must. By baby number three, I couldn't do it all.
Turns out Duncan Hines does a great job. I could continue to have library days and still have delicious cakes for birthdays and holidays. As we live in Israel, my higher value was that my children learned to read English early. Choose yours and sacrifice the others.
Delegate. As soon as it's age appropriate, teach your kids to use appliances. You'd be surprised at how proud they are to help you if you frame it as a step toward independence, not a punishment. Ditto for folding laundry, changing sheets, setting tables.
Assess your risk tolerance. What can you cut from your budget to spend more time with your kids? Be honest. This is particularly important for entrepreneurs. If you don't know your genuine risk tolerance, you won't budget wisely.
Take yourself seriously. If you're trying to do something entrepreneurial, keep that to yourself. When people ask you, tell them that you area writer, dancer, fashion consultant, whatever your passion is that you want to become a profitable business. Ditch words like "trying" and "hobby" from your vocabulary— now.
People only gave me paid business when I said I'm a writer/editor. I got nowhere saying: I like to write/wish I was a writer/have a journalism degree I don't use yet, and all of those other self-effacing comments. It took me at least two years longer to stop using roundabout phrases like that than it should have.
Assess your support.How much family support do you have? I couldn't do this if my husband and children weren't with me all the way. They all pitch in. Though a supportive husband should be appreciated, don't assume you're the only one benefiting. My husband used to stay home the one morning a week I needed to finish my master's degree with our infant daughter and work late the next night.
To this day, I feel he's always been closer to that child. Spending time with his own children is a gift to your husband, not a sacrifice.
Patience. When I had five children under the age of nine, I didn't write novels. I wrote flash pieces and short stories. They will grow. Focus on building credentials meantime.
Consider volunteering in your field to build credibility and references. Often organizations are willing to offer convenient hours for mothers in exchange for volunteer work. I'm not talking about years of unpaid servitude. I wrote a monthly newsletter for free for six months for a local charity and that got me a great recommendation and something that looked professional in my portfolio when I did apply for jobs.
It takes years to build a career and a professional community that pays enough to quit your day job. Take a long view.
Collaborate. Join forces with people in related fields. As an editor I've partnered with graphic artists, translators, web builders, and copy/marketing writers, many of whom have complementary skills. You can trade referrals, split the income and it's a win-win for all parties.
Government funding. Check out what financial aid is offered where you live. In Israel, for example, there is a lot of funding to get religious women into the workforce. I know women who have taken expensive computer, language, and graphic design courses for a symbolic fee through these programs. If you have a degree, consider starting with the alumni office of your former university or college. Many careers such as writing, teaching and nursing offer grants.
Focusing on integration means you can be harmoniously out of balance. For example, I am either in writing mode or in marketing mode. I cannot mix them as this balance waters down the quality of both. Instead, I set limits, such as dedicating the next twelve weeks to marketing activities only. Then I'll return to a new writing project and turn off the marketing tap.
This can be done in any career taking all areas of your life into account. You can focus this year on upgrading your skills. You reduce your workload next year because there is more than one family celebration and you don't want to miss a moment. Integration helps prioritize and we can do more of what we love more often.