If you found work-life balance difficult before lockdown, it’s bound to have become even worse in recent months. Here are three tips for improving the situation.
- Ditch the parent guilt
Lockdown led to the collapse of already fragile childcare structures. Schools closed and grandparents self-isolated. Women carry out the bulk of unpaid (and often invisible) caring and household work so this created a huge challenge for working mothers. While fathers in dual parent households felt under pressure to prioritise paid work, mothers have struggled to cope with both combining work and care; and the attendant mental load.
As a consequence many women are beating themselves up for not being good enough mothers; and for not meeting social expectations. The reality is that if your children are fed and happy you’re doing fine. Every other mother is in the same boat, and it’s even tougher for lone parents. So who – other than you – is judging? If it’s your partner you need to have a serious talk with him about how the two of you can support each other both in doing paid work and as parents.
- Pay no attention to imposter syndrome
Imposter Syndrome is a popular phrase with the media; and there’s no shortage of online advice on how to tackle it. Often conflated with poor self-esteem and ‘inner critic’, true imposter syndrome is rare. But it’s quite possible to feel like an imposter without suffering from imposter syndrome; and current circumstances have left many of us feeling this way.
We’ve been doing our best to appear competent in our professional roles while navigating a new, sudden and unexpected landscape filled with unfamiliar technology. Adding to the problem has been the lack of clarity on what’s expected from us; and the fact we’re comparing ourselves to colleagues whose differing circumstances (often with fewer dependents) have made working easier for them. We’ve taken on the expectations of others and tried to live up to them. It’s time to reconsider and redefine what professional looks like in these circumstances. It’s time to shift our focus and agree with our employer the key outputs to be delivered; rather than the number of hours we should be working.
Research has shown that feeling like an imposter can lead to emotional exhaustion. We then feel that playing our family role is made more difficult by the demands of our work role. We have finite physical and psychological resources and we do our best to guard these. When we feel like an imposter we are likely to expend more of these resources trying to do a good job, leaving us depleted during family time.
- Establish better boundaries
Even before the pandemic our use of connected technologies had increasingly been blurring the boundaries between our work and non-work lives. In lockdown those boundaries have disappeared completely as we work from kitchen tables with children around us.
The problem is that this lack of boundaries drains our mental energies as we attempt to multi-task and leads to what psychologists call ‘role confusion’. Are we parents trying to work or workers trying to parent? The two roles are often at odds with each other. Putting in some boundaries between them can make us more effective at both. That way, when we’re working we are fully focused on the task at hand; and when we’re parenting we are present for our family.
If the idea of boundaries seems challenging consider putting in some small micro-boundaries such as: switching off work connections for an hour while you have a family meal; leaving your phone outside the bedroom while you sleep; or negotiating childcare with your partner so you can fully focus on work for an hour or take that time for exercise.
Even in difficult times the efforts you make to improve your work-life balance, will bring rewards in the shape of better physical and emotional wellbeing.
Anna Meller is the UK’s leading work ReBalance expert. https://www.linkedin.com/in/annameller/
Anna’s book ‘#Upcycle Your Job: The smart way to balance family life and career’ is available on Amazon.