Friday, June 15, 2012

Work, Life, Balance....

For a single mum, work life balance is an enigma. We hear so much about it. We read so many articles which tell us how we must have the exact amount of ‘balance’ in between or ‘work’ and our ‘lives’, but was is ‘balance’ and why is it so elusive? A single mum, for most (of not all) of the time, needs to fulfil multiple rolls.

We must be Mummies first and foremost. We must be there for our kids whenever they need us. We need to educate, nurture and discipline them. We must guide them through their childhood and provide a safe and loving environment in which they can feel secure. We must feed and clothe them, teach them manners and respect, as well as ensuring their safety and of course their happiness.

This is, in itself, a full time job, as any mum would tell you. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to be a mum. We all know that.

Then, we have to add that the single mum also needs to be ‘dad’. She not only needs to go out to work and earn the money to keep the family secure, but she also needs to make herself available for extra emotional support when required.

Some lucky single parents get financial support from their ex’s, but rarely is it enough to preclude the need to work, and in many (most) cases, there is no financial support at all, which means that the buck stops with Mum. This is a pretty scary prospect. Not only do we have to provide the food, the home, the clothes, the endless pairs of shoes, all home comforts, the car, the holidays…(the list is endless) but that’s on top of what we already do every day in the parenting role. In order to be able to fulfil the ‘provider’ role as well as the mum role, we need to spend a large chunk of our week at work.

This is time away from the kids, and as any working mum will tell you , this leads to feelings of guilt. No matter how much we try to rationalise it, all working mums feel guilt about leaving the kids (especially when they’re very young).

Regardless of the fact that it’s a necessity, we can’t control our emotions about this, so we learn to live with the guilt. It’s just all part and parcel of being a working single parent.

So, we’ve got 30-40 hours a week on ‘work’ and pretty much the rest of the time on ‘life’ (‘life’ to me is the time spent with the children, or on other activities outside of paid work)

But….on top of the paid ‘work’ and the fun bits of ‘life’ (being with the family) we singletons also have to cram in some time for the mundane stuff, like keeping the house in order, cleaning, shopping, washing clothes, paying the bills and generally ‘project managing’ the family’s entire existence. Because, at the end of the day, being the head of a single parent family is all about successful project management. Most of us have it down to a fine art, or a perfectly executed military operation. Everything requires planning, and managing, if it’s to go smoothly. From organising childcare, to planning holidays, trips, time with friends or relatives, and any and all activities in between. Every detail needs to be considered and planned.

So, where does this leave any time to achieve balance?

The balance is achieved when we have the right amount of time to spend on work and life, but also on some pleasurable activity for ourselves. It can be anything from sport, to a trip to the cinema alone, a meal in a restaurant or even just a coffee with a friend, anything which gives us exclusive pleasure. Ask any single mum and they’ll tell you they have very little time at all for themselves, and when they do, they are so tired all they want to do is sleep!

But you can’t achieve balance without this crucial ingredient, because it defines the lines between work and life. No matter how busy we may be, we MUST find time for an activity which gives us exclusive pleasure. ie. away from the children and the house, concentrating only on us.

I spent four years with no balance at all. Recently, on the advice of good friends and my doctor, I took up jogging again (an activity I have always enjoyed). I don’t get a lot of time to do this, but I’ve managed to put three hours a week to one side EXCLUSIVELY for me. Shock horror!

And, you know, it really works! I run, or if I can’t run, I’ll just go out ALONE for one hour. It’s amazing! Doing this for just three hours a week has added that all important ingredient into my life which was missing before. Balance!

It doesn’t need to be much, but it does have to be exclusively for you, and it has to be away from the home environment. Staying at home for a quiet hour doesn’t cut it, because you need to be away from your everyday ‘life’ to achieve the all-important balance.

Being a single parent is a struggle and a juggling act. We should give ourselves credit for all the hard work we do, and we should most definitely make sure we strive for that essential ‘balance’ which seems to elude us for most of the time.

Try it!!

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